Crops Produce 06

Ulderico (Rico) Ficaccio

April 10, 1926 ~ May 13, 2022 (age 96)

Obituary

Ulderico (Rico) Ficaccio was born in Sezze, Latina, Italy in 1926, the seventh of nine children, 5 girls and 4 boys, and the youngest of the boys. His mother’s name was Teresa and his father’s name was Domenico (which is also his son Dario’s  middle name).

At nine years of age, Rico had to leave school after completing grade three to help out on the farm so the family could make ends meet. Rico worked in the fields planting, watering, and harvesting various fruits and vegetables like watermelons, grapes, tomatoes, and artichokes, which he would then sell at the market. He would wake up every morning around 4:00 am and take the cart and mule, or walk the 15 kilometers to his dad’s fields so he was ready to work as soon as there was enough light to see. After the sun went down, Rico would have to make the 15 kilometer trek back home and then had very little to eat for dinner. When he was 13 years old, the mule that took Rico to work kicked him in the knee and caused a very serious injury. The town where he lived did not have very good medical facilities at that time and he almost lost his leg. It took Rico six months before he was able to walk again.

After his injury, Rico returned to work in the fields for his dad and also part time for other farmers. In 1939, he was getting paid 800 lira a day, which was about $1.50 in Canadian dollars. Even though he was very young, Rico could see that the future in Italy was going to be a lifelong struggle. To add to this, WWII was getting started, and Rico had to endure some very difficult times as a young boy during the war. In 1950, at the age of 24, Rico heard that the Canadian Government was looking for young immigrants to come to Canada who were male and single. He talked it over with his dad and tried to convince him that it was the only chance to make a better life for himself and hopefully for all of his family. Although Rico’s dad knew that he was right, he was worried for Rico and knew that with no education and no English language, this would be a very difficult challenge. Also, in order to get to Canada, it would cost 150,000 lira for the trip (approximately $250 Canadian) and they did not have the money. Rico was told not to worry and that somehow the money would be raised. His dad sold some of his land and borrowed the rest of the money from six different people in his hometown.  On December 12, 1951, Rico set sail for Canada on the SS Vulcania.

On December 24, 1951, and after 12 long, rough days at sea, Rico arrived in Halifax. He was given 25 dollars and was put on a train headed for the lumber camp in Timmins, Ontario. Christmas Day was spent on the train, and Rico was thinking about his family back in Italy and feeling homesick already. On December 28, 1951, Rico arrived in Timmins, Ontario and started work the very next day. The temperature was -25 degrees Celsius and he had never experienced this kind of cold in all his life. It hardly even snowed where he came from. Rico’s job was to cut down trees in the bush by axe and/or large handsaws for 10 hours a day. It was hard physical work, and after only one month, he ended up in the hospital with severely inflamed stomach muscles. This was one of his lowest points because he was in the hospital, didn’t know what was wrong with him, couldn’t find out because he didn’t speak English, and all he could think about was letting his family down. For seven days Rico laid in the hospital, unable to communicate with anyone. On the eighth day, an old woman came into the room, walked to his bedside and said in Italian, “Come stai?” which means “How are you?” Rico couldn’t believe his ears. He was ecstatic, but all he could do was cry as all of his emotions poured out. The old woman told Rico what was wrong with him and said that he would be out of the hospital in three more days. She came to visit him and brought him fruit every day until he was discharged. Although Rico was out of hospital, the lady said that he had to see the doctor every day for the next three days. He didn’t know how to find his way around Timmins and couldn’t speak English so the lady told him that she would arrange for a friend of hers to take him to the doctor. When Rico arrived the next morning to meet this person, he was stunned to find out that the man was blind. The blind man took Rico the next three days to his doctor’s appointments. It always remained one of the most memorable things in Rico’s life; a man who could see had to follow a man who was blind.

After Rico recovered, he went back to the camp to work until spring thaw, which was March 20, 1952. He didn’t even know how much money he was earning, but on the final day of work, he was paid a total of 840 dollars. Rico immediately sent 700 dollars back to his family in Italy and kept 140 for himself. Rico spent the next ten days in Timmins at a hotel that cost him $3/day for the room and two meals, trying to figure out what he could do until the following year. He wasn’t sure if he should try and get a job in Timmins, go to Montreal with a few people he had met, or go with two others who were headed west to Calgary. Although Rico had no idea where Calgary was, he decided to head west to Calgary. The train ride was 70 dollars, and after paying for the hotel and a few other things, Rico arrived in Calgary flat broke with his two friends. Again, it was an Italian lady that came to the rescue and put the three of them up until they could find a job.

Eventually, Rico began bringing six of his siblings and their families to Canada. They were all able to make good livings and raise their families in Calgary. Soon after his siblings arrived, he brought over his mom and dad, who were 73 and 77 at the time. They both died in Calgary.

Rico started off working several jobs in Calgary; as a shoeshine, taxi driver, window cleaner, and bartender. Then on April 16, 1952, he landed a permanent job with the City of Calgary. He ended up working for the City of Calgary for a total of 35 years and retired on June 11, 1987. 

In the fall of 1952, Rico met Eda DiStefano, and three years later, on May 21, 1955, they were married. In 1958, their first son Dario was born, and seven years later, in 1965, their second son, Dino was born. Rico was proud that he was able to give his children the opportunity for a post-secondary education. They both have successful careers because of this.

Rico was thrilled to welcome two grandchildren, Madison and Nicolas, and spent much of his 35-year retirement with them. Rico loved to take them to and from school in his truck with country music playing. In the summers, he would take them to the bank in the mall almost every day to check his balance. On the way, he would give Madison and Nicolas coins to toss into the mall fountain. Then he would take them to the park to feed the ducks with Eda’s homemade bread, or to play on the playground under his watchful eye.

Another of Rico’s greatest loves was gardening. He passionately grew flowers, vegetables, and maintained a pristine lawn and trees. However, his biggest pride was his tomatoes. Anyone who came to visit the household would be brought to view the impressive tomatoes in the yard. Rico loved this work so much that he also planted a beautiful garden at Dario’s house and was always there to nurture and maintain it.

Rico’s other interests included hunting, fishing, and listening to accordion music.

In 2007, Madison chose to attend St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, which gave him a wonderful opportunity to return to Pier 21 after 56 years, and write his immigration story above in memory of the difficult times he faced in order to provide a chance for his family to have a better life than he did.

A Funeral Mass will be celebrated at St. Luke's Catholic Church (corner of Northmount Dr and Northland Dr NW) on Thursday May 19, 2022 at 11:00am

 

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