Pasqualina Vincenzina Maria Grazia Ciavatta was born on May 15, 1937 in the medieval hill town village of Limosano, in the Molise region of Italy. Though a picturesque setting, her early years were at times difficult. Her parents, Marcello Ciavatta (from Limosano) and Angelina Cornacchione (from the nearby town of Fosalto), worked hard as peasant farmers. At the onset of World War II, German soldiers came through town, and her father went away to fight in the war before eventually working in Belgium in order to make money for the family. The second grade was as far as Pasqualina went in her formal education (quite normal for the times). Her siblings included brother Michael and, much later, sisters Lily and Emma, although there were also three brothers who died in infancy.
A beautiful, dark haired young woman, Pasqualina caught the eye of Giuseppe Rossi, a villager several years her senior. Giuseppe moved to Canada to start a new life, eventually asking Pasqualina (who was still in Limosano) to marry him. Her father, Marcello, would not allow his daughter to leave Limosano alone and unwed, so the couple were married by proxy, with Pasqualina boarding a boat to Canada soon after. She was only 18.
After arriving in Toronto in the mid 1950s (as most Italian immigrants, the couple lived in the city’s “Little Italy” neighbourhood) Pasqualina soon became pregnant, and gave birth to her daughter Mirella. Through hard work, determination, and the strength of community, Pasqualina and Giuseppe began their new life and growing family, with Giuseppe working in construction and Pasqualina finding employment at a garment factory. They were eventually able to buy a house in the city, and their son, Robert, was born in 1963.
In the mid-1960s, the couple bought a vacant piece of land in Richmond Hill—a move met with scepticism from friends, as, at the time, Richmond Hill was considered to be a largely rural area far north of the city. Nevertheless they built their new house, a bungalow, on Carrville road, beginning the next phase of their lives in a home Pasqualina would live in until 2010. With trees, gardens, a river, space large enough to house chickens and rabbits, and Giuseppe’s brother Gino building a house of his own next door, the Carrville home was a wonderful place to live, raise a family, and continue Italian traditions like the making of wine, sausages, and tomato sauce.
Giuseppe eventually started his own small concrete contracting business, while Pasqualina worked local jobs. It was enough to afford the couple a happy life—one filled with strong family ties, celebrations, good food, great wine, and regular trips to warm places. Grandchildren followed, each of whom loved spending time with their “Nonno Jo” and their “Nonina,” with her big heart, warm smile, and love of laughter.
After her husband passed away in 2009, Pasqualina continued to live at her Carrville home until the property was too much for her to maintain alone. She moved into a condominium on the ground floor of a new building, close enough to still attend weekly outings to the Italian community centre, and visit with her family. In 2013 she returned to Italy with her daughter, son, and five grandchildren, for a vacation that toured the country, and included a visit to Limosano, where her journey first began. It was an illuminating trip that reminded everyone of how much she had grown, how far she had come, and how much she joy she had brought to her loved ones throughout her long life.
Pasqualina passed away on March 6, 2018 in Richmond Hill. A good, kind, and generous person, she loved wholeheartedly, and was beloved by all. She will be sorely missed.