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Nanaimo Historical Society Fonds
Series 2 Sound Recordings
Henry Poikonen interview with Alex Gusola - Italian Community, March 2, 1978
Transcribed by Carol Hill, May, 2008
HP I am Henry Poikonen and I am talking to Alex Gusola and you were born in Nanaimo.
AG Yes. Born in Nanaimo in 1920 on Finlayson Street behind the [?] Store. My mother's name was Josephine Cuffalo. Now her father Joe Cuffalo, he came to South Wellington via San Francisco to Departure Bay as there was no Nanaimo at that time. He worked in the mines for awhile and saved enough money then went back to Italy to get married and then came back here again the same way. He built the Wellington Hotel in South Wellington in 1880. Now this hotel burnt down.
HP South Wellington or the North Wellington.
AG South Wellington, down that way just off the highway down there. Just over the highway down at the bottom in there. That hotel burnt down. Then he went back to work in the mines and built the Columbus in 1885 to give you an idea how this goes, you see. My mother then was born in that hotel in 1888. Now she worked at the Dominion Trust in 1908 and it went broke and then she worked for A. E. Planta, which is a real estate firm.
HP I remember that name but I don't remember Dominion Trust.
AG They were the first, 1908, I was finding that out about that. There is an old couple over here that my grandfather apparently had quite a history. He also built a hotel called the [Loyal?] Hotel which is where the Vancouver Island Gas Company is. So, that must have been around 1905.
HP That is Cuffalo.
AG No, it is Cuffalo, "Cuffalo". The other Cuffalos [Guffalo?] in Nanaimo must be related somewhere along the line but I am not sure how. I kind of think. I know they are distant cousins as far as I am concerned because all of these people came from the northern part of Italy which was ....
HP That is another thing that other people have told.
AG The province of [?], bordering on Switzerland. Most of all these people came here in those days, you see, but there was no railway at that time. Apparently, from what I hear my grandfather, you know he had quite a bit of class there, he would go downtown with a cane. That would be quite the thing, eh.
HP People dressed up in those days.
AG They dressed up, walked along Haliburton Street. I can remember Haliburton Street when it was dirt.
AG Remember that quite well. But you know anything you want to know really about the history of Nanaimo there is just nobody but this Joe Cuffalo which is his living son who lives in Vancouver, his memory is excellent. He knows the whole history of.
HP What is his address Suite 2302, 1650 Herold. He was born in 1899 but Joe Cuffalo was a son of old Joe, you know. He was sort of the black sheep of the family, he never followed his father in the hotel business. I think he became a railroad engineer but he is very, very [?]. You know, if anybody can tell you about anything about Nanaimo, especially the South End, which was all of Nanaimo.
AG What is the phone number there, 689-1075?
HP I was just talking to him. He is very conversant with the history of Nanaimo. How they all came to Departure Bay and they all settled in the South End where Joe Cuffalo owned half the South End in those days, he was mining in those days with Dunsmuir [.....?] so is there anything else you wanted to…
AG Well, that is about all I guess, I've got Gino Sedola, told me quite a bit that he recalled from…
HP He is younger than me, you see.
AG He was born in ‘27. Not a hell of a lot, I were born in ‘29.
HP A lot of them came out [?] in the first decade of this century. And then others came out in the 20's perhaps from Saskatchewan first, working on farms. Passport to country Canada to work on a farm, that sort of thing. They found it was too cold there and they found there way out here.
AG The people that came back in those days were [Blasubick?, Zamora?, Bols? and Dubarmin?] They all come at that time. Most went into the hotel business because it was the simplest of all things to do.
HP When did your dad open the store then?
AG He opened the first store candy store on Victoria Crescent there. Right up there where Ernie Johnson's Hardware Store is called the Candy Store.
HP McKenzie's was doing that.
AG Right next to McKenzie's Ice Cream Parlour, a candy store there. He went from there to Lantzville. He had a general store in Lantzville. He would be out there about 1925 and from there to the Queen's Hotel, he had a grocery store.
HP Whole beauty department, I remember a clothing store.
AG The clothing store, the grocery store and, at that time my grandfather died I believe, and then my father and my mother moved into the Columbus and my dad ran the beer parlour and my grandmother, of course, wasn't capable of that she was a widow so that is how my dad got into the beer business. Back in those days you see it would be 26-27, as I recall I was still in school.
HP Remember the fire in the late ‘30's.
AG I remember those fires and the first fire was in 1935. I believe that is when a whole block right down to Woolworth's, it used to be called the Oddfellow's Hall. The Nanaimo Hotel where Quinn's Jewellers is there was a brick wall and that saved the place, everything in between went.
HP I don't think I remember that but I remember one where Powers, Doyle and Berry was.
AG That was the fire. That was 1935. Go down from Harding's Jewelers, they call the Nanaimo Hotel in those days, and you will see there is a brick wall up there where the Bank of B.C. is there and my father and mother owned the Bank of B.C. Building.
HP It is called the Gusola Block, isn't it.?
AG No this is, I will get to that later. This particular block where the Bank of B.C. is it was called the Gusola Ladies and Men's Wear. Now, there were stores all the way down right down to where the Woolworth's are. That was what they called the Oddfellow's. It was a brick building which has been demolished. So the fire spread along there it was stopped at the Bank of B.C. the brick wall there. Nanaimo Hotel that was 1937. In 1937 the fire that you are speaking of was at the next block. It was the Nanaimo Smokeshop. [? ] That was a wooden framed building in those days and that burned all the way up to the Met[ropolitan Store] That was in ‘37.
HP There was quite a bit of snow on the time was there not, that is my memory.
AG I was downtown but you know how it is, I just don't remember that part of it.
HP I haven't thought about that for years, I don't know why I remember that now but for some reason I do.
AG That block was built by the Gray Brothers…built that block. My father bought that in 1944.
HP Around that time your parents were living on [?] along Finlayson Street where you said you born.
AG I was born on Finlayson Street.
HP I used to go up that hill for three years [?] and a [? Price Street]
AG Oh, did you.
HP I admired your Dad's car. As I recall it was a ‘42 Chrysler with a covered head light and it was so unusual.
AG Well it wouldn't be in those days. No. Just a minute now.
HP No, I guess it wouldn't be. That was way before.
AG That was way before then because from Finlayson Street, you see, they moved to the Columbus and from the Columbus we moved over here to Stewart Avenue in 1934.
HP Maybe I am confusing you with someone else or maybe you are visiting [?] or something.
AG We moved over there in 1934 where Kenny Thompson is living right now on Stewart Avenue just over the bridge there. From there to Departure Bay Road that is where you have the ‘42 Chrysler.
HP I remember the car anyway but it must have been during the war, being a ‘42 model.
AG Yah, it was during the war, I remember there wasn't any chrome along it.
HP What about way of life? I know that there was a game called bocce or something like that. Single guys played.
AG All Italians used to go up there and play this game you know. Picnics were a great thing in those days.
HP The [?] had a farm up Crystal Lake or something.
AG We would go up there and play bocce, like a form of bowling.
HP Home made wine…
AG Home made wine. Everybody made their wine. They'd bring the grapes in from California.
HP I can still picture Mr. [Cuffalo?] and others looking for dandelions. I don't know if they used that for.
AG Well, I think they used anything, but mostly California grapes. They would buy a carload and split it between them.
HP A lot of fellows still do that I guess.
AG Still do it yeah. I remember those picnics in those days.
HP I know a lot of Italian families from the past. I don't know how much space they want to devote to this but it is an up-to-date version of the [history booking?]
HP My Dad gave a talk to the Historical Society in September on the [?] Finnish Community. His late sister was 9 years older than he was and my Dad was born in Wellington and he remembers Wellington in the 1890's and…
AG They all went to work in the mines.
AG That was the only way they could get a few dollars together.
HP [North?]. There was coalmines all over the place.
AG A lot of Italians worked in the hotel business. Didn't they?
AG [Caesar Brown?] and their old old family too.
HP Were you working down here?
AG I work up in the hospital.
HP Should I turn it on?
AG I have a poor memory so I have to concentrate on what you ask next?
We came out in 1865.
HP I am pretty sure you didn't tell me that.
AG We came from South Wellington via San Francisco to Departure Bay because there was no Nanaimo at that time.
HP That is really going back.
AG Worked in the mines to get enough money to go back to Italy to get married and come back again, isn't that something. You know even today, aren't we soft [whooshes?]?
HP To come out here would take weeks across the Atlantic in a [?] boat and then across the country by train and all the inconveniences. Times have really changed, of course we all know that, but are we any happier than they were in those days?
AG You never go to town without getting dressed up, without a necktie and cane.
HP This was something that was mentioned in the Colonist in Victoria…has a lot of articles on that of historical significance and a recent one said that Nanaimo way back then was quite a refreshing place to see. Even in its younger days, it was a little bit of old England that they went to the Opera House and they dressed up.
AG You think of this as hardships we deal with but we are so well off today and we don't realize it.
HP That is right.
Unidentified third person mumbles incoherently.
HP Is that right? When [Cuthbert Brown] showed those bull weeds and he said he was milking a claim and I wonder if that would be the one
3rd Person [?] They built it [?]
HP Is that so? He had a big house there. Where Kenny Thompson lives in that area somewhere.
AG We built that house. You see in those days that was just one big [yard ???] The circular driveway went from one end to the other, like that. [???] Jim Scales, that owned the newsstand, he built the first house on the northern corner, still sits there.
HP Is that so.
AG Jim Scales. I remember we came over and my Dad bought that corner here they both had the iron gate [keeper?] and he built that house there in 32. [???] I remember that you know.
HP Cuthbert Brown did an article on that house that was moved to Parksville. The one that Dr. [Eakins?] lived in for awhile, I think. The house with 7 kitchens, I think they call it.
3rd Person Oh, no that was Dr. Emery.
HP Dr. Emery lived in it but before that it was somebody named…
AG Paul [Stevenson?] I knew him well.
HP Is that right?
3rd Person [? Was there power on it]
HP That's right
AG We had the house right in front of him and we built that one also. [????] He was a commercial traveler.
HP That neighbourhood still looks…It is a nice neighbourhood. Wide streets and well kept.
AG They really are.
HP That was the class neighbourhood. If you were from Townsite you must be rich or a businessman or a mine boss or something.
AG The house cost $7,500 to build in those days, which was a lot then.
AG What a difference eh?
HP Here again is another story how times have changed.
3rd Person [????] they have [?] to figure out…
AG Yeah. Just gaining equity. People are going to have difficulty [????].
HP That's true. How can they save? This one finance company, [?] this young couple 1980 they will have saved enough money to have down payment on their very own home.
AG My goodness. Wonder what it will be like [?] it. They say the structure of a house today…you know this was built 33 years ago.
END OF TAPE.