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'They sacrificed to come to Canada': First generation Italian-Canadians honoured during commemorative train ride

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A train trip across Canada recently stopped in Winnipeg to celebrate the many first-generation Italian-Canadians who travelled from overseas and turned Canada into their home.

On Wednesday, the trip was recreated with members of the National Congress of Italian Canadians at Union Station and celebrated with music, dancing and a full coffee bar.

"The first generation of Italians, most of them left Italy during the late 50s, 60s into the 70s. They basically took a ship, the majority arrived at Pier 21 in Halifax, and from there, they basically ended up in different parts of Canada, most often wherever they had friends or family," said Tony Pesce, the president of the Italian Canadian League of Manitoba.

There's a personal connection to the entire event as well for Pesce, who said his parents were some of those people who came over and settled in Winnipeg.

He said the trip involved a lot of sacrifices.

"My parents came over in the late 50s, left their family members there. They sacrificed to come to Canada, but all for a better life. They were on a ship for 12 days, stopped off in Halifax at Pier 21, and then it was a three-day train ride here to Winnipeg."

He said he is so grateful for what his parents did, and it's a similar feeling for many other second and third-generation Italian-Canadians.

That's why he feels it is important to honour the trips and remember the trials and tribulations of coming to a new country.

"My mother and multiple of her friends and so many other (people) that were here before were already working in factories. Back then there was a large labour movement, most of the people that immigrated over worked in construction or worked in the mines. So we definitely contributed a lot to Canada."

The commemorative trip also made stops in Alberta and British Columbia to mark the celebrations.

The tour wraps up at Pier 21 in Halifax, where many first generation Italians touched Canadian soil for the first time.

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