Rossella Lario: “Mai Mollare!” (Never Give up!)

by Bill Belsey

Rossella Lario believes that it was her destiny to become a Canadian. 

Before Rossella was born in the town of Susa, Italy, her father had planned to come to Canada with his wife to find work in 1973. As fate would have it, they had to abandon their plans when they learned that they were expecting a baby, that child turned out to be Rossella.

Susa is located 51 km west of the City of Turin in the Northwest Piedmont region of Italy, in the middle of Susa Valley, near the border with France at the foot of the Cottian Alps, much like Cochrane lays in the Foothills of the Canadian Rockies. Historically, Susa is known as “The oldest of Alpine towns”. In the Middle and Modern ages, Susa was important as a hub of roads connecting southern France to Italy. Perhaps it was foreshadowing for Rossella’s later life that Susa’s Patron Saint is “St. Mary of the Snow”.

Tragically, Rossella lost her father Elio when she was just five years old; he was 29. Her mother became ill, so Rossella’s nonna and nonno, grandmother and grandfather, raised her. Piera and Pino were dressmakers. Rossella watched them work hard to provide for her; they both modelled the value of hard work for this young Italian girl at an early age.

Rossella closes her eyes and broadly smiles as memory transports her fondly back in time to the “Festa delle castagne“, “Festival of the Chestnuts“, held in the Susa Valley each autumn at the end of September and early October. “I can still remember the lovely aroma of fresh roasted chestnuts wafting from chimneys in family fireplaces“, she reminisced. 

As Rossella grew older, she remained no stranger to hard work, taking jobs in coffee shops and a bakery. Eventually, she began post-secondary schooling at the University of Turin, where she studied Education for two years. Later, she was able to land a good job working at the Post Office. Such Government positions were considered plum jobs in Italy at the time as they came with highly-valued benefits, she worked there for twenty years.

In 2013, Rossella and her husband Mario came to Canada looking for new challenges and opportunities, as they had often dreamed about. Mario had a cousin who was living in Toronto, and he had often spoke glowingly about Canada. Mario had replied to an ad placed in Italian newspapers by a Canadian construction company looking for skilled workers. Mario was offered a job. The company promised Mario that they would help him get a work visa, but shortly after their arrival in Vancouver, the company reneged on this promise. Rossella explained that being taken advantage of is a common experience for many vulnerable immigrants. They managed to stay in Canada for four months as tourists. In an expensive city like Vancouver, their savings began to run out quickly. To make matters worse, Rossella found out that she was pregnant. Rossella recalled, “Mario was a skilled, hard worker, but he only spoke three words; ‘beer, cigarettes and hello.” Their prospects were grim.

Out of desperation, they reached out to the Italian Embassy in Vancouver for help. They met Eleonora, who was an Office Manager at the Embassy. One of her duties was to help Italians who were in Canada complete any necessary paperwork. Beyond her required work responsibilities, Eleonora was a part of a volunteer organization through which doctors donated their time and medical skills for free to immigrants. Rossella was very grateful for Eleonora’s support at that crucial time and still sees her as a guardian angel and mentor.

While in Vancouver, Rossella gave birth to Victoria, their first child. Rossella reflected, “Without the help of those generous Canadian doctors, we would have had to pay many thousands of dollars for Victoria to have been born with the proper medical support. I thank God every day for their help when we needed it most. We called our daughter Victoria because her name means Victory.”

In 2014, Rossella, Mario, and their three daughters, Alice, Maia and Victoria, moved to Calgary after Mario accepted a job at a new company, where he was treated much better than he was in Vancouver.

When asked about the differences between Italy and Canada, Rossella shared some insights. “Italians can be very loud and brash. Canadians are calmer and more reserved. I have found Canadians to be very encouraging and helpful; in Italy, people are more concerned about themselves. You have so much space in Canada. It can take days to drive across one province, whereas in Europe you could drive through many countries at the same time. Canada is one of the most beautiful countries in the world; its wilderness is a gift that should never be taken for granted!” 

Rossella’s only regret about coming to Canada is that she didn’t do it earlier in her life.

In 2016, Rossella and her family found themselves having ice cream at Mackay’s as countless others have done. They fell in love with Cochrane’s charming historic downtown, it reminded them a little of Susa, as it too is nestled in a valley with mountain vistas.

In 2018, Rossella took the courageous step, along with her life’s savings and opened, “Cuore Di Mamma”, “Mother’s Heart” in Cochrane’s own “Little Italy” not far from The Boot and the Portofino Ristorante just across the street from the Cochrane United Church.

Cuore Di Mamma is more than an Italian delicatessen; it’s a joyful food experience in the heart of Cochrane. When you walk into this slice of Italy, Rossella and her hard-working staff will often greet you with a welcoming smile and a heartfelt, “Buongiorno!” 

In Cuore Di Mamma, Rossella is making and sharing delicious food lovingly made with a “Mother’s Heart” using recipes from Rossella’s own family. In an age when people increasingly care about the quality of the food they consume, Rossella has addressed this need head-on. Rossella offers imported premium Italian products, cheeses, cured meats, fresh gourmet sandwiches, homemade soups, fresh bread, pasta and more. Italian words from her menu like bruschetta, capocollo, mortadella, provolone and soppressata, trip off the tongue. Once you have sampled her fresh pasta, anything else will be a pretender. Increasing numbers of patrons are picking up Rosella’s fresh pizza dough, her mouth-watering sauce along with some freshly-shaved pepperoni and mozzarella to be baked and devoured at home. Many can’t resist buying “Italian wedding soup”, using her nonna’s recipe. Others will try her lasagne or other kinds of fresh pasta. To borrow a phrase from a famous ad campaign, you truly can “Taste the difference“. Delizioso!

Rossella and Mario now have three daughters; Victoria, Alice and Maia, they are Rossella’s pride and joy. Rosella is pleased that their children have the opportunity to grow up in Canada. Rosella feels that life in Canada is more peaceful and less stressful than she knew in Italy. 

Rossella is hopeful that she and Mario will get their Permanent Residency status soon, and eventually receive their Canadian Citizenship within the next two years. “The Canadian Government is VERY strict about the Citizenship process. You must always tell the truth when they ask you questions. You need to prove that you are going to contribute to making Canada a better country. Canada offers so many possibilities for people like my family and me to follow our dreams.

In the years ahead, Rossella would like to grow Cuore Di Mamma. She hopes to have a bigger store and hire more employees. She also hopes that she will be in a position to give back to the community. “So many people in Cochrane have been so supportive and encouraging. It makes me realize that being Canadian isn’t merely about a piece of paper; it’s a feeling of pride that we are part of the best country in the world. When you come from another country as I have, you can see how special Canada is. When I hopefully become a Canadian Citizen, I want to have a big party to celebrate. I want to tell people in Cochrane, ‘Grazie mille, thank you, very much, and to those who are facing challenges in their own lives, I would say, ‘Mai mollare, never give up!”