About a year before he met Anne, Anthony Altilia rode a bike to the 1939 World’s Fair.
He was 17, riding solo from Toronto to New York City. And his bike was not the motoring kind.
“The motor was me,” he says, laughing.
At the World’s Fair, people flocked to see the future – colour photography, fluorescent lamps, Smell-O-Vision. Albert Einstein gave a talk on cosmic rays.
But as it happened, the brightest star of Anthony’s future was another 1,000 km away, on Ontario Street, Toronto.
That’s the Cabbagetown street where Anne grew up, the first of her seven siblings born in Canada rather than Italy.
By 16, given the Great Depression, Anne had a life few teenagers could imagine today – out of school and working full-time.
“You didn’t think anything of it, because we all did it,” she said. “That whole era of teenagers – we all went to work when we were about 15.”
Anne remembers walking from factory to factory on King Street, looking for a job.
One belonged to Reliable Toy (“I would have loved it,” she says), another was the sweet-smelling plant run by Sherriff’s Marmalade.
But when she finally found work wiring lamps at Lang Brothers, Anne felt lucky.
“There was a problem getting a job if you were Italian,” she said, because Italy joined Germany in the Second World War.
When she tried to get her sister hired, too, Anne was told, “One Italian is all we can handle.’”
“We were really held responsible,” she said. “To be honest, you just knew that was the way it was, and you accepted it.”
Despite the hard work, growing up in 1930s Toronto had its upsides. Without high school, teenagers like Anne and Anthony had other ways to meet.
“You’d go dancing,” said Anne, smiling. “We danced at the Palais practically every night.”
At the Palais, the Columbus Hall, Club Top Hat or the Masonic Temple – Anne said she and her friends danced wherever a band was playing.
It was a dance in a church basement where she first set eyes on Anthony.
“I was dancing, and Anthony was in the doorway,” she said.
“He wasn’t on the dance floor, but I looked at him, and he looked at me, and I thought, ‘Oh, he’s kinda nice.”
Later, Anne convinced her pals to go dance at St. Agnes Church, which she knew was close to Anthony’s home near Little Italy. They danced and starting dating.
On April 26, 1945, the dancing couple tied the knot. Anne was 21, Anthony 23, and their wedding brought together a huge extended family. While Anne had seven siblings, Anthony had 10.
They got an apartment on Hallam Avenue, then on Rose Avenue in Cabbagetown.
But after their first child Anna-Maria was born, the landlord said a baby was too noisy, and they had to leave.
“If you had children, your chances of getting a flat were almost impossible,” said Anne.
She and Anthony moved in with her mother for the next four years, slowly saving money from Anthony’s machinist job to buy a house.
It wasn’t easy, but again, Anne knew they were lucky.
Anthony had wanted to join the navy when the war began, but the military refused because machinists were badly needed at home.
Later, he did machining for a pair of elevator companies, and started his own oxyacetylene torch repair shop. Eventually he would join his brother Pat’s Pascal Equipment before finishing at Ainsworth Electric.
By 1949, he and Anne were ready to buy a home on Kingswood Road in the Upper Beach.
The house cost about $72,500 in today’s dollars, and it seems it was worth every penny.
It’s the home where they raised their five children: Anna Maria, Anthony, twins Paul and Paulette, and John. And, after 66 years, it’s the same home where their children and grandchildren visit today.
Especially at the height of the baby boom, Anne said Kingswood was a street full of children.
“It was a real community,” she said, recalling mornings when she would wash her infant twins and put them out on the verandah to nap.
“They’d sleep there all morning, and I would go about my work,” she said. “You wouldn’t do that today.”
And just as the kids walked to school to St. John or Neil McNeil or Notre Dame, she and Anthony could go around the corner onto Kingston Road to shop for just about anything from mom-and-pops like DeLacey’s grocery and Snider’s shoe store.
“It doesn’t compare,” said Anne, thinking of today’s warehouse-like supermarkets at Danforth and Victoria Park.
“You didn’t have to leave your area, and you didn’t need a car,” she said.
When she thinks about what it was like growing up in her parents’ house, Anna Maria remembers more than just her seven family members.
For years, the Kingswood house was also home to a pair of upstairs tenants, bringing the headcount to nine.
Anne and Anthony slept in what is now the dining room, and the tenants shared a washroom with the kids upstairs.
“It was a busy place,” said Parise, smiling.
“But it was all okay – it was a gift, and we enjoyed it.”
All the tenants fit in, but the family favourite was Mrs. Butterfield, an English nanny who lived there with her son. Parise remembers her knitting Argyle socks and telling her all kinds of stories about England.
“I wouldn’t give her notice, I loved her so much,” said Anne. “She’d always say to me, ‘It’s getting crowded here!’”
In fact, when asked for the secret to 70 years of happy marriage, that’s what Anne and Anthony talk about – not themselves or their relationship, but their house full of kids and friends and family.
“This house was always full of people,” said Anne.
To this day, she said she and Anthony have ‘open house’ on Sundays, when all the family is welcome to drop by.
“Nobody was invited,” she said, smiling. “They just came.”