The Canadian Camino: Stories of Courage, Resilience and Hope

Senator Loffreda is in Italy this month to take part in the Walk for Remembrance and Peace in honor of the 80th anniversary of Operation Husky. So far, the Walk has been quite successful, well-received throughout Sicily and generating much interest. The Senator wrote about his experience in this column. 

When I landed in Italy earlier this month to take part in the Walk for Remembrance and Peace, I knew the entire experience would be a sobering one.  After all, I was joining hundreds of volunteers, civilians, military personnel, and Sicilians in commemorating the 80th anniversary of Operation Husky, the Allied landing on the island of Sicily during the Second World War. 

I truly believe in this initiative and in the need to honour our fallen heroes which is why I decided to join the “Canadian Camino” this summer.  This is a personal undertaking, solely funded with personal resources.  Not one dime of taxpayer’s money has been used for my participation in this special commemoration. 

For the occasion, we embarked on a 325-km walk in Sicily where nearly 25,000 Canadian soldiers fought for 38 grueling days in July and August 1943.  It was a major turning point during the war that would eventually lead to the liberation of Italy and the victory of the Allied forces.

As we continue to wind through the villages and towns of Sicily, I am struck by the warm welcome we are receiving wherever we go, the generosity of our hosts, and the deep appreciation of Sicilians who are eternally grateful to Canadians who served in Operation Husky eight decades ago.

I’ve been here for less than two weeks, but residents have embraced our presence with open arms.  Many people have shared touching stories with me of the legacy of our Canadian forces who made meaningful and lasting contributions to Italy at a time when it needed us the most.  I’ve heard heartfelt testimony from families who lost loved ones during the war.  The ravages of war are undeniably long-lasting and continue to be felt generations later.

Everywhere I go and everyone I’ve spoken with so far appreciate the sacrifice of our Canadian soldiers who courageously crossed the Atlantic Ocean, travelled thousands of miles to a foreign land, and joined our Allied partners to fight for peace, democracy, and freedom.

Honouring our fallen heroes during this Walk for Remembrance and Peace has also hit home for me personally. 

My maternal grandfather Nicola D’Onofrio died during the last days of the war, along with three of his brothers who never came back from battle and whose bodies were never found.  Widowed and grieving the loss of her dear husband, my grandmother Veronica single-handedly provided and cared for her seven children during a time of global uncertainty and post-war instability.

Severely devastated by the war, she left her wonderful village of San Gregorio Matese, north of Naples, and started her life over and raised (remarkably and successfully) seven outstanding individuals including my mother Maria, who was only four years old when her father passed away.

My family, like many families in Europe whose communities were devastated by the war, struggled through post-war poverty, but survived and learned how to enjoy the simple pleasures and necessities of life. Values such as community, hard work and commitment, kindness and altruism, spirituality, integrity, and humility were the bedrock of my mother’s upbringing and were passed on to her by my grandmother Veronica.  My mom fully embraced these values, and they provided her with the tools, mindset, and positive attitude she needed as my parents, who were newlyweds, made the heart-wrenching decision in 1962 to leave war-torn Italy and make their way to Canada.

My mother’s moral compass, one that I would describe as without reproach, was at the heart of our family unit in Canada.  My parents instilled in my siblings and I these values that have guided us throughout our lives, both professionally and personally, and that I now see in my two adult children.  Being in Italy this summer is bringing back all these vivid memories of my own upbringing. 

It has been a phenomenal learning experience to criss-cross through Sicily and interact with the locals.  It was particularly moving on July 11th to address a large crowd who gathered in Rosolini to welcome our group and to stand next to the Italian Army’s Bersaglieri.  My father and my great uncles were members of this infantry corps.  It certainly felt like a full-circle moment.

Equally important, our journey has also been a very humbling exercise in gratitude and self-reflection.  Hearing these touching stories of war and devastation, combined with inspiring messages of hope, resiliency, and empowerment, reminds me of my good fortune to have been raised by two outstanding parents who chose Canada, a place that offered, and continues to provide, a wealth of opportunities for newcomers. 

The Walk for Remembrance and Peace also gives me – and all those who are on this journey – an opportunity to further promote peace and friendship and solidify the relationship between our two great nations.  The bonds that unite us – that flourished and were cemented during Operation Husky in 1943 – are stronger than ever and I have witnessed it first-hand as we pursue our “Canadian Camino” through Sicily.  It is a truly humbling experience to be on this journey and one that I will remember forever.

The Honourable Tony Loffreda Independent Canadian Senator (Québec)