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Interview With Mary Thornton


June 24, 2011


Columbus Centre



Interview With Mary Thornton

Mary Thornton is the daughter of internee, Guido Gioberti, who was interned in Camp Petawawa for about two years during World War II. Born in Hamilton, Mary moved to Italy with her family to learn the Italian language and culture. She returned to Canada at the age of 12 when times got hard in Italy. At the time of Guido’s arrest, the family was never even given the chance to say goodbye. Their only form of communication with him was through censored letters. Mary’s father made use of his time in the camp by learning several languages and reading as much as he could. She describes that on the day that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) ransacked their house she was “shivering” and “frightened to death.” Although the family was never given any explanations or provided with any apologies for this and other related events, Mary believes that the police or government did not even know what they were looking for. Mary recalls Casa d’Italia as a venue for social activities prior to the war, and does not believe that it was used as a political gathering ground. However, it was shut down during the war. She notes that before the war, the Hamilton Italian community was close-knit and very social. Things changed during the war, and the community no longer socialized out of fear of being accused of colluding. She notes that the discrimination faced reached a point whereby they changed their family name from “Gioberti” to “Gilbert,” so that they can acquire jobs. After her dad’s release, no one talked about what had happened to him, but instead tried to move forward with their lives.  She recounts how the war years shaped her life and that of her father’s, both negatively and positively. Mary worked as a seamstress and describes music as being a huge part of her family’s life. Her dad played in the Italo-Canadian Marine band before the war and was the bandmaster. She delineates the career path that led to her receiving numerous awards for costume design, and that resulted in her and her daughter forming the internationally renowned Toronto theatre company called Famous People Players.

In this opening clip Mary Thornton introduces herself, speaks about her parents and mentions the family migrating back to Italy.

Mary Thornton discusses her family migrating back to Canada and settling in Hamilton just prior to World War II.

Mary Thornton briefly talks about her father’s arrest at his place of employment in 1940.

Mary Thornton talks about her father’s involvement with the Italo-Canadian marine band and the Casa d’Italia in Hamilton.

Mary Thornton recalls families from Hamilton and talks about the strong social connections that existed between these families prior to the war.

Mary Thornton briefly mentions how the entire neighbourhood was affected by Italy’s war declaration and how they were never given any explanation for the government’s actions toward the Italian Canadian community.

Mary Thornton talks about the discrimination faced by the Italian Canadian community during World War II.

Mary Thornton describes how her family survived during the war years in her father’s absence.

Mary Thornton talks about communicating with her father through letters while he was interned at Camp Petawawa. She also shares that her father spent time learning other languages while he was interned.

Mary Thornton discusses how the Italian Canadian community in Hamilton stopped socializing during World War II.

Mary Thornton talks about her father’s involvement in the Italo-Canadian marine band and his role as bandmaster.

Mary Thornton talks about her father’s internment. She mentions that the family did not get to visit him at the internment camp and that they were never given any explanation for his arrest.

Mary Thornton discusses the discrimination faced by the Italian Canadian community during World War II.

Mary Thornton talks about her father’s return from the internment camp and how he never talked about the experience.

In this clip Mary Thornton discusses the local churches in Hamilton.

Mary Thornton discusses the various jobs her father was employed in, both before and after the war.

In this clip Mary Thornton talks about the birth of Famous People Players, a black light puppetry theatre company located in Toronto, ON.

In closing Mary Thornton discusses how she attributes her ambition and success in life to her parents. She goes on to discuss her parents and their early life in Italy and how these formative years set a strong foundation for her success in the arts.