Luigi and Melina Fiume arrived in Yellowknife in the fall of 1956 with $25 and a couple of suitcases filled with clothing unsuitable for the climate, according to their son, Roberto Fiume.
Luigi, 25, and Melina, 20, emigrated from Napoli, Italy, on the advice that there were jobs in Canada. They worked their way from Halifax to the NWT and arrived without a lick of English.
“They didn’t choose Yellowknife,” said Roberto. “Yellowknife chose them.”
Luigi worked for 25 years at Con Mine and Melina raised three children: Roberto, Elena and Teresa, and often hosted others in their home.
“My mom fed all the neighbourhood kids,” said Roberto.
Luigi’s dream was to open up a pizzeria and deli, and in 1979, while still working at the mine, he launched Luigi’s on 53 Street, now the site of Bruno’s Pizza.
“We started in a double-wide trailer and it evolved and grew rapidly,” said Roberto.
Luigi’s sold deli meat; baked pastas, such as tortellini and ravioli; and pizza baked on cookie sheets. For many, it was the first authentic Italian food they had ever tried.
Roberto recalled a story his neighbour, Brain Piro, told him.
“My dad walked over to the Piro’s and asked, ‘Can you show me how to change the spark plugs? I just need to see it done once, and I got it.’ Twenty minutes later, he returned and handed them food. They looked at it and said, ‘I read about this in an Archie comic: I think it’s pizza!’ It took us 40 years but now everyone is eating pizza.”
Within six months, the eatery took off.
“My father was really good with numbers so he had calculated, to the exact day, when he could retire from the mine,” said Roberto.
They frequently offered something new, like the first ‘take and bake’ pizzas, and the Co-Op would order a couple hundred of those per week.
Luigi started to import speciality cheeses and meats by request.
“We also had mining and other work camps buy whole prosciutto from us as it is salt and smoked cured, and they could buy a lot of them and that would help them feed their workers while they were cut off during freeze up and thaw,” Roberto recalled.
Luigi worked quietly and diligently.
“He would really think about what he said. And basically all were welcome, and he tried to make the same quality of food for everyone,” said Roberto.
In 1986, after 30 years in Yellowknife, the family decided to sell the business and move. Both sisters were at attending classes at the University of British Columbia. So the Fiumes bought a property in West Kelowna, where Melina still lives.
“My dad didn’t want to leave, that was his baby,” Roberto said of the pizzeria.
Roberto and his family built Ciao Bella Winery in West Kelowna, and over the years, many of Luigi’s friends made the trip south from Yellowknife to visit them.
Luigi passed away in 2018 at age 87.
“I’m grateful he got to see the start of Ciao Bella,” said Roberto.
In fact, Luigi’s photo sits on Roberto’s desk, as though the patriarch is still watching over his family.