giovedì 19 dicembre 2013


Enrichetta Braga

Egildo and Carlina Braga

The following article has already been published in Italian in in 2012. In the meantime we have received requests for more details from :

Annemarie Bourassa
Site historique maritime de la Pointe-au-Père
1000, du Phare, Rimouski,
(Québec) Canada G5M 1L8
 fax 418-721-0815
 / /


Dr. John Willis
Conservateur, Histoire économique et environnementale, Division d'archéologie et d'histoire
Curator, Economic and Environmental History, Archaeology and History Division
Canadian Museum of Civilization-Musée canadien des civilisations
100 Laurier
Gatineau (Québec) K1A 0M8
(819) 776-8467

Pointe-au-Père is very close to the site of the sinking of the  Empress of Ireland,while the Museum of Civilization of Gatineau will commemorate the event next May 2014.
 In both cases our articles regarding Egildo e Carolina Braga with the documentation provided by the Braga family of Turbigo will be present.

A serious suggestion to visit the places  where the target occurred  and the museum that preserve its memory and that of the people who died and survived. A great opportunity to be close to the families who haven’t forgotten what happened in a warm night of May 1914.

"Egildo and Carolina Braga survived the tragic sinking of the Canadian ship “Empress of Ireland” that went down in the waters of the St Lawrence River the night between May 28 and 29, 1914 , but their son Rino lost his life.
Enrichetta Braga awaits for my arrival seated behind the window with embroidered curtains of her house situated right after “the mill” of Turbigo, maybe a little anxious, since she isn’t accustomed to telling  the story of her family to strangers. Getting in touch with her has been somewhat difficult but the presence of her niece  Rosella who in the past has already  been in touch with other scholars and also  of her daughter Carla has contributed to making the event pleasant and relaxed.
Enrichetta Braga, who has turned 93 on February 16th, 2013, is a friendly and lovable person, quite capable in spite of her age since she still lives on her own and independent.  An orderly house filled with the memories of a long life centred by one of the worst maritime tragedies of Canada. I explain my work as a researcher, aimed at conveying the least known angles of Lombard emigration, and I tell her what I know about their story, to fill the gaps with the testimony of Enrichetta and the clarifications by Rosella and Carla.
Enrichetta’s story begins at Ellis Island, New York on December 27th, 1908 when the ship La Lorraine disembarks due emigrants from Turbigo : Egildo Braga and Arcangelo Citterio, the former headed for Eveleth,Minnesota to reach his brother Carlo, already there since 1906, the latter  for Herrin, Illinois to meet his friend  Pasquale Bianchini. Both future iron and coal miners.
Egildo Braga, a robust 21 year old, adapts fast to the rhythm of the life  of the mining camp of Fayal where the activity is in full swing : iron is mined and semi-processed on location to the point that the population of Eveleth has increased from 2.800 in 1900 to over 7.000 inhabitants.  As is the custom Egildo boards like other miners with an Italian family. In fact the 1910 Federal Census indicates that he boards with the family of Frank and Josephine Colombo. The meticulous statistic registers him as an iron miner at Fayal Camp and informs that he has already filed the first papers to obtain the American citizenship, usually the first step towards the decision to remain in the States for good.
Actually Egildo is willing to start a family but since he has no spare time and the chance to find a wife or to return to Turbigo, he gets in touch with his family. Since many young were abroad, the number of girls of marriageable age was very high and so arranging a marriage through a photograph or a vague memory was easy. Some young lady married by proxy but Carolina Braga, Egildo’s cousin  preferred to cross the Atlantic directly arriving in New York on May 267th, 1911 on board La Lorraine.
The ship’s passenger list shows that she is going to her cousin Egildo Braga’s at 217 Grand Street in Eveleth,  a clear indication that he had left the boarding house but it’s not known whether Carolina, then 19, had left Turbigo alone on her way to Le Havre where she embarked on May 20th  1911. Enrichetta remembers that her mother was probably travelling with some other fellow countrywoman but the manifest shows no other people from Turbigo or other towns going to Eveleth. The ocean crossing, always with the same connotation of anxiety and sea-sickness and that famous piece of cheese from home that wouldn’t go down, as Enrichetta vividly recalls with the recalls with the absolute certainty of a person who has listened to the same phrases year over year without ever getting bored and paying close attention to the smallest details.
Carolina leaves with courage and confident to go to Eveleth not to embrace a tree  brasciacoll a ‘na pianta but to marry the man of her life. Enrichetta repeats this and the photographs sent afterwards to her mother Maria Romorini in Turbigo reflect a proud and serene couple.
On June 3rd 1911, right after her  uncomfortable voyage, Egildo and Carolina Braga get married in Eveleth and start planning their future. A son, Rino, is soon born and everything goes on well. Enrichetta still cherishes the sepia photographs of weddings that many emigrants used to send with pride to their families back in Italy.
Pretty soon also Carolina would manage a boarding house and later she would tell on and on about her having to care even for 17 miners which translated into preparing their Italian dishes, washing and ironing their clothes.
Carlo, Egildo’s brother, iron miner and boarder with another family, got married instead in 1914. The procedure was always the same : request to the family in Italy to look for a girl of a marriageable age within the family circle swilling to emigrate. A well  tested rite.
The 19 year old  would be wife Giuseppa Garavaglia left aboard the Rochambeau from Le Havre on March 14th 1914 and landed in New York on March 24th 1911. This time the so-called work ships carry several local emigrants. The final destination of Carolina and Rosa Ronzoni is Eveleth and droves of emigrants from Castano Primo, Nosate are going to St. Louis, Missouri while others from Lonate Pozzolo are crossing the continent towards Crocket and San Rafael,California. In 1913 at least 90 Turbighese emigrated to the States but in 1914 on account of the political turmoils the count decreased to only 15.
Giuseppa left her family back in Turbigo still headed by her father Giuseppe who had previously emigrated to Argentina where Giuseppa was born in 1895.
A great and wonderful wedding photograph taken in 1914  patiently explained by Enrichetta shows Carlo and Giuseppa surrounded by friends and relatives and most of all by Egildo and Carolina and their son Rino. The dating of the photographs has necessitated much discussion and hypothesis because there are no captions  and Enrichetta can humanly identify only the people she has known  or the ones she has constantly heard about. However, now everything seems much clearer. Giuseppa arrived on March 24th 1914 and she got married almost right away, certainly before the departure of Egildo and his family for Italy that took place on the last week of May 1914.
 The voyage started at Ville Quebèc, Quebèc, Canada was solicited by the promotions of the shipping lines after a 2.250 train trip from Duluth, Minnesota.
Why did Egildo decide to return home? Enrichetta has no definite answer: Carolina was happy in America and work opportunities were there. We may speculate a family request, then quite strong in many families, that may have compelled Egildo to go back to Italy and verify the conditions of things after six years abroad. Actually onboard the Empress of Ireland there were many workers temporarily laid off by the Ford Company and many miners out of work. The echo of the bloody strikes of 1913-14 in Copper County, Michigan and the coal mines of Ludlow, Colorado, followed by those in the Mesabi Range, Minnesota was still strong.
Sometimes returning back home was better than the constant fight  for the daily bread.  
Egildo, Carolina and Rino ended up in Ville de Quèbec amid a crowd of people on their way to Liverpool, a convenient seaport for North Europeans but a little less for the Italians who had over 1.250 more Kilometers to go.
On May 28th the Empress of Ireland  left Ville de Quèbec at 1630 sharp with captain Henry G. Kendall in command and 1.477 passengers – first second and third class plus crew members – and ventured into the St. Lawrence River.
Egildo and Carolina declined the possibility to stay in the dormitory with the other children – 138 altogether – and preferred to stay with him in their third class stateroom.
Around one twenty of May 29th , 1914 the visibility on the route was zeroed by sudden fog banks. Both the Empress of Ireland and the Norwegian collier Storstad, that sailed in the opposite direction, realized  it but in spite of the last minute course corrections the Storstad was unable to avoid the collision. At 0155 a.m. the bow of the Storstad, reinforced to navigate in icy waters, penetrated the side of the Empress of Ireland creating a gash of 4X14 metres at least seven metres under the waterline, and  the ship began to lurch on one side. At 0200 am the Storstad managed to disengage.
Fifteen minutes later the Empress of Ireland was no more visible.
When the Storstad crashed into the Empress of Ireland,Egildo woke up with a start and ran immediately to find out what had happened. Carolina, stà lì ca vo sù a vidè, Carolina wait for me while I upstairs to find out. Egildo returned almost at once :  Carolina al funda, Carolina she it’s sinking.
Luckily they had kept their son with them and they had not remained in the dormitory.134 out of 138 children drowned and they, too, would have certainly met the same fate.
Fog, fear, the agitation of the crowd, Rino ; everything contributes to making the scene dramatic but Egildo keeps calm, he somehow ties Rino and attempts to figure how to survive. Carolina is terrified, they have put on the life vest but jumping into the sea in the dark it’s not easy for fear of the suck since the ship is going down. They manage to reach the deck, Egildo kicks an irrational passenger obstructing the way while dragging his suitcase. Then they jump off. All of a sudden Egildo senses that the violence of the water has taken away Rino from him, he searches for him in despair and loses sight of Carolina. She has been hit by a beam and hurt her forehead, she sinks into the freezing water and then goes up again, and then she holds up hanging on an overturned lifeboat.
Enrichetta’s eyes become moist at recalling her father’s words, he who got moved every time , and this happened quite often, he focused his thought and speech upon the tragic event feeling  guilty  for having been unable to save his son Rino.
Vusean tucc, in UN mument a vusea pù nisun, Everybody screamed, in a moment nobody screamed anymore.
The rescue by the Storstad itself and other ships were as fast as the sinking of the Empress of Ireland had occurred but the tragedy was terrible.1012 people died and only 565 survived.
The survivors were taken to nearby Rimouski where the Brags tried in vain to identify Reno’s body among the corpses that had been found and lined up for identification.
At this point there was nothing to be done but accept the unpleasant event and return home as soon as possible. Canadian Pacific  reprotected most passengers aboard then Corsican that left on May 31st 1914 for Liverpool, with Egildo also the few Italian survivors.
Back in Turbigo, Egildo Braga, son of Angelo and Vincenza Cavaiani got married again with Carolina Braga, daughter of the late Felice and Maria Romorini, on November 18th, 1914 in the parish church of Our Lady of the Assumption of Turbigo. The records of the American wedding had not been interpreted properly and the couple desired to start a new life.
America had left many remembrances, a leather belt with the savings of the mine work and a golden chain, miraculously escaped from the shipwreck. Nothing else. They had lost everything, including their clothes. Carolina used to tell, quite amused, that after their rescue she only wore the nightgown e for a while she covered herself with a cuerta insu una cuerta da là a blanket on and a blanket across.
Life resumed. On May 17th 1914 Rina was born but she died  on November 25th, 1917. At last on February 16th, 1920 Enrichetta Braga, mother of Carla and Aurelia, was born, she who continues to  hand down the story of the family. There followed Mario Braga ( October 5, 1924 – February 1st, 2001) Rosella and Pierangela’s father  and Rina Braga ( July 15th, 1930 – June 6th, 1931).
At the end of world war I dozen Turbighese returned or left for the first time for the United States looking for new job opportunities, among them Egildo Braga. This time he was alone and boarded Dante Alighieri – Genoa September 24th 1920 – New York October 9th, 1920. Same destination: Eveleth, Minnesota where his brother Carlo, now definitely residing in the US, was waiting for him.
He sojourned there for a couple of years but something didn’t function and he elected to return to Italy. It would be for good because the political climate didn’t favour emigration.
The regret of that night would haunt him forever, his thought always pointed towards the fog bank of Pointe-au-Père along the Saint Lawrence River where the now the soul of Rino has rejoined that of Egildo and Carolina’s."
Ernesto R Milani           17 December 2014    
Pointe-au-Père - Historic Maritime Site

Gatineau - Canada Museum of Civilization

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