Just a week ago on March 11,2021 I was saddened to hear of Patsy Caravetta’s passing. I had known Patsy since I was a little girl because my parents and his family knew each other. I recall in 1968 when mom and dad and their friend Mario Turcasso went to Italy Patsy’s mom Concetta went with them because the family didn’t want her to go alone so mom and the others kept an eye on her on the trip.
Patsy was a real gentleman; he loved sports and excelled in them. He was a member and a great volunteer with different organizations and also worked to establish the Fernie Minor Hockey League. I remember Patsy when he served on City council, back in the day this was a position that was highly respected. After Nick and I married occasionally on Saturday evenings we would go to the Legion where we would sit with Patsy and friends and when the Legion closed we would all head over to the Diamond Grill for Chinese food. Memories of those Saturday nights in the Legion are notable because as a young mother of four kids under the age of eight those occasional nights out were precious but made more so because as a 24 year old stay at home mom I was still very impressionable and so being with the older business crowd was very exciting. I don’t drink alcohol or caffeine due to allergies so having a couple of seven up sodas and a bag of Cheesies made for a very delightful time.
I enjoyed listening to Patsy and the others talk about Fernie and it’s past. Especially enthralled was the story that there was a boxing room on the second floor of the Ingram Block building, above Board Stiff. During the War people would gather on the street and when news would come over the radio someone would relay it to the crowd below or if there were fights someone would relay what was happening and who was winning.
A few years ago Patsy consented to let me write a profile story on him and now as a tribute to a man who was a huge part of this town in so many ways including in our church. I want to include the story I wrote that tells you in part why this man was so valued by those that knew him.
When Patsy Caravetta closed his business on Second Avenue after many years ( ET Hair Studio and now Walter’s ) a part of Fernie’s history disappeared. “I was a barber for 24 years,” Patsy says to me. “I started out working for Benny Smith, who first had a barbershop in the old Fernie Hotel, where the Sparling East Clinic now stands. That hotel was built in the early 1900’s; it burned down in the 1908 fire. Benny moved to the corner of the Mitrie Rahal building and after barber school at the Vancouver Vocational Institute I did a year’s apprenticeship with Benny. When he retired I took over the business. Bob Baker worked with me and then Doug Turner.”
“We did lots of shaves back then”, Patsy continues, “every Friday the men would come in with a full week’s beard, some of the hair would be so stiff it was hard work to get a smooth shave with the straight razor which had to be very sharp”.
“I would give a massage, do mud packs on the face as well as haircuts. 50 cents for a shave”, Patsy says with a chuckle. “There were no appointments then and if no customers showed we would just lock up and go home.” Patsy says he “enjoys people”, and adds that to be a barber “you have to have a good ear, be understanding and sympathetic, you have to be a philosopher,” he says with a smile.
Patsy was born on August 31, 1929 at home in the house he still lives in today. His dad was an Italian immigrant working in the Morrissey Mine in 1904. He went back to Italy to do a stint in the Forces and to get a bride. By 1925 he was working at the Coal Creek Tipple and wife Concetta had also arrived.
“She came with Marietta Spoveiri and Luigi Gallo who later became the grocery manager of Trites-Wood Store in Natal/Michel. They came through Ellis Island, by train to Montreal and then to Fernie. It was just before Christmas, when she got off the train, she couldn’t believer her eyes. So much snow, if she could have, she would have gotten right back on the train”.
Patsy recalls how poor they were during the depression and one incident in particular. He was peering through the window of Joe Aiello’s shoe store when a well-dressed man stopped and asked, “Are those the only shoes you have young man?”
Patsy said as kids they would play kick the can or kick anything, so one pair of shoes got wrecked pretty quickly. He looked down at his badly worn shoes and replied, “yes, sir”.
The man, who was Judge Harry Coulghan, took him inside and bought him a new pair of shoes. Patsy never forgot the Judge’s kindness. Years later, Patsy happened to be in the Royal Hotel and saw the Judge sitting alone as usual. “He never accepted drinks from anyone”, Patsy remembers. But this day Patsy sent a beer over to him and to his surprise the Judge accepted. Gathering up nerve Patsy walked over to him to thank him for accepting the drink and for buying the shoes for him so many years before.
Patsy and younger brothers Sam and Frank attended Catholic School until grade eight. He said the Sisters of St Joseph were just wonderful. They wore the old severe black and white habits and some of the classes had up to forty or more students. The nuns would put on many concerts with the help of Emma Chubra and Mrs. Caufield, concerts that would pack the hall.
On Wednesday’s, Patsy would run home to pick up a heated metal lard pail full of spaghetti and meatballs to bring to Sister Gabriel. Then he would run back home to have his lunch, “in those days everyone walked everywhere, even the kids from West Fernie walked, Josephine Vicen, who lived in White Spruce, up Hartley Lake, walked every day to school. She was in such good shape, she won all the races in school”, says Patsy.
When Patsy transferred to the Public School, he said it was a culture shock. He remembers taking Latin from vice-principal Sam Creamer and winning the contest for the design for the school logo still used today, for that he won $2.00, a grand sum in those days.
Living in the Annex, a name he would like to see changed to River Park, “we’re part of Fernie”; he recalls belonging to the Annex Amateur Athletic Association. “Gabe Redless, and Tom Payne looked after the kids. It cost 25 cents to belong, but if you didn’t have it they let you in anyway”. North End Tigers, West Fernie Bluebirds, the 4A’s, each area of town had a team, he says.
Patsy’s mother kept Italian traditions, the family spoke Italian at home and as soon as he was old enough Patsy would knead the dough for bread. “Half an hour, when he was finished, she would say, five more minutes.” She would make pasta, gnocchi and olives in the crock, with salami, sausages and prosciutto hanging in the attic. The family also raised pigs, goats and chickens in their backyard. “We would take the goats to graze in the fields, but we never let them rest, we would ride them until they were so tired they couldn’t even make milk, when our dad found out he butchered the goats”, Patsy says with a grin.
An afternoon, listening to this pleasant and genial man passed by in a flash, I could have listened for hours and written volumes more, because its people like Patsy that that can tell us about the history of this great little town.
You will be missed Patsy. Rest in Peace.