Enjoy Yourself – about my Italian grandfather, James Franceschini.
When a person achieves a positive defining moment in his or her life, it could be imagined that this person might pause to reflect upon the journey traveled to reach that moment.
It is conceivable then, that on the night of September 26th 1953, James Franceschini might have reflected on the events of the day just passed, and his journey that had enabled those events take place.
Perhaps with a glass of his favourite Scotch whiskey in one hand, and a fine Cuban cigar in the other, he would thank his lucky stars for the weather that fall day, which had been unseasonably warm for that time of year in Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains.
He had just entertained over one hundred mayors and their wives from all over North America, Great Britain and Europe. These dignitaries had come by motor coach and private limousines from Montreal, one hundred miles to the south, to visit Dufferin Haven, Franceschini’s magnificent eighty acre estate carved out of forest and rock on the shores of Lac Tremblant.
Built by Franceschini during the early 1940’s, Dufferin Haven’s extensive buildings were constructed from British Columbia cedar logs, and topped off with brilliant red cedar shake roofs. The grounds were immaculately kept by a crew of resident Dutch landscapers, and many of the flowers and plants on the estate were grown in one of the five greenhouses situated on the property.
James Franceschini’s mountain home was built to function year round, and being just across the lake from the renowned Mt. Tremblant ski resort, it was a prime piece of real estate. The local villages of Mt. Tremblant and St. Jovite provided the necessities of life with a French Canadian flare, and as a result prospered in both the summer and winter months.
Dufferin Haven was constructed in segments, starting in 1941. A main residence for James was the first item looked after, followed by staff quarters, greenhouses, a school house/social facility for the staff, a gate house, and most importantly, an elaborate stable facility for James’ prize show horses. If Dufferin Haven had one ultimate purpose in the mind of its proprietor, it was to create the most beautiful, dramatic setting imaginable for both man and his special equine beasts.
Those horses had been showcased that day for his esteemed guests, displaying their fine breeding and fancy gaits as they circled the manicured outdoor track. It would have been fitting on this evening in 1953 to reminisce back to his early love of horses, the large draft animals that pulled his father’s kitchen wares wagon to retail fairs in Abruzzi, Italy.
It was in the Abruzzi town of Castellamare Adriatico that he was born in March of 1890, with the given name of Vincenzo. His life’s journey would be changed abruptly at age fifteen, when his father sent him to the new world to build a foundation upon which his family could transform their lives.
For a young boy who did not speak the native tongue of his adopted country, Canada, life was anything but easy in the beginning. He had received the briefest of education in Italy, but he learned the art of street business ethics at his father’s side. It was this education that would serve him well in his newfound land. He was told that to change his Christian name to “James” would enhance his chances of success as well.
Even still, early attempts to improve his standing were met with unimagined setbacks. But young James was resilient, and he never in his life let misfortune rule him.
That is why this September day in 1953 had been so particularly sweet. Thirteen years earlier, in June of 1940, James Franceschini’s name and reputation, the things he had worked so hard to establish and protect, were dragged through the mud and stomped on for what was considered the most contemptible of reasons.
He had been arrested without warning, and interned behind the barbed wire hundreds of miles from his family and home. This ordeal almost most killed him, for it was in that dark place that he first contracted cancer, a disease he would fight the rest of his life. It was when he was recuperating from his first series of operations that he was taken to Mt. Tremblant for rest in the invigorating mountain air. It was love at first sight, and he became a new man here, ready to move forward with his life.
He must have thought of those days, and how far back he had come on that exultant evening in Quebec. He had been forced to contend with so many adversaries and detractors, but when it really mattered, it was his true and loyal friends the came to his rescue. Where he was once scorned an ostracized, he could now freely associate with people that were not judgmental about things in his past…things that he was accused of doing and being, but subsequently found to be completely innocent of.
The people he had entertained on this day had embraced his hospitality without prejudice.
He must have thought of his family. His brother Leonard was with him in Mt. Tremblant that night, just as he had been with him every step of the way during the good times and bad times. It would be hard to imagine two brothers who were closer in body and soul. Besides working together, the two families lived in houses side by side, their children played and grew up together, and when James was taken away, Leonard was a vocal and persistent advocate for his innocence and release.
His was rewarded for this loyalty was a long train ride into northern Ontario to join his ailing brother…in captivity.
He would have thought of his wife Annie, living in Toronto with their beloved only child, daughter Myrtle. Myrtle had given him two fine grandsons, and she and the children had visited him here for the month of July just past. His three sisters were also in Toronto, having emigrated from Italy and establishing their own growing families, just as his father had wanted.
Yes, he has a lot to be thankful for at this point in his life. His construction companies were flourishing in many regions of Canada and the United States. He was an expert at building roads, super highways as they were called now. One of his contracts was to build a super highway from Montreal to Mt. Tremblant, which suited James just fine, because it would make the trip from his office in Montreal to Dufferin Haven much shorter.
As he sat in his ten bedroom log residence that night, he might have glanced at the carving that was etched on a log beam, which framed the entranceway to his glass covered indoor swimming pool. The carving was actually a lyric, one he had adopted in the latter years of his life. It was the name of a very popular modern hit song by an Italian Canadian band called ‘Guy Lombard and the Royal Canadians.’
This song had a catchy melody and a finger snapping rhythm, but it was the words that James Franceschini loved the most. Those words had become his motto, and he would live the rest of his life adhering to their sage advice.
“Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think!”