David Bruno’s Story about his Mother:
Thunder Bay – My mother comes from a long succession of women who have championed Italian culture and traditions while constantly seeking to give back to their communities. In the interests of honouring all our matriarchs and community contribution here in Northwestern Ontario, my mother, Caterina Donato Bruno, has been bestowed this prestigious honour by our Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II through our Governor General.
She is the head of the family-owned DonatosBakery.com, spearheaded and sustained by women and rooted in early 20th-century Italy. What I mean by this is that my mother is evidence of over a century of baking in our family.
Though we’ve operated in Thunder Bay, and across Northwestern Ontario for over 27 years (which we will celebrate this September of 2021), her inspiration and guiding light is her grandmother, born in 1903 in a mountainous region of southern Italy.
Today, it is my mother Caterina Donato Bruno who stands as the head of our beloved, family-run business, and she embodies the values of the Marinara Clan whole-heartedly. As the chief force behind Donato’s Bakery she has become a pillar in the Thunder Bay Northwestern Ontario community and is reputed for her enormous generosity, humanitarianism and small acts of kindness.
Among her contributions:
Before this honour, my mother has been celebrated twice – in 1994 by Mayor Jack Masters with a Giant Heart Award for helping a traveller from Argentina, and again in 2015 by Mayor Keith Hobbs with a congratulatory scroll for her, and her family’s, continuous contribution to the community. Both awards honoured the matriarchal forces that made her who she is today, while celebrating over 100 years of baking in one family with my mother at the helm.
And this is the point. Not only is my mother an unsung humanitarian who has given back for decades, even through her retirement she also manages to successfully help run our family business, a bakery that welcomes the full rainbow of people in our neighbourhood, not just Italians, but also First-Nation, Polish, Croatian, Ukrainian, Finnish, French, English, Scottish and German.
Most people have an emotional attachment to food and we embrace that; my mother prefers to maintain an ardent, festive atmosphere. Like a theatre production or Greek tragedy, our patrons laugh, cry, shout or emote freely as they watch us bake and share stories. Visiting our little Mom-and-Pop bakery is like being in any Italian woman’s kitchen: you are going to be fed, conversation will be lively and a feeling of family will be omnipresent!
Our Bakery motto is “All our customers become a member of Donato Bakery’s family.” And in Italian culture family is everything; women the glue that keep it strong. In today’s day and age of rampant cell phone use, promoting communal or familial eating is almost revolutionary.
My mother taught me many things, but one of the most valuable was the importance of staying in touch with your roots. And so as often as I can, I try to return to Italy to visit family and find ingredients not available in Canada. There I am sure to make a trip to Calabria, where my cousins and I might go up into the mountains for rare black anise seeds, which have to be hand picked. It is a necessary ritual that I used to do with my late father, and can take days. I am grateful for the experience, however, and credit my mother for teaching me that familial customs are just as important as societal ones.
In the end, my mother inspires us all and me in particular because her whole life is about helping the less fortunate and making life better for others. Her personal legacy is a loving one, a selfless one, a humble one. But of all the contributions she has made, I am proud of her as an advocate and educator in Italian customs, and of her determination to weave that into a higher purpose of humanitarian acts and volunteerism. Lightness of heart is something we all need and she understands that. She also knows that our quality of life, or our ability to find meaning, rests in part on our ability to connect with or respect our ancestors and what they left behind. With the proliferation of social media today, too many millennials are caught up in the pursuit of immediate gratification and accumulating online approval ratings, failing to grasp the relevance or importance of connecting with real people and their history. My mother taught us different. A beautiful woman inside and out, she is an exemplar of why kindness matters, a true Ontarian/Canadian.