The Casorso Family Homes of Kelowna--An Italian Adventure

The original sod/log cabin built in 1886

This sod-covered log cabin caved in circa 1972.  It was where Rosa and her oldest three children arrived after faring their long voyage from Genoa, Italy.
This sod-covered log cabin caved in circa 1972. It was where Rosa and her oldest three children arrived after faring their long voyage from Genoa, Italy. | Source

"From These Two Came Love"

The 66-year-old woman spruced up her Christmas tree—it was 1921—adorned with her finest jewellery. Her home was the third dwelling that Rosa and Giovanni Casorso had lived in since arriving in the early 1880’s. The home was built in 1907—featuring over 3000 square feet, surrounded by verandas with round columns and curving porch eaves reminiscent of an Italian, and or, Mediterranean influence.

The home features 9-foot ceilings, old world flooring, strong oak or fir doors, windows and mouldings stained a, dark, reddish-brown walnut, a hipped roof highlighted with dormers, projected bay windows, a central brick fireplace and room enough for a large family. Built in a four-square Victorian style from trees harvested and milled on the family’s property by Crawford’s mobile sawmill—the carpenter’s name was coincidentally, Bill Miller—whose daughter Molly would marry August Casorso—Giovanni’s youngest son—namesake to the third owner of the house—a veteran whose widow still lives in the house today—her name is Muriel.

In 1882, as recorded by Victor Casorso—a third generation grandson—negotiating the trek from Vancouver, Giovanni possessed little trail knowledge...the famed Father Pandosy, accompanying the party with the pioneering Italian, is reported to have said after a week’s journey on the two-week trek, “Giovanni, you’re a natural for this country! You’ve a keen wilderness sense, have a good way with men and animals, and if you try hard, you’ll make a go of it.”

Eventually, after working for the Okanagan Mission’s priests as cook, ranch hand, carpenter—whatever was needed—from six o’clock in the morning until his twelve-hour shift was over, he pre-empted land. He spent the next two years slowly building up his land, and stock (two pigs to start, then a horse), in life. While working for $15 a month, he built a log cabin, the first homestead, with a sod rooftop that stood until a collapse occurred due to a heavy winter’s snowfall in 1972. The remains of the destroyed building were demolished because of safety concerns for curious children—the Casorsos had many children about the “Pioneer Ranch”.

The Second Home of the Casorso Clan

The Bunkhouse, as it is now called continued seeing additions...as the family grew so did this structure...built three years after Rosa arrived in Canada, circa 1890.  Rob, a great-great-great grandson uses the building for storage at present.
The Bunkhouse, as it is now called continued seeing additions...as the family grew so did this structure...built three years after Rosa arrived in Canada, circa 1890. Rob, a great-great-great grandson uses the building for storage at present. | Source

The long voyage...

In mid-1884, Rosa and the children--aged five, four, and three--set off from Genoa, Italy. Their ship would round the southern end of the horn of South America and arrive in San Francisco. Rosa would never recall the ocean journey of six weeks. Family reminiscences allude to the horror of a young mother shutting down her mind until arriving back on land in San Francisco.

Her problematic journey was not over, however, as she now had no idea how to find her Okanagan Mission home from the bustling dockyards of the busy port in San Francisco. She must have looked forlorn, unable to speak English, trying to keep her three small children in tow; as she waved a small piece of paper that read, "Father Pandosy, Okanagan Mission."

Telling her story years later, with eyes blazing, Rosa would say, "I never took my eyes off that bell for the entire trip to Okanagan Mission."

She followed the bell to the Canadian port of New Westminster, where a cowboy of some fame named Joe Greaves asked if he could escort the family to the Okanagan Mission. Her husband had asked the cowboy to keep an eye open for his travelling family.

Rosa would not budge--she clung to the Mission bell. Greaves set the family up as well as he could with blankets and fishing line near a river’s edge. For two days, Rosa washed, fished and tried to keep her children clean—with her eyes ever on the location of the bell.

From Yale, the bell was to travel to Kamloops, a two-week trek. The family rode every bump along the dusty trail with the wagon party of kind teamsters.

Rosa cooked meals until her stocks were exhausted--and then miraculously replenished by generous trail partners. At the rugged, western town of Kamloops, the bell was placed onto the stagecoach, along with the tired family, to complete the journey to the Okanagan Mission. It was October 1884 when the sojourning family arrived at their new home in a very new world.

The wandering was over.

Giovanni was in the hills taking care of his business. Giovanni (his name anglicized to John by the brothers of the Mission) rode in that night and saw the candle burning in his home. He thought it was one of the brothers looking for something. As was his nature, he rubbed down his horse, fed it and then entered the cabin only to be surprised by the four members of his family—laying his eyes upon his youngest, third-born, son for the very first time.

Rosa pulled out a bottle of Casorso Estate wine from Piedmont; Giovanni and his bride drank a toast as the first Italian immigrants to settle in the Okanagan Valley. Eventually Calona wines would be a business owned and operated, along with dozens of other enterprises, by descendants of this pioneering familia.

Rosa, on the road—with her son Felix driving—felt a pinch in her chest...as the bell pealed from the church...the pair returned home and Rosa suffered a massive heart attack—John says, “Giovanni, my great grandfather was reported to never be quite the same after her passing...he died eleven years later in 1932.”

Ten feet wide...the Bunkhouse was a long narrow cabin.

Another view of the second home...the Casorsos lived here till 1908...New Year's Eve.
Another view of the second home...the Casorsos lived here till 1908...New Year's Eve. | Source

Another Casorso Romance Blossoms

As for Muriel and August, son of Louie and nephew of Giovanni’s son, August, they would first meet in England at a weekly dance spot for soldiers in February of 1944. Muriel and a girlfriend, they worked as phone operators during the war, had cycled six miles one way to another location only to find it cancelled—they would ride back to their home village called Badsey to catch the last few songs of the local dance place.

“Someone’s staring at you, Muriel?” Her girlfriend commented after their arrival.

“No, he’s not,” Muriel responded quickly, “and if he’s American send him away—they’re over-sexed, overly loud...and over here.” Apparently, Welsh-born Muriel wasn’t impressed by American GIs. The tall man with a broad smile walked over to Muriel as her girlfriend narrated, “he’s coming over.”

Muriel turned around to see a tall Canadian soldier smiling at her...she couldn’t deny him the dance...he wasn’t overly American. As Muriel tells the love story, August’s patient attempts, tho’ often late, “he was always late...always,” Muriel says with kindness in her voice, “My parents loved him...if we arrived home late, I was to blame never, August. They weren’t sure about his last name, as my father questioned pronunciation upon their first meeting, ‘Cat’s arso?’ But as he was constantly doing chores and small duties around the house when we began to see each other over a period of months—he became the cat’s meow...we married on November 23, 1944...and I became a war bride—arriving in Kelowna, at this very house, on June 21, 1945.”

When the house was originally constructed, though modern, no indoor plumbing or bathrooms existed. Giovanni felt, “Indoor toilets make you soft, lazy, spoiled.”

A few things changed as time continued—Muriel was at the heart of many of the small renovations.

The second home of the Casorso pioneers is now called “The Bunkhouse.” Rosa and Giovanni lived in the initial sod and log cabin for three years, then the dove-tailed log cabin Bunkhouse, with several expansions as children arrived, for twenty years...not wanting to move after this third and final rendition of the Casorso home—too many memories and too many children had been born in their second home—six of their nine children. This structure still stands and Rob Casorso uses the building for storage purposes—he lives on this property with his family across the street from the family home.

The Casorso Home...once called "Pioneer Ranch"

Once known as Pioneer Ranch...the 105-year-old home still holds many fond memories for the entire Casorso family.
Once known as Pioneer Ranch...the 105-year-old home still holds many fond memories for the entire Casorso family. | Source
Muriel proudly displays a family heirloom...Rosa and her three children...created by Joyce McDonald...born a Casorso...and renowned sculptor.
Muriel proudly displays a family heirloom...Rosa and her three children...created by Joyce McDonald...born a Casorso...and renowned sculptor.

Why Immigrants are Important for Canada

On New Year’s eve of 1908, family and friends took the day to move furniture into the new home and force the reticent couple into their new home by “christening” it on the start of a new year—105 years ago.

As we can see from historic photos...only a few changes have been made to the heritage home. Modern baths were installed...updated in the 1970’s according to tile and hardware colours. The second story open patio became Muriel’s kitchen upstairs when she arrived in Canada.

“I told Grandpa Louis and August,” Muriel starts, “I wouldn’t cook on a sawdust oven...I was use to electric back in England and if I had to be the family cook—so be it, but it wouldn’t be on an ancient stove and heating unit.”

Louis, the second owner—after buying out his brother, August, who lived in Vancouver in 1932—was use to the sawdust heater. “He would sit in this kitchen,” explains John, “and rub liniment on his ‘sore bones’ while the heater blazed and he puffed away on his White Owl cigars...only White Owl.”

We all burst into laughter smelling the story as much as hearing it.

“Imagine the kind of sauna he created in here,” continued John, “we were told to say goodnight to grandpa—and we’d have to walk into this fog of sawdust and cigar smoke—I have no idea what the temperature was...but it was hot, smoky and humid...it was the 60s—it was a different generation.”

Louis died in 1969—and August and Muriel along with their children, a family of seven—five girls and two boys, inherited the home and moved into the first floor of the expansive home—they’d lived on the second floor for 24 years of their marriage. Like all families the Casorsos were, and are human, two of the brothers didn’t speak to one another for twenty years—this was Louis and Peter—upon brother Joe’s passing in 1960...the pair made amends of a sort...even though they lived across the street from one another.

In 1945, Muriel became the cook—the hired chef suffered a stroke—and Muriel was put to work immediately.

“It’s a good thing I knew how to cook,” says the feisty octogenarian who turns ninety this year, “’cuz if I hadn’t known—I don’t know what they’d have done. It finally broke my back...serving all those meals...I must have cooked for thousands. Dozens at a time come Christmases and Thanksgivings.”

John and Rob informed that she did suffer fractures of her spine about five years ago...she was 85...and carrying a turkey to the dining room. “I still cook for myself,” she smiles and serves tea and dainty cookies that taste the same as my own mother’s pastries and grandmother’s treats from days gone by.

Muriel lost her beloved, August, in 2000...his namesake uncle died only six years earlier in his 99th year.

There are hundreds of Casorsos across Canada and the globe who can trace their roots back to a loving couple named Rosa and Giovanni. Muriel was never given the opportunity of meeting these early ancestors, but she has a carving from Joyce (Casorso) McDonald, along with a bronze statuette of Rosa holding two small children in her arms, adorning a wall and an end table respectively in her dining room as a memorial. The artwork is accompanied by the original piano traded for two town site lots with a couple of horses involved, according to historian Victor Casorso, and the immaculate dining room set—hardly tainted after 105 years to remember the first residents of the historic home.

It is about family for the Casorsos...and though the home is somewhat tired, needing some restoration—the interior is immaculate and well-preserved. The future is bright for the Italian familia, unlike the modern media’s examples we’ve seen with television shows like The Sopranos or Jersey Shore. The Casorso clan has a historic claim to their Canadian home—at one time owning nearly half a million acres in the Okanagan Valley. How many of us are teaching the sixth generation of Canadians in our clan how to ranch, or sculpt or lead productive lives in very traditional settings?

“We have her surrounded,” says John, eldest fifth generation brother of his loving mother, “Rob and I are farmers growing pears, apples and grapes...the family also has an award-winning Sovereign Opal wine in its cache of fine wines at Calona Wines—the home is a very busy place for her—and the entire family.”

Canada has been good to the Casorso familia...as good as the Casorsos have been to Canada...as a sixth generation learns what we call green methods, but in reality are very traditional values of face-to-face communication and caretaking of our land.

From These Two Came Love

A family portrait of the love that Muriel and August shared.
A family portrait of the love that Muriel and August shared. | Source

A Bronze Memorial to Rosa

A bronze replica of the work of Joyce (nee Casorso) McDonald given to Muriel as a gift.  Notice the three children in Rosa's arms...the arduous trip of coming to the New World is remembered.
A bronze replica of the work of Joyce (nee Casorso) McDonald given to Muriel as a gift. Notice the three children in Rosa's arms...the arduous trip of coming to the New World is remembered. | Source

Rob and John Casorso

The piano remains...a family heirloom from 1907.
The piano remains...a family heirloom from 1907. | Source
John and Rob stand between a pair of the many sliding wood doors stained and kept in immaculate operation and appearance.
John and Rob stand between a pair of the many sliding wood doors stained and kept in immaculate operation and appearance. | Source
The original dining table of Rosa and John...note it's incredible condition.
The original dining table of Rosa and John...note it's incredible condition.
Sashes over the windows were added at Muriel's behest...she wanted to dress the place up...and the wood throughout the home shows this appreciation for excellence.
Sashes over the windows were added at Muriel's behest...she wanted to dress the place up...and the wood throughout the home shows this appreciation for excellence.
John and Rob on one of the two staircases in the home.
John and Rob on one of the two staircases in the home.

Why Immigrants are Important to Canada

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Comments 9 comments

CASE1WORKER profile image

CASE1WORKER 4 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

A ovely hub showing that the rewards of hard work, determination and love can be so very fulfilling- thank you for sharing their story.


Ruby H Rose profile image

Ruby H Rose 4 years ago from Northwest Washington on an Island

some great family history, and I love the house photos! What a wonderful story! Great hub too, keep writing more....


randslam profile image

randslam 4 years ago from Kelowna, British Columbia Author

Thanks, Ruby...there's no stoppage in sight...lol. It is a wonderful story that I've written about many years ago. It was the recent heritage home perspective that allowed me the opportunity of meeting with matriarch, Muriel and her two sons, John and Rob.


randslam profile image

randslam 4 years ago from Kelowna, British Columbia Author

Thanks, Case1. A recent news story brought the realization that immigrants are the people who made this country great. So much news in the media is about shutting down the doors to the US and Canada...when in reality...the ambitious dreams of immigrants are the very essence that the "New World" needs. Citizens of these two "new" countries should be inspired by the labour of love created by "fresh blood" that may have been in country long before our own emigrant ancestoral stories.


sterling haynes 4 years ago

The Casorso family were very good to Hannibal Preto and me. We both lived in Kamloops in the 1970s and were avid bird hunters of California quail and pheasants. Every fall we were asked to hunt in the Casorso orchards and after the hunt we had dinner with them. Our bird dogs were fed too!! It helped that Hannibal spoke Italian


chefsref profile image

chefsref 4 years ago from Citra Florida

Hey Rand

Wonderful story and one that is becoming ever more rare, at least here in the US, people are so mobile that the family heritage is often lost or forgotten.

My family had a home in NY where the family lived for about 200 years. There were hooks in the fireplace for cooking pots, spinning wheels and butter churns in the barn etc. Sadly all gone now when it was sold to developers and turned into an apartment complex.


randslam profile image

randslam 4 years ago from Kelowna, British Columbia Author

It does seem that progress, as important as it is, does take these familial legacies apart. Thanks for your comments, chefsref.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

What an interesting history of that one Italian family. I had to laugh when someone thought that having inside plumbing made a person soft. Guess I am a softie! I remember using an outhouse at one of my great aunt's lake houses and at girl scout camp many years ago. I'm all for indoor plumbing! Ha!

Immigrant families...those willing to work hard and learn the language of the country in which they are moving are the lifeblood of nations. Adds to the overall diversity and richness of countries.

Voted up and interesting. Thanks!


randslam profile image

randslam 4 years ago from Kelowna, British Columbia Author

Thanks, Peggy. I think the very real commentary of the Italian patriarch is quite revealing. People were very robust, back in the day, and we "softies" tend to forget how difficult life was before our "toiletological" advances.

I just found this story to be so all-encompassing in revealing the life of the immigrant over the last 150 years--we need to think about how good we have it--before we start rattling on about ideological preferences and the "hate speak."

Thanks for your comment.

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