Family secrets revealed in new play, ‘Winter’s Daughter,’ performed at Segal Centre

New Segal Centre production focuses on one Montreal family’s history
WATCH: An Italian Montreal barber whose mother was a child in the First World War made a surprising discovery about her true heritage. Global's Phil Carpenter has this sneak peek.

Gino Chiarella knows something about his mother that he didn’t tell anybody for years.

“It’s a secret,” he smiled. “I kept it.”

That secret will come to light in a play titled Winter’s Daughter, put on by Tableau D’Hôte Theatre at the Segal Centre.

The play centres around a young couple in Calabria, Italy after the First World War.  The husband was suffering from the effects of the war, but they had a child to raise.  They got a second child by default when peddlers left her with them.

“They never came back,” Chiarella explained.  “Either they got killed or they got lost at sea because they used to travel by fishing boat those days.”

READ MORE: ‘Signs along the road to Auschwitz’: a Holocaust survivor’s story

That child, Rosaria, was Chiarella’s mother.  She eventually came to Montreal when Chiarella was a teenager, where he got married.

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He returned to Italy years later in 1966 on his honeymoon to see his grandparents — the couple who raised his mom.  That’s when they gave him a Star of David necklace that they told him was with his mother when the peddlers left her behind.

“That’s when they knew they had to be Jewish,” he said.

Come From Away in Montreal
Come From Away in Montreal

Chiarella returned to Montreal with the secret, and for 53 years he said nothing — not even to his mother, who passed away without knowing what her true heritage probably was.

“Because I was told not to tell,” he said, smiling.

READ MORE: ‘Dripping in blood’: Nazi memorabilia pulled from Richmond auction after outcry

He only told a friend two years ago, who wrote a short story about it.  It is that story that inspired the play.

“It’s really about a secret identity, about a family secret, and it’s about a really hard decision that a young couple has to make,” playwright Jesse Stong told Global News.

Chiarella said he doesn’t know why his grandparents wanted nobody to know the story, but he wants people to hear it now.

“I don’t know, I think it was a story that should be told,” he said.  “That’s why.”

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He said he only told his children a few weeks ago on Thanksgiving, but his two remaining brothers and the rest of the family still have no idea

“They gonna find out now, probably,” he smiled.  “Big news to everybody.”

The play runs at the Segal Centre from Nov. 27 to Dec. 8.