Pulled up by the bootstraps he made himself A story of perseverance and adventure


Gino is a wonderful friend who is passionate about travel, dancing, his family, and friends.

Gioachinno Gugliotta was born on Jan. 4, 1943 in Sicily. His hometown is Ficarazzi, Palermo. As a young boy, Gino would walk to his first job as a waiter in a prestigious restaurant on the beach.

Gino’s father Antonio was a coal miner in Belgium, and his mother Marianna was the creative genius at running the family. She organized each child’s life, even choosing their career paths. Sal and Sebastian, the oldest boys, would be cabinet makers and Joseph, a hairdresser. Gino was assigned shoemaking. From the age of 5 to 12, Gino apprenticed, spinning strands to make thread with a thread spinner and helping as needed. He finished school at age 10. At 12, when he wasn’t selling ice cream at the beach or helping at the shoemaker’s, he was learning to dance from an instructor who also worked for the shoemaker.

Gino (centre) and his grandchildren at his 75th birthday party. | Supplied

When he was a teenager, Gino traveled on a bus to Palermo, Sicily’s cultural, economic, and tourism capital. There Gino’s brothers taught him cabinet making, but the shop’s fine dust chased him out.  

While in Palermo, Gino found another serving job and became a highly skilled waiter by earning a serving certificate. With his certification, Gino caught the interest of a maître d’, who hired Gino to work at the exclusive Pomme d’Or Hotel on the Island of Jersey.

His Jersey connections opened doors to work in the renowned Gstaad Palace, Switzerland. With charm and finesse, Gino honed his skills in a breathtaking location.

While working at these two elite hotels, Gino learned to speak French, English, and German. His dedication and willingness to learn opened up the world. He always followed the Sicilian tradition of sending money to his family.

When Gino took a holiday in Paris, he met Mary, a Canadian woman who would change his life. After his first visit home at the end of 1964, Gino traveled to Montreal. He arrived on Jan. 15, 1965 wearing only white pants and sandals. No one had warned him about Canadian winters.

Hans Marshal, the maître d’ at Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel, invited Gino to work with him at the Banff  Springs Hotel for the summers of 1966-67. So taken with the beautiful mountains, Gino remembers crying from happiness when he arrived in Banff.

Standards were high. Hans would line his serving staff up in a row for inspection. Gino always passed with flying colours.

In 1967, at 23, Gino had already worked and traveled extensively. He couldn’t decide where to go next.  His work in Jersey had earned him British citizenship, so he thought he might go to Southampton, England. Finally he  decided to refund his ticket to England and return to Montreal. There, he married Mary in 1967. Soon after, their son Tony was born. In 1969, when Château Champlain Hotel in Montreal closed, the couple followed Mary’s dream to move west.  

Gino, Mary, and Tony travelled to Edmonton. Daughter Cathy was born in 1970. Gino waited at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald, Chateau Lacombe Hotel, and the Oliver Restaurant. At this time, Gino’s father emigrated to New York City, with the rest of the family following shortly after. Gino and Mary moved to New York in 1976, just before their second daughter Helen was born. They tried to make a new life for a year, but when the stress became too great, they returned to Edmonton.

Although a life in America with his family was not in the cards, they stayed close with phone calls and visits to New York, where Gino still has family.

Mary encouraged Gino to go back to school to improve his English. With government sponsorship, he spent the next three years at AVC (A Vocational Center, now NorQuest College). Gino didn’t stop after achieving his Grade 12 equivalency. He attended NAIT to earn his Office Machine Technician diploma. To make ends meet during his studies, Gino worked weekends at the Edmonton Inn as a waiter. During the week, he worked after school at the West End Shoe Repair for Art Tisi.

After four years as a student and working as both a waiter and a shoemaker, Gino had to choose a career. Art had initially hired Gino full time, but when a lack of work led to only part-time hours, Gino sought a shoemaker job at Kingsway Garden Mall. From 1985 to 1990, Gino worked for Graham Hill at Money’s Worth and Best Shoe Repair. Business was slow, but Gino built a relationship of mutual trust, respect, and friendship with Graham. Eventually, Graham offered him a profit sharing arrangement at Bonny Doon Shopping Centre. For the next 15 years, Gino built his skill and confidence. He established the Fast Shoe Repair Shop on 118 Avenue, a well-known fixture in the neighbourhood.

For the past 10 years, Gioacchino Gugliotta has enjoyed his work on 118 Avenue and appreciated his life’s journey.

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