Graziadei House

Music from the Balcony

This restored Juliet balcony of this 1908 duplex has a great musical past.

This property was purchased by Rocco Antonio Graziadei, one of the very first Italians to settle in Ottawa & one of it’s first professional harpist. Born in Laurenzana, Italy, on February 16th, 1859, he began his musical career at the age of seven. He toured most of the principal cities of Europe with his father, also a musician. By1866,he had not only mastered the harp, but the flute, cello and violin.

In 1870 he travelled to New York city and became a travelling musician visiting nearly all of the major cities in Canada & USA. He returned to Italy in 1880 to marry his childhood sweetheart Maria Carmelia Nicolini. In 1884 he took up permanent residence in Ottawa. You can see him here in this photo in front of the old structure at 63 St. Andrews Street before the new house was built. The sign reads “Available for Balls, Parties and Receptions”.

He also owned co-owned a small grocery store /travel agency/lending agency at 85 George street in the market called Banco Graziadei.

The new structure at 61 & 63 St. Andrew was believe to be constructed in 1908. As the family grew( 5 boys and 5 girls – Anna, Mathilda, Leonella, Stella, Rosa) so did the Graziadei Orchestra. Domenico (violin), Guiseppe (flute), Sylvio (Harp), Giovanni (drums), and Michelo (saxophone). Prominent from the 1890s playing at my Capital function, Russel House Hotel rotunda, Chateau Laurier ballroom, Rideau Hall and many more. This continued through out till 1930s

This page was researched and written by Nancy Miller Chenier. Nancy is a long-time resident of Lower town and currently co-chair of the Lowertown community Association Heritage Committee. She has a strong interest in the social history and the built heritage of this founding part of Ottawa

When a young Italian musician called Rocco Antonio Graziadei set­tled with his wife, Maria Carmelia Nicolini, on St. Andrew Street in the 1880s, Lowertown’s celebrated one-family dance orchestra was launched. Rocco was already skilled at playing the harp, the flute, the cello and the violin and each of his ten children – five boys and five girls – eventually learned a musical instrument.

Lorraine Graziadei Laflamme, whose father Michael was the young­est child in this family, shared some memories about her illustrious fam­ily from her Clarence Street home. Her grandparents, Rocco and Carme­lia, decided to reside permanently in Lowertown and their children grew up in the community, with some staying to raise their own families.

Lorraine remembers that the Gra­ziadei orchestra was prominent from the 1890s, playing at multiple func­tions in the Capital – under the cen­tral rotunda of the Russell House Hotel, in the ballroom of the Cha­teau Laurier, at Rideau Hall and other venues in and around Ottawa. Through the 1920s and 30s, the fam­ily dance band adapted their earlier classical repertoire to the era of jazz and swing. When the band numbers dwindled, four sons continued as a quartet. In 2008, a Bytown Museum exhibition featuring the Ottawa Ital­ian community displayed a magnifi­cent harp used by this early Ottawa music group.

Grandfather Rocco promoted his family orchestra by hanging a sign on the St Andrew Street house indi­cating that their musical talent was available for “Balls, Parties, and Re­ceptions”. In addition, he co-owned a small grocery store on Dalhousie Street known as “Sardo and Grazia­dei” where, among other items, he sold olive oil imported from Italy. He also conducted a loan and travel service for new Italian immigrants at “Banco Graziadei” on George Street.

Lorraine’s father, Michael, con­tinued to live on St. Andrew Street after marriage – working by day at the post office and playing his saxo­phone by night. From this family en­clave replete with cousins her own age, Lorraine could roam to nearby parks at Major’s Hill, Nepean Point and Bingham Park. Unlike many of her francophone neighbours, Lor­raine’s family preferred movies at the Rideau Theatre rather than the Théâtre français on Dalhousie Street.

Her family attended church ser­vices every Sunday at St. Brigid’s Church and after mass, went for a special treat at a Dalhousie Street res­taurant popular for its delicious ham­burgers and fries. As a pupil at Our Lady’s School on Cumberland, Lor­raine remembers coal-heated furnac­es, where the charred ashes would be thrown on the playground and cause cut knees for the girls at recess. After further education at Immaculata, a private Catholic secondary school for girls, she secured a government po­sition at the Employment Insurance Commission.

While marriage took Lorraine away from Lowertown, she is now back in the neighbourhood to share the story of this early Lowertown family that chose to move from Laurenzana, Italy to Canada’s capital. And our community has a compelling narra­tive about a legendary musical group that spanned two centuries of change in Ottawa.




ByWard Market, Ottawa