by DANILA DI CROCE
Lessons from the past influencing the rails of the future
“My parents never told us what to do but they always said two things: ‘If you work for the government, you can have a good lifestyle for you and your family,’ and ‘You can make a difference.’” John Manconi followed his parents’ wise words and today he leads the way for Ottawa commuters as the general manager of the transportation services department.
This September, Manconi led the charge in establishing Ottawa’s new $2.1-billion light rail transit system (LRT). The city’s LRT made headlines across the country as Manconi and his team worked out the kinks of the new system—putting Manconi at the centre of some (at times) harsh criticism from commuters and councillors alike.
Manconi says that reflecting on his parents’ lessons and experiences has helped him keep things in perspective. “When I have a hard day, I imagine my dad on a scaffold in -30˚C weather sacrificing so that we could go to school, or I think of my mom who would clean after [working] a long school day. It really puts things into perspective.”
“I heard stories from my parents about their immigration experience and how they could have been helped. Today, I apply [their experience] to any immigrant in Canada and wonder what can we do to help immigrants integrate? How can they make use of the services in place?”
Both of Manconi’s parents are immigrants from the Marche region of Italy. His parents arrived in Canada by boat, and eventually settled in Ottawa, where they raised Manconi along with his two brothers and sister. “My father was a masonry worker and my mother was a janitor and cook in a school. They both worked very hard to give my siblings and I the life that we had,” explains Manconi. Passionate about keeping his parents’ culture and language alive, Manconi recognizes how his heritage helps establish him in the community. “If I speak to the Italian community in Italian, it offers an instant connection and comfort.” Manconi isn’t just passionate about carrying on the Italian language, but about other aspects of the culture as well. “I love to cook and make traditional Italian meals.” Growing up, Manconi and his family were active members of the local Italian parish community and participated in various cultural events and many Italian traditions like making wine, tomato sauce and pickled vegetables. “The fall harvest meant a lot of work, but that was always followed with a great meal, great homemade wine and family time.”
Manconi’s two children, twins Francesco and Claudia, participated in many of those traditions growing up. “To this day, my son will call me out if I make pasta sauce with store bought tomato puree saying, ‘this is not nonna’s sauce.’”
Manconi also exposed his children to the Italian language, bringing them to Italian classes in their elementary years. Today, they can communicate with grandparents and relatives in Italian and have used their language skills abroad. “We took the kids to Italy, and they were able to interact with the locals, go shopping and order at restaurants. It was a very proud moment,” explains Manconi. “It made all those sacrifices of pushing them to go to Italian school worth it.”
Whether in his professional or family life, Manconi has worked hard for his success. Overall, he credits the values his parents instilled in him for where he is today: “My parents always told me, ‘If you work hard, are committed and honest, life just sorts itself out.’”