Director: Sylvia Sweeney
Location: Toronto, Ontario
In her film An Act of Grace,
director Sylvia Sweeney explores the life of multicultural pioneer, Grace
Bagnato, through archival photos, interviews, and the memories of her
son, Vince Bagnato.
Grace was born in the United States after her parents had emigrated to
the U.S. from Italy in the late 1800s. They knew that their children would
have to learn English to succeed in the "new world," so never
allowed Grace to speak Italian. When the family moved to Toronto in 1896,
Grace was fluent in English and did not speak any Italian. Her family
settled in "The Ward," located in the shadow of the City Hall
and Court House, which was home to a rainbow of nations connected by their
poverty and fear of the new culture of Canada. Most were isolated from
Toronto's dominant Anglo-Saxon community by their lack of English.
At the age of 13, Grace married 25-year-old Joseph Bagnato who spoke only
Italian, which she soon learned, thereby discovering she had a gift for
languages. After learning six other languages, Grace became a translator.
Not only did she help new Italian immigrants, she acted as a bridge between
the Ukrainians, Germans, Jewish, and Polish communities and the authorities.
Her main role became that of court interpreter. At first, this was an
unofficial job, but in the 1920's, she became an authorized court interpreter
- the first woman immigrant to be appointed to this position.
In addition to her official role of court interpreter, Grace was also
a housewife. She raised thirteen children, drove an automobile, and helped
out greatly in her community.
With her gift for languages and her willingness to help others, Grace
Bagnato became a bridge between communities. Her son Vince describes her
as one of the early seeds of multi-culturalism in Canada. A seed which
took root and today is one of the cornerstones defining as Canadians culture.