Skip to main content

Calgary-made film tells story of Second World War orphan

A new movie examining the real-life story of an orphaned Italian boy taken care of by Canadian soldiers during the Second World War is set to premiere in Calgary this fall.

The film shares the tale of five-year-old Gino Bragaglia and Canadian army truck driver Lloyd Oliver who, along with his unit, found the child.

The story begins in June 1944 when the soldiers, who are deployed in Italy, come across a little boy sitting along on a bomb crate.

They took in the boy, helping take care of him for nine months.

Oliver's granddaughter says she enjoyed stories he would share about his time with Gino.

"They were able to find a bike for him in the Christmas of '44. They were able to round up some gifts and celebrate Christmas with him as much as they could during the war," said Tanya Barnes, who lives in Manitoba.

"They saved that little boy, but I also think Gino saved them and gave them a purpose," said Amanda Oliver-Lonson, another of Oliver's granddaughters, who lives in Redcliff, Alta.

When the war ended, Oliver and his squad hoped to bring Gino to Canada, but they were stopped at the port. The boy would eventually end up with an Italian family who agreed to adopt him.

Combined Forced Production Collaborative, along with Karen Storwick, are the driving force behind the documentary.

Storwick's great-uncle died while fighting in Italy, so the topic is close to her heart.

"Years on, it becomes harder and harder to remember," Storwick said.

She adds wartime sacrifices need to be recognized and this documentary is a good way of illustrating that.

"People wonder, 'Why do we remember? It's so long ago, this dusty old history.'

"But it's not because we look at what's happening in Ukraine and there are so many displaced children who have lost their parents."

As the film unfolds, Oliver returns to Italy to track down the family who adopted Gino.

They were eventually reunited in 1980 in Manitoba with a number of other soldiers from the unit.

The pair kept in touch and remained friends until Oliver's death in 2012, but the film doesn't stop there.

It picks up with Gino, now 85, returning with members of Oliver's family to the same village in Italy where he was found almost 80 years ago.

"It was very overwhelming, very emotional," Barnes said.

"The level of respect and appreciation this town had for Canadians was very honouring."

Gino: A Child of War premieres at Calgary's Italian Cultural Community Centre on Oct. 15.

The screening is open to the public and tickets are available for $10 each on a first come, first serve basis.

Further details about the production can be found online.

(With files from Jacquie Scantlebury) Top Stories

Stay Connected