Jan 13, 2013

De Divitiis’ selflessness never waivered  
Paolo De Divitiis touched the lives of many people over the decades he spent in his business and personal life.

That was no more evident to his family than last week when a visitation and funeral was held for De Divitiis, who died Dec. 29 in a Hamilton hospital after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 76. More than 1,200 people attended the visitation last Thursday and Friday, and on Saturday the crowd for his funeral was no different.

“It was a great feeling for us to see all of the support and the many people whose lives he touched,” said his son Mario De Divitiis.

And when the funeral procession made its way through the streets of Thorold, where De Divitiis and his family own Moose and Goose and Amici’s, the feeling of love and support continued.

“All of the businesses came out and saluted us as we went by,” said Mario. “It really spoke to how well respected our father was.

De Divitiis was born in Italy and came to Canada in 1954, and spent a couple of decades working elsewhere in Ontario, but when the family moved to Niagara it became a love affair with the region.

He had established himself in the hospitality business in Sudbury and Burlington, and ultimately saw the potential in a property in Grimsby in which he became an investor.

“He said he saw Niagara as a place with real upside,” said Mario. “He really believed in the region and never saw it in a negative light.”

It was 1970 when he and a team of investors purchased The Hunt Club in Grimsby, a run-down hotel/restaurant he transformed into a thriving hot spot with motel rooms, a restaurant and nightclub.

It was at The Hunt Club De Divitiis first started working with his family — his wife Anna and his seven sons and two daughters — a working relationship that lasted right up to his death. The family lived above The Hunt Club and said they began working at a young age learning the skills of his trade that he perfected, and developing his values of honesty, respect and good nature.

After selling the Hunt Club (now the Fifth Wheel Truck Stop) in 1988, the family moved to Thorold, and transformed the old Thorold Inn into Front 54, which in recent years was renamed Moose and Goose and has undergone a transformation to include Donnelly’s Pub and the growing Front Street Student Residence.

“My father saw something there that other people didn’t and he made it work,” said Mario. “He created a vibrant nightlife in Thorold.”

Within a decade they purchased another property in Thorold, the former Country Heights on Merrittville Highway, and created Arizona’s Taps and Grill to further bring people to Thorold. The bar was closed in 2009, but was reopened by the family as Amici’s Banquet and Conference Centre.

The family’s expansion didn’t stop there. They started to invest in downtown St. Catharines and opened Stella’s downtown in 2003, the gay and lesbian nightclub Envy Lounge in 2008, and most recently redeveloped the former Honest Lawyer on James Street and brought back Gord’s Place. Between 1998 and 2012, their business portfolio grew exponentially, from about $800,000 to more than $15 million, and growing.

While he enjoyed much success in the business world, it was his selflessness and kind nature that he will be remembered most for, said Mario. He helped countless people in his life, and his family learned that time after time during the visitation. It was there that his family had its heart warmed by a stranger who told his story.

“We didn’t recognize him in line, so we asked him who he was,” said Mario. “He said he was receiving chemotherapy with our father and our dad said he was a young man, so he would give him his spot to go first.”

That was just one of many examples. He helped countless people find a stable life when coming to Canada, including an immigrant who came from Jamaica and ultimately became one of his best friends, and also felt proud to help those who worked at his various businesses.

“He always told us to appreciate what we have in life and reminded us to look down and find a way we could reach out to help. He’s taught us it’s all about the relationships and how you treat people in life,” said Mario. “He did so much for people. We met so many people who said our dad gave them a roof to stay under, or helped them in some way.”

Mario said that’s something his family will strive to continue.

We knew he was our leader, our father and our role model, but when you have 1,200 people come out and say something similar it really means something special,” he said. “It makes a difficult process a little bit easier.”