Trail’s beloved stonemason Guglielmo “Bill” Di Domenico has died. We are mourning his loss. He was three months shy of 104 and until his recent death, was one of two surviving stonemasons out of fifteen, who erected stone walls all over the city—hundreds of them, between the 1930s and 60s. Our dear Louie Bedin is now our sole surviving master from that era. We Trail citizens have great reverence, appreciation, and respect for the back breaking work and conditions these masters and many other rock workers endured.
Guglielmo was born in the medieval farming hamlet of Beffi, Italy in 1917, in the rock and mortar multi-story family home that had stood for generations. He and his brother Carlo, also a Trail stonemason, refined their trade in Beffi where men scrambled up ladders and along primitive scaffolding shouldering rocks, while the women followed with dishes of mortar, prepared from limestone and sand, balanced on their heads. Masters indeed. Bill arrived in Trail in 1948. He worked on city and park rock walls from 1958-1976. A few years ago, after the death of his dear wife Gina, he moved to a Delta, BC senior’s care facility to live close to his daughter Lisa and his grandchildren.
He, alongside master stonemason Steve Como, did a ton of stonework at our beautiful Gyro Park along the Columbia River–the stone and mortar retaining walls under the lengthy sidewalk to Sunningdale, and the multi-level 240-foot long stone “Bleachers”, built with the dual purpose of shoring up the riverbank and providing seating for swimmers and sunbathers. Guglielmo lived up the mountainside in West Trail and walked to many of his jobs. As did others, such as Louie Bedin, he built split river rock walls for private homes in various parts of the city after hours, arriving on foot. Knowing where exactly to tap a river rock to split it cleanly was an art in itself. They are works of art and add value and warmth to people’s homes. The stories of the builders and the walls and stairwells are preserved in the coffee table book, “Set in Stone~A History of Trail’s Rock Walls”.
Most city stonework was done during winters mostly when government grants became available. Work sites provided no bathrooms and no eating facilities. These men were fit, as you can imagine. Mostly Italians and some eastern Europeans were hired for these grueling winter jobs, and they were thankful. It was rare to come across a name in this field of work that was not of Eastern European or Italian descent. Guglielmo and the others took pride in their work, in a job well done, and in their mastery of joining rocks in such a way as to “last a lifetime”. And each stonemason, especially those utilizing huge boulders, had their own signature way of working and finishing the stone. They are truly works of art. Several of Trail’s rock walls hold up our winding roads and hills and will for decades to come.
Guglielmo gave generously of his time while we were busy gathering info for the book “Set in Stone”. I would drive him to all his construction sites, record his stories on cassette while another group member filmed his work, then back to his home for a glass of wine. With that characteristic twinkle in his eye he would ask me “When the book coming?” “I hope in a couple of weeks” I’d say. That conversation happened a few times….and he would end up answering his own question with “In a couple of weeks aye?” We drove to see the cemetery stonework ‘one more time’ and he comically quipped, “Don’t leave me there.” He had an easy going demeanor and liked to tease. He could not believe that anyone would possibly be interested in the stonemasons and in the stone infrastructure he helped construct. It’s these workers that are rarely recognized. His friends, neighbours, and the community in general, had great respect for this hard-working individual.
When you venture to Trail after Covid, take a moment to honour Guglielmo and appreciate his work by stopping along the walkway at Gyro Park, or sitting on the steps of the Bleachers to admire the unique park and the rushing Columbia. R.I.P. Bill. You left us a functioning living legacy to enjoy for decades to come. We love you.