Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

One small Italian town, one huge building boom

  • Print

One little town in Italy has put its mark on the lives of thousands of Winnipeg families who bought a new home over the last half century.

That's because four of the city's home-building companies -- A & S Homes, Gino's Homes, Artista Homes and KDR Design Builders Inc. -- trace their roots back to the southern Italian town of San Roberto.

A & S, Gino's and Artista were all founded by men who grew up in San Roberto and immigrated to Winnipeg in the 1960s.

And KDR was founded by the daughter and son-in-law of Gino's founder Gino Cotroneo.

Joe Bova -- another native of San Roberto and co-founder of one of the province's largest construction companies, Manshield Construction -- pointed out the connection while pondering recently why so many Italian men who came here in the 1960s and '70s wound up in the construction business.


Bova's theory is many of them arrived with little money, and back then, you didn't need a lot of capital to start up a small construction company.

"All you needed was your skills and your tools and a willingness to work hard," Bova said.

It was Gino Cotroneo who got the ball rolling. And ironically, when he arrived in 1967, he had no intention of staying, according to his son Robert Cotroneo.

Robert, who now runs Gino's Homes with his brother Frank, said their father had a successful construction company back in San Roberto and only came to Winnipeg because his fiancée and her family had immigrated here.

"His idea was to come here, get married and return to Italy (with his new bride, Angelina). But I guess my mother had other plans," Robert said with a chuckle.

Somehow she convinced their father to stay, and he teamed up with one of Robert's uncles, Antonio Spezzano, to launch G & A Homes.

Gino and Antonio remained partners for seven or eight years, Robert said, before deciding to branch out on their own. Antonio started A & S Homes, and Gino started Gino's Homes.

Another uncle, Antonio Cotroneo, started Artista. That firm is now run by four of his sons -- Tony, Enzo, Frank and Gino Cotroneo.

Then Robert's sister and her carpenter husband, Diego Vassallo, took the entrepreneurial plunge and started KDR.

"The family dinners are definitely interesting," Robert said.

"We're all in competition with each other with regards to business, but we're all family. And there is enough work out there to keep everybody busy."

Bova never intended to go into the construction business. He immigrated to Winnipeg in 1962 as a 15-year-old, earned a political science and economics degree from the University of Winnipeg, worked for the Liberal Party for a couple of years, then kicked around Europe with his wife for about six months. Then he found himself back in Winnipeg without a job.

One day an uncle, a tile setter who still didn't have a good command of the English language, asked Bova to be his translator for a meeting with a client. Bova agreed, and before he knew it, they launched their own company -- Torino Tile.

Then he launched a second company, B & F Masonry, with a friend, Terry Ferraro, and later still founded Gibraltar Concrete, then Manshield Construction.

"Manshield gave us the opportunity to go do work with the really big guys and in much bigger volumes," Bova said. It's now one of the largest construction companies in Western Canada and probably one of the 15 largest in Canada, he said.

He said he and fellow Italian immigrants who went on to found successful businesses here owe a debt of gratitude to their adopted country.

"Where else in the world could you find a place where this ragtag group of people could come and become what they've become? They came here with nothing but the clothes on their backs and built these incredibly successful enterprises that now employ thousands of people and pay millions of dollars in taxes every year," he said.

"There is no place in the world where I would rather be. Not even in Italy."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 25, 2012 j16

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Best of Jets sound bites following Saturday's 2-1 loss to Ducks

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • horse in sunset - marc gallant
  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press. Local- Weather standup. Sundog. Refraction of light through ice crystals which caused both the sun dog and and fog along McPhillips Road early Wednesday morning. 071205.

View More Gallery Photos

  • Africa edition

    Africa is one complex and gloriously unmanageable 'theme' to choose to kick off our 2012 series, Our City Our World, which is why it took up the whole newspaper on Jan. 18.

  • China edition

    Hard-working Chinese immigrants, once banned, have risen to the highest echelons of Manitoba.

  • Germany edition

    German immigrants have played a surprisingly large role in the development of the province.

  • Iceland edition

    Arriving in Manitoba in the 1870s unprepared for a brutal winter, Icelandic settlers and their descendants have left their mark on our province.

  • Italy edition

    Industrious Italians rose from peasant roots and adapted to Canadian society by mastering L’art d’arrangiarsi (the art of getting by).

  • Latin America edition

    It used to be the only time Prairie folks met Spanish-speaking people was when they vacationed down south. More often now, they're the people next door.

  • Middle East edition

    When the first Middle East families immigrated to Manitoba, mosques were unheard of and even yogurt was exotic. But now all that has changed.

  • Philippines edition

    A booming Filipino community nearly 60,000 strong has transformed Manitoba.

  • South Asian edition

    As the city's Indo-Canadian population experiences dramatic growth, its pioneers recall their warm Winnipeg welcome.

  • Ukraine edition

    Scarred by Holodomor, the Ukrainian community helped shape Winnipeg's cultural mosaic.

  • United Kingdom edition

    Manitoba's history is built on a foundation provided by settlers from the U.K., who came here seeking better lives.


Do you think the Jets will win Game 4 on Wednesday?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google