When Corrado Colombo flew halfway around the world for a fishing trip in the early 2000s, he had no idea he would soon end up calling this annual fishing trip spot home.
Colombo is originally from Bergamo, Italy, near Milan. He loves to fish, but he and his friends were having a difficult time finding salmon when fishing around Europe. Then, another fisherman they knew told them to come to Canada and they decided to give it a try.
They read about Kitimat and B.C.’s Northwest in their research and in 2001, they landed in B.C. for the the first time. Colombo and his friends fell in love with the area and the fishing and decided to make the trip an annual adventure.
“So we were coming always back and learning more about the salmon and what we fish, this is the good time for chum, this is good time for pink, this is good time for coho,” Colombo said. “And just tweak and move our holiday.”
Colombo and his friends began coming for about two months at a time, and their group got smaller and smaller over the years until it was eventually just Colombo and a couple of his friends making the trip.
In 2004, Colombo’s friend noticed a woman speaking Italian at the Northwest Regional Airport, and given that their English still wasn’t great, Colombo figured he’d ask her if she could help them with some of their trips going forward.
“It was difficult for us. We didn’t speak a lot in English, we didn’t know much,” Colombo said. “I remember I called her and was like, ‘Excuse me? Sorry, I want to ask you a question. Can you give me your phone number or email address?’ And she said ‘Well I’m not interested. I’m not looking for any guys.’”
However, after Colombo informed her that they were just looking for someone who spoke better English and who could help them, the woman agreed.
Lucy was Kitimat born-and-raised, making her a great help in lining up lodging, equipment and food. And as the group got smaller over the years, Lucy let them stay at her house in her basement suite.
“But we were like, true Italians and all the time we were around her, we were always helping her with, like, her renovations,” Colombo said.
Lucy continued to help them over the next few years, and as Colombo and Lucy spent more time together, they began dating during his trip to Kitimat in 2008.
“I was, like, in love with Kitimat, Canada, and now I have a girl I’m in love with. So now I have to go home and deal with that,” Colombo said. “I was a business owner with my family in machine shops with, like, 30 employees, a big machine shop. And now — zero interest. I don’t want to be there, I don’t want to stay there.”
So when Colombo got back to Italy, he began speaking with his family about going back to Kitimat earlier to see Lucy. He went back December 2008 and stayed for a month.
“I came back the first time to try out this winter, because everyone was talking about this winter, it was like, really hard, right?” he said. “At that point I already did seven summers, but no winter. Then people, they say ‘Well, you can’t really tell you’re in love with this country because you have to see the winter first.’”
When Colombo first landed at the airport that winter, Lucy took him on a drive along the Skeena River so he could see everything snowy and frozen.
“And you can tell by my face — she took a picture of me and I’m dying, cold like hell, like a fish out of water,” he said, laughing. “I find out that the winter isn’t that bad!”
After going home in January 2009, Colombo came back to Kitimat in early March with a ticket to stay until June. While he wasn’t able to work on a tourist visa, he still worked on renovations around Lucy’s house.
“That’s what I was doing, right. And still dating her, like, trying to understand each other and know each other better because we were in love,” he said. “I actually have to tell the truth: Lucy was not in love. She was always like, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’”
As Colombo and Lucy both realized he may want to move to Kitimat to stay with her, they knew it would be a big change for him and Lucy wanted to be sure that was what he really wanted. Colombo, however, was sure, and he began integrating himself more and more into the community.
Then, in that time, Lucy suddenly got very sick, very fast.
“Suddenly, she had a problem in her brain,” Colombo said. “So she got sick, these headaches, these bad headaches. She couldn’t function, she couldn’t move. She couldn’t do anything.”
Colombo took her back and forth from the hospital, but none of the doctors had any idea what was wrong. Finally, a new doctor suggested she have a CT scan, so they went to Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace.
The CT scan determined she had a mass on her brain and needed to be taken down to Vancouver for surgery. As Colombo was one of the people with her during everything, he went to the Lower Mainland with her.
“For me it was like, ‘What? What is this?’ Like, this is just a tragedy, right? I’m just here, like, trying to have my — to make my dream, my life, right? And this is happening.”
They ran into a friend at the Northwest Regional Airport as they were leaving and he immediately knew something was wrong.
“He saw me and he [saw] my eyes, it was, like, all raw. I was so devastated, right?”
Thankfully, surgery went well and Colombo and Lucy were able to come back shortly afterward. Colombo also decided to extend his time so he could help Lucy during her recovery.
“So it was like, that’s okay, it’s alright. I’ll just cancel my flight and whenever it’s good to go, I’ll just go home.”
That year was also the year Lucy was supposed to go back to Italy to meet Colombo’s family and bring her aunt to Canada to see her family for the last time. But she was unable to travel for one year post-surgery. So Colombo agreed to go do that for her once she was feeling better.
Colombo left Canada in late summer 2009, but didn’t realize he had made a mistake: he bought a return ticket to Canada and, not being a Canadian resident, himself, it raised some flags with border security.
Colombo was stopped by an officer at the airport before leaving Canada, and asked a bunch of questions about his travel intentions and whether or not he was working in Canada, which he told the officer he wasn’t. The officer then asked to see his laptop to try to confirm his story.
“My really, really, really bad English tried to answer these questions,” Colombo said. “But he saw a bunch of pictures, that I’m painting and I’m doing floors.”
Colombo tried to tell the officer he was just helping out his girlfriend with renovations, but kept digging himself deeper in trouble, especially when he mentioned he had a return ticket and that he’d decide whether or not he was staying once he returned to Canada in a few weeks.
“So innocent, right? In love with my wife, with the country, with the fish.”
Colombo said the officer didn’t do much, just took some notes and told him to have a good trip, but immediately after getting off the plane in Canada, he was detained.
“We landed in Calgary and it was like, as soon as they scanned my passport, they put me in an office.”
Colombo was told he had two months before he had to leave the country and that he couldn’t buy a return ticket in Canada again. He told Lucy and they realized he might not be able to come back to Canada at all if things kept progressing.
“We phoned the lawyer and the lawyer said, ‘Well, Corrado, you don’t have — you can’t stay here. You don’t have any working visa, you don’t have anything.’ And I said to her, ‘I want to stay here.’ And so she said ‘If you two, you are that much in love, if you want to make a family, just get married.’”
It was a big decision, but both were ready for the commitment and got their families on board.
“So September third, in 2009, we got married. And that is what started the adventure.”
The immigration process took almost a year and hundreds of pages of paperwork, photos, correspondence, and anything else that would prove their relationship.
“We were lucky because it was a true story. We didn’t have any problems. We had the pictures from 2003 and say, ‘Oh, this is Trina, this is Bob. All our friends. We went over there.’”
In September 2010, Colombo got his permanent resident card, and five years later, he officially became a Canadian citizen.
Colombo and Lucy went on to have two kids — a son and a daughter — and have been through much change together since they first met at the airport in 2004.
Colombo is still fishing a lot, with the Copper River being his favourite place because of how isolated it is.
“Cellphone doesn’t work out there. Get out there. Be there by yourself. And just concentrate on the fish. Do your fishing and that’s it.”
Colombo does miss Italy and his home at times, but he enjoys the quieter, more outdoorsy nature of Kitimat, and the fantastic family and life he has here.
“Slowly, slowly, I become more Canadian-ized. So it’s not a pleasure anymore to go back home, because I changed,” he said. “I miss the country, but actually I’m a Canadian guy.”