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Paying homage to a cherished Trail stonemason

Guglielmo “Bill” Di Domenico recently passed away just months shy of his 104th birthday
A pillar of the Trail community, stonemason Bill Di Domenico recently passed away just shy of his 104th birthday. Here are people walking along the stone bleachers he helped construct at Gyro Park. (date unknown) Photos: Submitted

by Eileen Truant Pedersen

The Rock Wall Project

Trail’s beloved stonemason Guglielmo “Bill” Di Domenico died recently.

We, The Rock Wall Project, are mourning his loss.

He was three months shy of his 104th birthday, and was one of two surviving stonemasons out of 15, 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 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 Di Domenico worked as a stonemason for the city and Trail parks. Here he is standing at one of his split river rock walls on Eliot St. in Warfield.(date unknown) Photo: Submitted
Bill Di Domenico worked as a stonemason for the city and Trail parks. Here he is standing at one of his split river rock walls on Eliot St. in Warfield.(date unknown) Photo: Submitted

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, B.C. 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 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 during the 1960s.

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 after hours in various parts of the city, arriving on foot. These works of art add warmth and interest to people’s homes. Knowing where exactly to tap a river rock to split it cleanly was an art in itself.

The stories of the builders and the walls are preserved in the coffee table book, “Set in Stone~A History of Trail’s Rock Walls”, available at the library.

Most city stonework was usually done during winter months when government grants became available.

Work sites provided no bathrooms and no eating facilities. These men were fit, as you can imagine.

They 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 information for the book. We would drive him to his construction sites, record his stories on cassette and video, then back to his home for a glass of wine.

With that characteristic twinkle in his eye he would ask “When’s 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 a gentle nature.

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 friendly individual.

We invite you to 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 imagine the clinking and cracking of rocks being mortared in place 70 years ago.

R.I.P. Bill.

You left us a functioning living legacy to enjoy for decades to come.

We love you.

Read more: Bill Di Domenico obituary

Read more: Trail walking tour offers ‘Taste of life in Little Italy’

Read more: Trail Blazers: When 2 towns became 1

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