By Ray Culos
The popular and charismatic Fred Minichiello, Vancouver’s pioneer Italian- Canadian jeweller, has died at age 98. Born in Vancouver October 12, 1917 to Donato and Crestina Minichiello of Civitanova del Sannio, Isernia (formerly Campobasso Province), Fred was virtually known to thousands of people in the Lower Mainland.
He made his debut on the entertainment scene in the late 1930s as an accordionist, playing a variety of gigs from night clubs, weddings, dances to private performances. During the war years he and his band played lively music on the Vancouver-North Vancouver ferry on most summer Saturday nights. Later he regularly played with his four-piece band at the Penthouse’s downstairs after-hours cabaret. Fred often invited American music personalities, in town to perform at the Penthouse, back to his home to continue a late evening of fun, laughs and entertainment. These famous entertainers included Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Barny Bigard, Martha Rae and the Mills Brothers.
Also in the 1940s, he began representing local wholesale jewellers offering quality gems – engagement rings in particular – to friends and relatives. It didn’t take long for the gifted jewellery specialist to advance from selling his wares out of the Dominion Theatre Cigar Stand to a full display room environment. He made this move in 1964 to a very popular location on Robson near the corner of Granville Street. By then he had added to his inventory quality gold necklaces, precious gems, custom signet rings, high-end watches – Longines and Bulova – plus his own make; the ‘Minichiello’ brand of ladies and gentlemen stylish wrist watches.
His business grew to the point at which he became a leading competitor in Vancouver’s exclusive jewellery ‘manufacturer to consumer’ sales fraternity.
Fred was unique in many ways. He was a maverick of sorts who did things few others dared to do. He had fun, played cards, travelled frequently with a quasi ‘Oceans Eleven’ group of friends while prospering as an outstanding gem salesman. As a sideline he established a travel agency partnership – an operation which included his sister Pat Seabrook. In the 1950s he made his presence known as a successful booking agent for the Thunderbird Hotel, the go-to hotel and casino on the Las Vegas strip.
His good fortune extended to his private life. In 1974, he met and married Sharon who bore him two beautiful and talented girls both of whom became trophy laden dancers in their teens. They in turn combined to present their parents with five wonderful grandchildren.
To meet an ever increasing client base, Fred and Sharon moved Minichiello Jewellers to the Rogers Building, 470 Granville Street. Following Fred’s retirement, his daughters Crestina Amado and Deena Morisset assumed the helm to manage and operate the family’s lucrative jewellery portfolio. A heartfelt eulogy was offered by Crestina who spoke brilliantly of her father’s life, his love of family and friends, his remarkable musical talents, sense of humour and business acumen. On Wednesday, January 20, 2016, a funeral service was officiated by Rev. Gino Aloisio, Pastor of St. Francis of Assisi, who delivered an outstanding homily that stirred the hearts of the assembled congregation.
We toast farewell to Fred Minichiello, a wonderful and charming ‘Damon Runyon’ character, whom we thank for having been a part of our lives.