Transformations Canada – Salvatrice Liota was born on July 10, 1920 in Hamilton, Ontario. Her parents were recent Italian immigrants, who came to Canada after disembarking in New York. She graduated from Cathedral High School in Hamilton, studied business education and worked as a supervisor in a factory where radios were made.

In 1948, she joined the Sisters of Service, a Catholic religious order. After some social work training, she was sent to work at the port of Montreal to interpret for and assist newly arriving immigrants.

“I believe that the Holy Spirit directed me to a community founded for the spiritual and temporal welfare of immigrants. I always had a spirit of concern for the new Canadians before I became a sister; that spark developed into a flame as I personally became more and more involved with immigrants.”

Sister Sally was greatly influenced by stories of the experiences of her own parents’ difficult journey to Canada.

“With them [my parents] I felt the heartbreaking severance of home ties, their sad farewell to parents whom they were never going to see again, the uprooting from the sunny shores of Italy to which they would never return. With them I felt too, the anxiety and apprehension of facing the complicated ordeal of disembarkation, of immigration procedures, custom inspection and the weary train trip from New York to Hamilton.”

In 1955, Sister Sally was transferred to Pier 21 in Halifax where she continued her “dock work” ministry by helping many new arrivals find their way, during their first stop on Canadian soil. So many immigrants entered Canada through Pier 21, that it became known as the “gateway that changed Canada.” Hundreds of immigrants would step off a ship into a large hall with immigration officials waiting and very little or no English to help them understand the complicated process.

She alerted churches across the country about their newly arriving community members. She was affectionately known as “the tiny Italian nun” who was always there to welcome, assist, support, counsel and guide new arrivals with a warm smile.

By 1965, there were well over a thousand Italians who settled in the Halifax area. She served this growing community as mother figure, advisor, advocate and friend.

In 1966, Sister Sally received special recognition from Pope Paul VI for her work. The citation recognized “the generous work you are fulfilling with the spiritual example of Christian charity in favour of the immigrants landing at the port of Halifax.” In 1969, she also received the Archdiocesan Medal of Merit for her work among the immigrants in Halifax.

By 1971, most immigrants were coming to Canada by plane and Pier 21 was closed. Sister Sally was transferred first to Regina and then to Toronto, to continue her life of service to others.