Coming from a close-knit family benefited Raymond E. Canale throughout his life.
“One thing about the Italian family: You can always go home and eat. They’ll never charge you rent if you’re broke,” the north country native said in a story published Dec. 9, 1990, by the Watertown Daily Times.
Mr. Canale likely had to rely on this inherent hospitality more than a few times. However, family members weren’t always as charitable with their career advice.
“Bum. Get a job, bum. Go to the railroad; go anywhere,” he said, reflecting on their reaction to his chosen profession — but he remained undeterred. “I was the rebel in the family. … They were all hardworking people. I thought manual labor was a Spaniard.”
Yes, this is what Mr. Canale did for a living: He told jokes. Lots of them. For decades. Throughout Northern New York and points beyond.
He frequently entertained those who attended the Bravo Italiano Festival. At the age of 88, he returned there in 2014 to introduce musical acts and tell some jokes at the 30th annual event following an absence of a few years.
Mr. Canale, a lifelong Watertown resident, died Saturday at the age of 93. He is survived by his sisters Gloria Annitto of Hummelstown, Pa.; Martha Schnurr of John’s Creek, Ga.; and Sister Geraldine Canale of Hammonton, N.J.; as well as many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents Josephine and Nicholas; his sisters Mary Morgia, Rose Canale and Sister Anita Canale; and his brothers Richard and Rocco.
The fifth of nine children, Mr. Canale was born May 30, 1926. His parents operated a well-known restaurant in Watertown; they were among a long list of renowned Italian-American families who developed and have long sustained this community. Many of his relatives found careers working for various railroad companies.
“In 1916, Nicholas married Josephine Marzano, a native of Reggio Calabria, in St. Patrick’s Church. Despite his employment with the New York Central, the Canales found it a financial strain providing for nine children. So right after repeal of Prohibition, they opened a small restaurant on the site of the old Orange Grove at 111 Breen Ave.,” according to the book “La Bella America,” written by Frank P. Augustine; an excerpt was published in the Times on Nov. 27, 1988. “Except for the youngest, Anita and Geraldine, who are teaching nuns in the order of St. Lucy Filippini, most of the children worked in the restaurant as they came of age.”
Mr. Canale graduated from Watertown High School and served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. For many years, he attended St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church in Watertown.
His brother Rocco was an All-American football player for Boston College who later was recruited by the Philadelphia Eagles. Rocco and Richard Canale began managing their parents’ restaurant in 1948, operating it for 30 years.
Mr. Canale offered his stand-up routine in Florida and on cruise ships, and he frequently entertained audiences in the north country. He was honored in 2011 at the 1 World Foundation’s annual Rock & Roll Oldies Show at Bonnie Castle Resort in Alexandria Bay, an event he performed at for at several years.
A funeral for Mr. Canale is at 2:30 p.m. Thursday at D.L. Calarco Funeral Home, 135 Keyes Ave. in Watertown. This will give his relatives and friends the opportunity to reminisce about the numerous times he made people laugh.
What better legacy can someone leave than a tradition of bringing smiles to people’s faces? Mr. Canale will long be remembered for the joy he gave to others through his gift of humor.