Story and photos by Ted Simpson
There’s an epoch coming to its slow conclusion in Mechanicsville. You can see and feel the change on the narrow streets: the lingering smell of motorcycle exhaust and cigarettes fades away, the patchwork landscape of small houses now studded with cubist infill and, on Hinchey Avenue, one of the neighbourhood’s longest standing mechanics is putting down his wrench.
At nearly 74 years old, no one would blame Romeo Donatucci for calling it quits on his garage and body shop, but his friends and customers are sad to see him go, nonetheless. They streamed down the avenue in a parade of cars, honking and waving to him and his wife Genuia, wishing them well in their retirement as owners of the business. With 50 years of history at Romeo’s Garage and Body Shop, the Donatuccis had second- and even third-generation customers coming out for the sendoff.
“When you work hard, it’s nice to get the credit. Sure, there is money, but when the people smile at you, that’s better,” Romeo said with a laugh.
His calm, welcoming demeanor gives a hint to why this humble shop has become so well-loved in the community.
When the couple arrived in Canada from Italy, Romeo was just 20 years old and already a skilled mechanic looking to pursue his trade. It took four years of working multiple jobs at various Ottawa shops before Romeo was ready to make his dream a reality and set out on his own. In 1971, the couple found a large property with a two-car garage at 195 Hinchey Ave. and got to work.
These were days long before the craft breweries and third wave coffee shops arrived in Hintonburg.
“It was kind of a rough area, you know, they had a biker club house just across the street,” said Romeo. “When I bought this place, they had been using it to repair the bikes; the attic here was full of motorcycle parts, [and] there were parts of guns, bullet casings…”
The Donatuccis built their business up over the years, expanding on the original structure to create a full-service garage, with a section for paint and body work. Romeo thinks back on those early days when every job was done by hand over the course of hours and days. There was a time when he would be given a car that had rolled over, and he would go about meticulously repairing every panel on the body — hammering metal, filling and filing until everything was level again.
“Nowadays, the panels are so thin, I can’t even work with them, you just take it off, throw it away and put on a new part. The trade is leaving this industry,” he said.
For anyone curious about the fate of the old garage, it will not be set for demolition any time soon. The Donatuccis have had no shortage of offers from eager developers, but they were determined that the garage would remain. A new mechanic will be taking the reins and building their own dream, the same way Romeo did 50 years ago.
As for the future, Romeo says he’ll still be doing odd jobs for the tenants of his rental properties, but he will finally take some time to relax.
“It’s time to stop,” he says. “I don’t want to get old, but the second option is to die young and I know which one I’m gonna pick.”