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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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Family and Home Life

Luigi Pedrini was another adventurous teenager emigrating at the age of 14 in 1904 and making his way to the part of the Northwest Territories that became Alberta a year later.  He settled in Diamond City first working on the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway High Level Bridge in Lethbridge.  He then worked in the Diamond City, Commerce, Picture Butte, Shaughnessy, Royal View and Dupen Mines.  In 1914, he returned to Italy for a visit and had to serve in the army and was wounded.  He met his future wife Clementina ("Emma") Ceschini and they were married in 1918. He returned to Canada, leaving her behind with their first child, a son, Ezio. Their family is typical of the dislocation experienced by many immigrants.  She came to Canada in 1925 leaving Ezio with relatives and he did not join his parents until 1930.  Luigi then worked in the mines from fall to spring and farmed from spring to fall.All of the community histories and the oral history interviews indicate the close bond between miners Italian origin and their families. Commentators note that Italians tended to "stick together." While the bonds of kinship and also region (for example, the notion of paesani [townsmen], that is, people from the same hometown) were undeniably important to Italian immigrants, they also were well aware that they were not among the elites, which in mining communities were people of Anglo-Canadian origin. This, in itself, forced ethnocultural groups to stick together.

The typical immigration pattern was that young men left Italy and ended up in the mines.  The early part of the 20th century saw many come to coal mining communities in southern Alberta and southeastern British Columbia.  The 1910s and 1920s saw many of them marry and establish homes in their new country.  Tegla Clozza, whose Father was a founder of the Sunshine Camp, has left a warm and light-hearted account of life at the Camp in The Hills of Home:  The Drumheller Valley.  Life was hard but the bachelors and families that made up the Camp bonded into a strong-knit community.The men frequently emigrated alone thinking to make money and return to their homeland. But those who liked the life in Canada either returned to Italy to marry or had their families select a wife. By 1910, there were a significant number of married miners who were in Canada to stay. As a result of family reunification immigration, members of extended families began to arrive creating the first dynasties of Italian families in Western Canada. The growth of these families can be discovered in local history books.

The family was all-important in Italian society but was an elastic thing including not just blood kin but also others from the home town or paese.  Family relationships defined individuals and a person was identified as someone’s daughter or son.  The typical home frequently housed multiple generations and if ever there was trouble, one could call on a member of the extended family.  These family ties were all important in a land were ethnic origin and language set people apart.In spite of the hardships, the close-knit families enjoyed life. They lived in small houses, quickly erected from wide boards. They had coal stoves and outdoor privies. There were few labour-saving devices and laundry was done weekly by hand using a washboard. In winter, there were only sponge baths. Summer made living easier and many kept chickens for eggs and meat as well as growing vegetables. The popular dandelion greens were cooked or used raw in salads. Some families made their own wine from chokecherries and "moon-shine" even though it was illegal. There were also ball games, Saturday night dances with the "self-made orchestra," the weekly picture shows group singing, outdoor bowling and card game—all of those pleasures of any community in Alberta or British Columbia at that time.

Listen:  Giovanni Paron talks about how he got a mail order bride (oral history excerpt).

Listen:  Silvio Tona talks about his wine making (oral history excerpt).

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