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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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Community Spirit

Italian shareholders set up the Sunshine Mine near Wayne in 1921 and the Camp became a "Little Italy."  The Loggia Enrico Caruso, No. 16, in Drumheller, provided a focus for community activities, which included dinners, dances and musical performances.  This photograph of the women of the community preparing for a "spaghetti feed" is perhaps one of the last, happy community activities.  With mine closures, many families scattered to seek work elsewhere leaving the old people and those who had left the mines and found other careers in the Drumheller Valley.Mining communities were characterized by their diversity. Inevitably, the racial stereotyping of the period impacted on the way in which communities established themselves. It was a common belief that northern Europeans were harder working, more law abiding and generally superior. Southern Europeans and individuals from other nations were viewed as inferior and only fit for manual labour.

These attitudes played themselves out not only in the mines but also in the mining camps and towns. The segregation was not always of an exclusionary nature. It may also have been self-imposed—it was easier to be with people that spoke one’s own language and shared values and beliefs. Thus, there was a well-established Little Italy in Bellevue. In the Drumheller Valley there were the all-Italian camps associated with the Sunshine and Brilliant Mines. In other communities there were clusters of Italian-owned homes in certain neighbourhoods.

The struggle to establish themselves and the danger of the occupation tended to bring the best out in people. This can be seen time and again in the family histories in local history books as well as oral histories. The Italian community of Coleman was almost a town within a town as this banquet photo makes clear. Among the participants are Ferucio DeCecco, Margaret and Bruno Gentile, Rosa and Orazio Celli, Katherine and Joe Alampi, Giorgio Aristone, Giovanna Alampi, Annie Marconi, Vera Feregotto, Julie and Ernest Lant, Mrs. Rinaldi, Mary Atkinson.For good times—births, weddings and parties— and bad—accidents and disasters, layoffs, wage rollbacks—the entire community pulled together. There was also a sense that they were recreating the best of Italy in Canada.

But the passage of time brought acceptance and assimilation and this is seen through involvement in mainstream community activities. Italian immigrants began to be less strange and exotic and more like ordinary Canadians. They were business owners and professionals as well as officers in civic organizations. In fact, they seemed to be no different from anyone else. For example, in 1947, there were two Italian women members of the Order of the Royal Purple, Coleman Lodge No. 96. Del D’Appolonia was Associate Royal Lady and Muriel D’Amico was Inner Guard and Helen Fontana was Outer Guard. The Lodge undertook a range of good works in the community and fundraised to support these charitable activities.

Canadians of Italian ancestry were community builders who believed in family, God and country. As jobs in the mines disappeared, many left for the cities but those who stayed did so because they loved the communities where they had laboured to establish themselves.

Listen: To hear a miner's perspective on the isolation of mining camp life listen to Gus and Assunta Dotto's oral history excerpt.

Listen:  Angelo Toppano describes east Coleman, or "Bushtown," where he lived when he first arrived in 1913 (oral history excerpt).

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