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When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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Military Service

The Peressinis were strong supporters of the Canadian war effort.  Here Albino Peressini, Calgary Highlanders, is seen with his friends Geno Orlando, Tony Sekina and Romano Peressini.During World War I, Italian young men who worked in the mines returned to Italy to fight for their homeland. At that stage, for some, Canada was still a place for employment but Italy was home and Italy’s quarrels were theirs. But for those who married and began families, Canada was their home and they were proud citizens.

In the 1930s, while the Fascist party had its supporters, which included the Italian vice-consular representative in Calgary (Antonio Rebaudengo), for the majority of Italians in the mines their allegiance to Canada was not in question. They had established themselves in their communities and even held public office. Thus, "enemy alien" designation in World War II was a profound shock that reverberated throughout the community and divided it along ethnic lines.

The mines, because they impacted on industrial production and were therefore "sensitive," were militant about enforcing enemy alien provisions and neighbours spied on neighbours on the look-out for "all anti-allied activities." Provisions included:

  • No enemy aliens or any naturalized since 1939 be employed for the duration of the war
  • Preference be given to British subjects as foremen
  • Positions vacated by men enlisting in the C.A.S.F. be filled by British subjects.

Geraldine Frey and James Montalbetti are pictured here on their wedding day with their attendants Neil Wilson and Margaret Price Clark.  The large wedding reception seemed inappropriate in war time and, frequently, the bride was dressed in a suit and the groom was in uniform.But even when their allegiance was in question and with worry about family members at home in Italy, many young men of Italian ancestry fought in the Canadian Armed Forces and there is an interesting example of one young man who fought with other Canadians in the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and lost his life. According to J. E. Russell writing in It's a Miner's Life (Drumheller: Historic Atlas Coal Mine Research Study, 1995) as a result of the enlistment mine operators faced a serious shortage of experienced men. He notes: "The sudden drain in manpower in the mines caused the federal government to pass legislation decreeing that coal mining is an essential industry, and recalled many enlisted miners back to the coal towns."

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