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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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Brilliant Mine Workers - 1945Very few Italian miners had worked in mines in Italy. Many had farmed, while others had trades (carpenters, stonemasons, shoemakers, electricians, etc.). Working in the mines, while dangerous, provided an opportunity for work and a means of bettering themselves. Initially, they saved to return to Italy but, eventually, they came to love their adopted country and looked to establish themselves. It is not surprising, therefore, to see the movement from mine to related mining businesses (logging, draying, construction), farming and retail. Sometimes it was an accident that spurred the shift but, in most cases, it was that the work did not suit them or they wished to pursue their trade.

They were hard-working, ambitious and upwardly mobile. They believed in education and wanted to ensure that their sons need not go underground unless that is what they wanted to do. Family members helped each other and townsman also went into business with each other.

The belief that Italian immigrants were all illiterate labours is not borne out by the evidence. Ercole (Curly) Miglierina came from Varese to Frank in 1911 working first on the railroad and then moving to mine work in Hillcrest, Bankhead and finally Drumheller.  It was there that he met his future wife Teresa Rosetti who was visiting her sister.  In 1917, they built the People’s Bakery on Third Avenue East in Drumheller, which operated as a bakery and confectionery until 1949.  He was joined by his brother Enrico in 1923 who later worked for him.  The bakery, known as "The Peeps" was a popular community gathering place.Completing six years of schooling was a preparation for working life in all but the professions in Italy. As well, there was the well established trades training. Language initially prevented access to trades and mining and railway work was open to anyone with the physical stamina and desire to work hard. Thus, it was an entry point to other economic activity.

While in all communities, the shift to trades and small businesses can be seen, in the Lethbridge area, many of the miners also had small farms. They diversified into dairying, flour milling and other agricultural activities. In the mountains, draying businesses, haulage and other activities that supported mining were pursued. Finally, there is no question that Italian community members were involved in some illicit activities during Prohibition. The desire to have their own vintage, in the 1960s, led them to challenge the law so that wine could be made by householders for their own use.

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