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Edmonton's Little Italy

by Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D.

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Insignia of Loggia Leonida Bissolati No5 Coalhurst. Courtesy of the Romulus & Remus Italian Society of Lethbridge.While the notion of characteristics based on ethnicity is a problematical one, particularly if it is negative, Italians are a sociable, company-loving people.  With respect to immigrant communities, there is another reason for seeking the company of compatriots.  To be a stranger in a foreign land was a daunting experience - there was the necessity to earn a living, which was difficult enough, but there was also the barrier of language. Thus, the ties of kinship and also of community and region, became very important in immigrant communities across the country. This was also true in Italy were the unification of Italy was still so recent at the end of the 19th century that, for many, even today, the ties of region are more important than national ties. 

Giovanni Caboto Club in Calgary, 1925.  Photo courtesy of Glenbow Archives.  NA-5124-3.Thus, among the first Italian immigrant societies were the fraternal ones, which were a vehicle for providing mutual support and assistance. This was not a North American creation. A fascinating book titled Storia sociale del Comune di Grimaldi (1905-1925) [A Social History of the Comune of Grimaldi] by Raffaele Paolo Saccomanno, talks about the setting up of the Società Operaia [Workers' Society or trade union] in Grimaldi in 1905. There are some trenchant statements about "parasitism of the gentlemen." 

Ribbon of the Loggia Cesare Battisti at Nordegg belonging to Geno Poscente.  Photo courtesy of Guy Blasetti.The notion of mutual aid societies, thus, came with the immigrants and they were formalized. Of course, the informal aid also continued. All of those who spoke and wrote English willingly helped their compatriots in writing letters and conducting business. This might take the form of helping illiterate compatriots write home but, I believe, more frequently it was helping each other to function in an English-speaking environment. Mr. Enrico Butti,  in an oral history interview in the early 1980s, mentions that he did this as did the consular agents. He states that they were not paid for by the Italian government but by the immigrants who needed help.

Oral histories (Mr. Butti and Mrs. Mary Biollo Doyle) have indicated that there was a  Societa Vittorio Emanuele III in Edmonton and another society, the Italian Society, which arose out of the Venice Club/  Mr. Butti confirmed the existence of the Italian-Canadian Society/Italo-Canadian Society of Edmonton prior to W.W. II. At that time, they met in the German Hall off 92nd Street; they had bingos and dances. With the outbreak of the war, the German Hall was closed. They then met in the room above Domenico Chiarello's store on 97th Street and 106th A Avenue.


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