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      Lethbridge Region:  Early Years

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Introduction

Early Years

World War I and 
Interwar Period

World War II
and After

 Cultural Life

Pioneers 

Year of the Coal Miner September 2003 - 2004

by Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D.

While the capital had to be found to establish the mines, once this was done, labour was required to develop and bring the product to market.  It can be assumed that the profile of the workforce in southern Alberta mines was similar to that in other mining areas such as the Crow's Nest Pass.  A royal commission study of the coal industry in 1919 noted the following makeup of the labour force:

  • 90 percent of the workers in the Pass were immigrants
  • 34 percent were British
  • 23 percent were Slovak
  • 14.5 percent were Italian
  • 7 percent were French and Belgian
  • 2 percent were Russian
  • 8.5 percent were "other European"
  • 1 percent were American1

At present, there is no community history for Lethbridge that provides family histories from which to develop an ethnocultural profile.  This regional profile draws on the community history  for Coalhurst and information provided by John Mazzuca of Lethbridge.  Mr. Mazzuca has been involved in the Romulus & Remus Italian Canadian Club of Lethbridge for many years.  The Club was registered as a society in October, 1960.  It was, thus, a product of the post-war WWII wave of immigration.

Mr. Mazzuca mentions that the first Italians to come to Lethbridge were coalminers who came from Pennsylvania and Nova Scotia in the 1880s.  This is the first oral evidence for Nova Scotia as a place of origin for mine workers of Italian descent in Alberta but it was inevitable that, upon arriving in Halifax, immigrants would seek work in the mines of the region and would, subsequently, move on to the US or other parts of Canada.  Individuals interviewed for a number of Edmonton-based oral history projects2 confirm this pattern (see Edmonton's Italian Community regional profile).  It would appear from oral evidence that workers who came from Italy were enormously mobile and followed the work from the US to Canada, from east to west.  For example, at the end of August 1885, Antonio Nigro and Giovanni Veltri traveled from Italy, through Paris to a port in Belgium.  From there they embarked on a steamer for New York.  After they arrived in New York (Ellis Island), they went on to Montana.  hey then moved on to work in Spokane, the Crow's Nest Pass, Winnipeg, Fort William, Ontario, and Edmonton.  The number of Italian immigrants in southern Alberta increased at the beginning of the 20th century as economies of communities in the region improved and diversified.

Silvio and Pierina Baceda on their marriage Dec. 23, 1923. Photo courtesy of the Coalhurst History Society as reproduced in our Treasured Heritage: A History of CoalHurst and District, 1984.For concrete information about the earliest immigrants from Italy, one must turn to Our Treasured Heritage: A History of Coalhurst and District.3   According to the community history, the town of Coalhurst was named after its primary commodity as well as the name of one of its earliest settlers, Jimmy Hurst (thus, "Coal - hurst").  Mining began in earnest in 1911 and Italian workers contributed not only their labour in the mines but also to building the community.  The family profiles provide the basics of immigration history from Italy to the region.  Silvio Baceda, who was born in 1889 in the village of Cavedini, Trento, went to the US in his early teens where he worked in a gold mine in California.  A few years later (probably around 1910), he went to Lethbridge where his brother was located and worked in the Chester Mine.  In 1925 he moved to Coalhurst with his wife Pierina and worked in the mine until the 1935 disaster.  He then moved to Lethbridge where he worked in the No. 8 Mine until his retirement in 1952.

Louie and Hilda Ermacora, 1920s. Photo courtesy of the Coalhurst History Society as reproduced in our Treasured Heritage: A History of CoalHurst and District, 1984.The Ermacora family history, contributed by Anne (Ermacora) Van Vreumingen provides a fascinating account of the struggles but also the unbeatable spirit of this large family.  Angelo Ermacora came to Canada in the early 1900s from Arzene, a town in northern Italy near Pordenone (now an industrial suburb of Venice).  He and his wife had five children (one deceased) before he emigrated.  He travelled from LeHavre to Halifax and, then, Calgary before going to Lac La Biche where he homesteaded for a year.  He found the life too difficult and moved to southern Alberta to work in the mines where he could make more money.  He worked in the Royal View Mine in Lethbridge and the Commerce Mine and made enough money so that his wife and three children could join him.  One child remained with her grandparents and her parents never saw her again.  The family historian, Annie, was born in 1913 in Commerce.  In 1914 the family moved to Coalhurst and lived in a company house but this did not satisfy Angelo who wanted a place of his own. He found and renovated a house at Wigan outside Coalhurst and continued to work in the mine as well as delivering coal and water.  Next, he bought a 60-acre parcel of land from the Coalhurst Collieries and built a house and farmed during the summer months while working in the mines the six winter months.  A son, Louis, went to work in the mines at the age of 14; Angelo was killed in the 1935 explosion. 4

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Copyright © 2002 Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D. and The Heritage Community Foundation

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