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   Lethbridge Region:  World War I and Interwar Period

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Introduction

Early Years

World War I and
Interwar Period

World War II
and After

 Cultural Life

Pioneers

by Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D.

Page 1  |  2  3  |  4  |  5

An important aspect of mining history is issues ofCoalhurst mine. Photo courtesy of the Coalhurst History Society as reproduced in our Treasured Heritage: A History of CoalHurst and District, 1984. government regulation as well as unionization. These subjects deserve extensive coverage in their own right but the following refers primarily to material pertaining to Italian immigration history. A primary source book is the hearings of the Alberta Coal Mining Industry Commission in 1919. Selections from the hearings were published by the Historical Society of Alberta in 1978, edited and with an introduction by University of Calgary historian David Jay Bercuson.1 Bercuson notes that the Commission was formed at a time of labour unrest and business uncertainty (the Winnipeg General Strike, beginning in May, 1919, set off a ripple of strikes across the country including in Alberta mining centres). 

Hearings lasted for two-and-a-half months beginning October 6th in Edmonton. Other sites included Calgary,Probably miners from Federal mine or Hamilton mine.  Photo courtesy of the Coalhurst History Society as reproduced in our Treasured Heritage: A History of CoalHurst and District, 1984. Drumheller, Lethbridge, Wayne, Edson and Blairmore. The Index of Witnesses provides a "quick" overview of the key mining companies in the province and interests represented. Of 12 recommendations, only three deal with issues pertinent to the welfare of miners.  The Lethbridge Hearings took place November 12-14, 1919 and it's clear that views are very polarized. Mine officials are concerned about competition, quality of coal and other issues pertaining to profits while a number of union representatives speak with conviction about the condition of miners. These include:

  • R. Peacock, Secretary, Galt Local, United Mine Workers of America
  • R. J. Brown, President, Federal Mines Local, United Mine Workers of America, Lethbridge
  • C. H. Kindgon, printer and vice-president, Lethbridge Trades & Labour Council
  • A. Bryant, Recording Secretary, Commerce Local, United Mine Workers of America

The miners' representative on the Commission John Loughran states at the hearing:

I think you have heard evidence since you came in, from a practical miner, who tells us he can only work at best 7 months in the year and that his average earnings during that time is about equal to $4.00 per shift. From that he pays $14.00 per month for rent, $1.00 for water, 50 cents for carfare, and about $7.50 per month for coal-for earnings of $4.00 per day.2

This unknown miner's plight becomes much more compelling if we picture him asHoisting machinery in power house of the Coalhurst mine.  Photo courtesy of the Coalhurst History Society as reproduced in our Treasured Heritage: A History of CoalHurst and District, 1984. Angelo Ermacora. The Palmers in Alberta: A New History note that central and eastern Europeans held jobs that were less skilled and were also paid less. In 1906, there was a miners' strike in Lethbridge when miners joined the United Mine Workers of America.  The miners won a small wage increase but did not win union recognition-a fact that left a legacy of bitterness.  Other strikes took place in 1922 and 1924.  For the Italian workers, there was much to be gained from  looking after themselves.

In Lethbridge, as in other Alberta towns and cities, among the first Italian societies, were the fraternal ones, which were a vehicle for providing mutual support and assistance. I believe that 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 1905.3 There are some trenchant statements about "parasitism of the gentlemen." The notion of mutual aid societies, thus, came with the immigrants and they were formalized to meet worker needs in Canada adopting the name, "lodge," of North American fraternal orders.

Enrico Butti, interviewed for the Italians Settle in Edmonton Project in 1982/83 mentions the Figli d'Italia [Sons of Italy], which originated in the U.S. in New York but also had branches in Canada. In fact, Evelyn Halickman in her unpublished essay "The Italian Community Montreal" mentions that the Sons of Italy began inInsignia of Loggia Leonida Bissolati No5 Coalhurst. Courtesy of the Romulus & Remus Italian Society of Lethbridge. Montreal in 1920 when some New York Italians visited to start up an organization similar to their own. According to Mr. Butti, these were called in the West, the Fior d'Italia [Flower of Italy]. Based on photographic evidence, these societies existed earlier in Alberta than the 1920 date mentioned by Halickman. The Fior d'Italia was headquartered in Fernie, and provided insurance coverage. Mr. Butti was corresponding secretary of the Cesare Battisti Society in Nordegg, and also of the Grand Lodge of Fernie.

Anne (McMullen) Belliveau in writing on the Nordegg Italian Society notes that the Grand Lodge of the society was located in Fernie confirming what was said by Butti. She provides this detail: 

A per capita assessment was sent from the local Lodge to the Grand Lodge and this covered long-term problems. If a member was sick and unable to work, the local Lodge paid $1.00 per day to a maximum number of days, after which the Grand Lodge took on the responsibility. Upon death of a member, $100.00 was given to the family. Meetings were held on a regular basis and this acted as a sounding board for members to help each other look for solutions to problems. 4

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

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