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Year of the Coal Miner September 2003 - 2004

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Italian immigrants, mostly men, who came to Alberta in the early part of the 20th century, adopted the recreational pursuits of the mining communities in which many of them lived.  Thus, they hunted and fished,  pursuing the outdoor life, in its Canadian variant, that many had pursued at home in Italy. They came to love the region in which they worked so much so that they returned to the region to enjoy these pursuits with their families, once the mines closed.

One man took that individual love of nature and, through heroic activity, benefited all Canadians and Albertans.  Lawrence Grassi was born in Felmenta, Italy (near Torino) in 1890.  With his Father, a lumberman, he worked near Grenoble, France, before emigrating to Canada in 1912.  He worked as a CPR sectionman in the Lake Superior area before seeking a transfer to Hector in the Rockies.  In 1916, he was employed as a miner in Canmore and, in 1918, he purchased a house and leased the land from the Canmore Coal Co. 
His love of the Twin Falls area, near Field, BC, prompted him to Lawrence Grassi house in Canmore, 1925.  Image from Camore - The Story of an Era by Edna (Hill) Appleby.cut a path from Sulphur Springs to the foot of the mountain where the falls tumble down and to the creek, which is the source of the falls.  He is also is renowned as a mountaineer (in 1936 he was one of the four Canadians in the seven-men team that climbed unconquered Mt. Waddington in BC).  Grassi Lakes.  Image from Camore - The Story of an Era by Edna (Hill) Appleby.He received honorary life membership in the Alpine Club of Canada and the Canadian Youth Hostel Association.  Parks Canada also recognized him by making him the assistant warden annually from June to November at Sargent's Point at Lake O'Hara.  He had landscaped the grounds and trails. In 1938, legislation was passed changing the name of the Twin Lakes in Whiteman's Pass to Grassi Lakes.  
Dr. J. S. Woodsworth, MP for Winnipeg, wrote:  

For me, the most interesting individual in the community was Lawrence Grassi, an Italian miner . . . In the course of a prolonged strike, instead of loafing about the village, he set off into the hills, axe on should to make trails to Falls at Grassi Lakes.  Image from Camore - The Story of an Era by Edna (Hill) Appleby. points of interest.  It was a labour of love.  He loved the mountains, but enjoyed having others share their beauty.  So day by day he pushed through the bush discovering the best ways of approach-blazing a trail, cutting out the underbrush, grubbing out stones and rocks, bridging little mountain streams, hollowing out a basin for a sulphur spring, erecting ladders over a precipice, placing seats on jutting lookouts that commanded an out-of-door fireplace at a delightful camping ground; even placing a surface raft on a little lake in the Pass so that the clearness and wonderful coloring of its water could be better appreciated; then cutting a zigzag up and through grassy slopes and among huge boulders and so on, into the green timbers until it emerged on a pony trail at Whiteman Pass!" 1

Immigrants and their children also involved themselves in sports that were not traditional in Italy-hockey and baseball.  The various teams in coal-mining communities all had Italian members.  The third wave of immigrants (post-1950) involved themselves in Canada's other national sport, football.  Antonella Fanella notes that a number of Calgarians  became professional football players, playing with the Calgary Stampeders-Joe, John and Tom Forzani, Massimo and Bruno Geremia, Tom and Tony Spoletini, and Mike Palumbo.  In Edmonton, Peter Lavorato played for the Edmonton Eskimos including some Grey Cup games.  Joe Petrone went to college in the US on a sports scholarship and has coached soccer and football at the high school level.


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