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     Angelo Toppano:  Oral History Transcript Summary

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Angelo Toppano

Year of the Coal Miner September 2003 - 2004

Angelo Toppano, a long-time resident of Coleman,  operated a general store that offered many Italian delicacies.  He talks about his early life in Alberta, working conditions and wages in the coal mines, the importance of the Italian Lodge, and the future of the small business enterprise.

  • arrived in Coleman (via New York and Montreal) on May 9, 1913, from the province of Udine in northern Italy. 

  • joined his father, who had come to Coleman in 1906 with the intention, as so many other men from Italy had, of making enough money to return home and provide a better standard of living for his family.

  • lived with father in the "bushtown" area of Coleman.  Craftsmen from northern Italy - masons, stucco-workers, plasterers - decorated their rough wooden shacks in a manner reminiscent of their homeland.

  • when he arrived at age 15, he was placed in grade 3 in school with 8 year olds - and felt very out of place!  His father's dream was to educate him, but he wanted to work, so he got a job picking rock on the coal mine tipple.  As a concession to his father, he went to night school.

  • only other union, besides in the coal mines, was in the C.P.R. - union members were considered "radicals". Mining was a relatively high-paying job. International Coal & Coke (which he worked for) and McGillivray Coal & Coke (in 1914 was just a prospecting company, not producing yet); different classifications of miner (contract vs company man); 1100 people employed in International Mine; high number of Italians; mining was only job around.

  • areas of Italy that miners came from - Udine, Calabria, some from Toscana, Lombardia.  Sponsoring relatives and word of mouth to paesani was primary method of increasing Italian population of Coleman.

  • depression conditions in Coleman - no luxury, just existence; managed; picked up odd jobs here and there. Bad crops quite a few years but could sometimes get work on threshing crews.

  • get-togethers with other families for recreation; Italian Lodge also provided recreational opportunities, but its reason for existence was mostly financial - to provide illness and disability benefits to its members - Italian Mutual Benevolent Association; founded in 1906, it was perhaps the oldest Italian Association in Alberta; other activities - sponsored hockey, soccer, Society for the Blind, Cancer Society, etc.; circa 1916 the Italian Lodge had about 200 members; decrease in members due to movement to cities for better jobs, more educational opportunities.

  • Mr. Toppano was known as the "Maccaroni King" of Coleman;

  • can't find a better country than Canada - good standard of living; good working conditions. Solution for unemployment - union suggested it as early as 1919 - shorter workday (6 hours) for more people.

  • doesn't know what the future holds in store, but is apprehensive about the effect big corporations who "grab everything" are having on small businesses who might have to "give up" - if that happens "they'll be sorry because independent business is the backbone of the nation".


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