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Italian Cultural Life
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It is a challenge to provide an overview of a diverse ethnocultural community that has been in Alberta for more than 100 years. The level of generalization is extreme and makes the material presented suspect. As well, there is the danger of over-simplification and stereotyping. Having said this, there are some statements that can be made to provide a flavour of what life was like for immigrants in the three waves of immigration to Canada and Alberta. 

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. 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. Italian communities were marked by their commitment to family values and also the close connection among people from the same region. Thus, family ties were supplemented by those of the paese [town] and the common description of a person with whom there was a tie was to describe them as paesani. 

Entertainment at Sunshine Camp near Drumheller, Alberta.  Photo from The Hills of Home: Drumheller Valley  by the Drumheller Valley Historical Association. In recounting some of the stories of the early days, there is an element of looking at life through rose-coloured glasses. We have the hard evidence of strikes, accidents and deaths but balancing it is a love of living, a passionate spirit and the sheer joy of hardships overcome and having made it. A fascinating glimpse into mining camp life is given by Tegla Clozza writing about her parents, Mr. and Mrs. S. Stocco. Sunshine Camp was two miles north of Wayne. She writes:

Home Life—Having no electricity, coal oil lamps were used, pails were hung by ropes into a well serving as refrigeration; in the winter the weather took care of this. We had coal stoves and out-door privies. The homes inside were roughly finished. There were wide boards nailed throughout. Winter time, we judged the cold by the higher frozen nail, whereas with summer rains, containers were placed here and there to catch the dribbles of water seeping in. Mouse traps were in most corners of the homes. The summers were great for continual swimming in the creek. Apart from this, there were only sponge baths or our yearly trip to Calgary, and the glory of getting into a real bath tub. All laundry was done by hand, in tubs, using wash-boards.

Food was one thing that was never lacking. There was always a coop full of chickens, eggs daily, cows—therefore plenty of milk, butter and cheese, pigs and geese. I would see Mom cramming sopped bread down their throats to fatten and rush their growth. There were also rabbits and pigeons, and fishing right after the ice-break. They used a man-made net, placed across the width of the river, this was made form tree twigs, with an interlocking one in front; the fish swam in, and there was no way out. This was set down at night, hauled in in the morning. A few days of this and there were plenty of fish for all at he camp, the "Ling" being everyone's favorite. Every family had their own beautiful garden of vegetation. Yes, one thing-there was always a scarcity of "Dandelions" for salads.1 


Good times in Venice, Alberta.  Photo courtesy of the Bonifacio family.There were also ball games, Saturday night dances with the "self-made orchestra," the weekly picture show in Wayne, group singing, outdoor bowling and card games— all of those pleasures of any community in Alberta at that time. She also notes that the families made their own wine and "moon-shine" even though it was illegal.

It is surprising how many small-town orchestras and bands there were in those early days. Canmore miners' band, Canmore, Alberta, 1923.  Taken over by Elks Club in 1923; new uniforms supplied by club.  Photo courtesy of Glenbow Archives. The H.W. McNeill Co.'s Brass Band was established c1890 and, in 1898, a "bandhall" was built in Canmore, according to community historian Edna (Hill) Appleby. Among the players is Pete Balla. In 1923, the Elks Band was established by Lawrence Faletti, who was their conductor. Italian musicians included: John Bertino, O. Verdesia, John Balla, Nellio Torino, John Verdesio, J. Giovanetti, A. Marro, Fred Marro, Ken Balla, Pete Balla, Attilio Caffaro, Ludwig Massole. Antonella Fanella mentions the Calgary Italian Boys’ Band, directed by John Pompilio. Fiore Vecchio conducts choir.  Photo courtesy of Fiore Vecchio. She says that they played in Stampede parades for 20 years and includes a Glenbow Archives picture from c1926-27. In Edmonton, there was Louis Biamonte’s Band, which played at community events and, in the 1950s, bands led by Fiore Vecchio. Mr. Vecchio also made his name as a composer of church music as well as penning several tributes to his hometown and homeland, which evoked the nostalgia for the paese.  Church choirs also allowed the ordinary community member to reveal their musical bent. In Edmonton, the Santa Maria Goretti Church choir, was the launching pad for Ermanno Mauro's career in international opera.
Cover detail of book about the writing of Caterina Edwards.  Published by Guernica Press.
With respect to the professional arts, a relatively few Albertans of Italian descent have made their mark. These include Giuseppe Albi, a visual artist, and Caterina Edwards, Dr. Joseph Pivato and Peter Oliva—all literary artists.

For more information on the culture of Alberta's Italian community, go to the Celebrating Alberta's Italian Community website at www.albertasource.ca/abitalian

1. Tegla Clozza in The Hills of Home: Drumheller Valley (Drumheller: Drumheller Valley Historical Association, 1973)

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