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First store in Venice. Lean to on side of store where family resided for 2 winters. Mike & Mary with Dog Bob on steps (1917).  Photo courtesy of the Biollo-Doyle FamilyO.J. Biollo, one of the leaders involved in the establishment of the Italian settlements of Venice and Hylo.  He had operated several businesses in Winnipeg and Edmonton and was extremely entrepreneurial.   Tony Bonifacio in his unpublished history Venice Alberta 1914:  The Pioneers and Others That Lived There provides insight into his character:

In Venice, O.J. Biollo was like the king pin of the community, he owned the general store, was the first postmaster, Commisioner of Oaths, representative of the government for collecting taxes, building of roads and many other ventures.  He was the only person able to do this because he was quite fluent in the English language. . . . The first radio in Venice was in the Biollo store, a Marconi console floor model, and it was powered with dry cell batteries.  The pile of batteries to power the radio was almost larger than the radio.  Almost all the people of the settlement would come on Tuesday and Friday evenings to meet the train arriving at 6:30 p.m. if it was on time.  The mail was picked up at the post office, and perhaps a few groceries bought, return home, and repeat the same routine over and over.

In 1915, he purchased  a building that had previously been built by an earlier settler prior to the arrival of the Italian settlers and began operating a store.  The crumbling ruins of this early business establishment located just north of the town site of Venice.

Documents at the Provincial Archives of Alberta show that this business was a company called the Mercantile Company and that shares had been issued to some family members.  This business was the only merchandising business serving Venice-Hylo for a number of years, trading traditional staples such as flour, sugar, tobacco products, hardware products and many such items as would be found in a general store during that period.

Carlo Meardi working at the sawmill - Hylo LakeFor many  years the postal service at Venice was also located in the store.  Mr. Biollo, at various periods of time, was an agricultural implement agent for manufacturers such as Massey-Harris.  As there was a huge demand for lumber in the new frontier communities, Mr. Biollo also operated a sawmill on the premises where he made lumber for resale and also did custom sawing for people who would bring their own logs to the mill to be made into lumber.  The mill was powered by a stationary steam engine.  It operated until it was destroyed by fire in July 1938.  Records from O.J. Biollo's business suggest that there were periods, particularly during the Depression years in the 1930s, when this business went through some difficult times.

As Threshing outfit on the Biollo farm.  Photo courtesy of the Biollo-Doyle Family the homesteaders had very little money, they purchased many of their supplies from the store on credit and paid when they could, or else they would do some work for Mr. Biollo on his farm.  This arrangement, however, made it difficult in turn for Mr. Biollo to pay his wholesalers or suppliers on time and would create some difficulties.  Nevertheless, the Mercantile Company remained in business until the mid-1940s, when increased competition and other family difficulties more or less caused this business to pass on into oblivion.

There were also other businesses, for example, Felice De Angelis started a sawmill with Augusto Marini but Mr. Biollo was, undoubtedly, the most entrepreneurial individual in the community in the early years.

Material in this section is reprinted in part from "Hylo-Venice Harvest of Memories" by the Hylo-Venice History Book Committee, with permission from the editor.

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