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     Edmonton:  Early Years

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Introduction

Early Years

 World War I and
Interwar Period

World War II
and After

  Cultural Life

Pioneers

 Population Statistics

 
Year of the Coal Miner September 2003 - 2004

by Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D.

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Street in Nordegg, courtesy of the Glenbow Archives NA-3993-7As a result of an injury in the fall from a scaffold, while working in Nordegg in 1920, the family moved to Edmonton where Mr. Butti senior set up an electrical shop assisted by his son.  Workers did leave the mines before retirement.  Mining was dangerous work.  The Frank Slide in 1903, killed 70 and the Hillcrest Mine explosion in 1914 killed 189 men on the morning shift, of which 28 were Italian.  Butti senior was the senior electrician at the Bellevue Mine and was one of the first to arrive to help.  Thus, the move to safer employment in the cities, when possible, had its attractions. 

The Rusconi family homesteaded in Naples in 1905 but, after the failure of the settlement, moved to Edmonton.  They are pictured in  front of their Edmonton home.  Courtesy of the Italians Settle in Edmonton Oral History Project and the booklet of the same name.Besides its importance for coal mining and railway construction, Edmonton very early on became a "staging" ground for northern settlement and development.  On August 28th, 1914, the Canadian Northern Station saw a party of 20 families from northern Italy leave on the Athabasca train to set up an agricultural colony near Lac La Biche.  This was western Canada's second Italian colony and was called Venice because of the place of origin of many of the settlers.  The Naples settlement had been established in 1905 but had not succeeded and one of the founding families, the Rusconis, were in Edmonton by 1915. 

The Venice Colony at the Edmonton Railway Staion in Sunday best. Edmonton Journal clipping, 1914, A contemporary newspaper article notes that the Venice colony was sponsored by the Società Vittorio Emanuele Terzo of Edmonton and Industrial Commissioner Hall's Department.  The article further states that there were 600 Italians residing in Edmonton.  A clipping from the same year features a photograph, complete with a hunting dog and children in fancy dress under the title "Leaving for a Different 'Front'."  The caption refers to the "war front" and states: "There has been some doubt since the European war began, whether Italy would join Germany and Austria, her allies according to the 'Triple Alliance' or turn against them and fight side by side with Britain. There is, however, no doubt as to where the sons of sunny Italy shown in this picture stand."   According to Gisella Biollo writing in the Hylo-Venice:  Harvest of Memories history book, the Italian Society of Edmonton had been established in 1913 to help organize the immigrants who came from Italy.  She mentions that the first president was a Mr. Cantera who was replaced by O.J. Biollo with Felice De Angelis, the Italian consul.  She mentions 200 members.  The Cantera she speaks of is likely  Lorenzo Cantera, who came to Edmonton from the US in 1912, and lived in the Rossdale Flats.

L-R:  first two people unknown, then, Felice De Angelis (consular agent), Giuseppe Michetti and Augusto Marini.  Courtesy of the Hylo-Venice Harvent of Memories History Book CommitteeThis adventure is captured in the diary of Felice DeAngelis, the consular agent, who was a civil engineer and instrumental in setting up the colony.  His diary is a fascinating document, his writing that of an aesthete who loves nature but is not too knowledgeable about agriculture.  The agriculturalist in their midst was Olivo John (O.J.) Biollo from Campalongo Maggiore.  He had emigrated to Canada in 1902 to work on the Canadian Pacific Railway ending up in Winnipeg where he prospered and bought a hotel.  He was an amazing entrepreneur and visionary but, according to his daughter, Mary (Biollo) Doyle, could make money but couldn't keep it. 

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