by Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D.
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According to some oral accounts, an Italian mosaic artist terrazzieri
(Mr. Zuchett) worked on the construction of the Alberta Legislature. This would make sense, because labourers of Italian ancestry were working on building sites in Eastern Canada and the US and, because of the fine stonework required on public buildings, trained European craftsman would have been in demand. A.M. Jeffers, the architect who designed the Legislative Assembly, was born in
Pawtucket, Rhode Island in 1875. He studied architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design before moving to Edmonton in 1907 and would have been familiar with Italians working in the building trades in New York, the pre-eminent destination for immigrants from Italy. Jeffers supervised work on the Legislative Assembly Building from 1907-12.¹
Edmonton educator Tony Falcone confirmed this theory. His
uncle Giacinto Arnano was a mason who emigrated to New York.
He worked on six-month contracts at the Legislature and the workers
were brought there to work in the summer and returned to the US in
The fact that Edmonton had become the capital, instead of Calgary, likely gave the City the edge as a destination for individuals seeking manual labour as well as giving it a cachet as the first city of the Province, if not in time, then, in reputation.
The Capital City of the Province was experiencing a building boom and, soon, it would also be a part of a grid of railroad destinations (the Grand Trunk Pacific and the Canadian Northern Railways). Large amounts of coal would be needed to fuel trains as well as homes and industry (for example, the B.C. smelters), not only in the west but also across the country. By 1911 most of Canada's coal came from western Canada. D. B. Dowling of the Geological Survey of Canada in 1908 reported on a number of coal deposits in the Rockies. Shortly after, John Gregg discovered coal in the Athabasca Valley near Brulé and Hinton. Martin Nordegg made similar discoveries in 1910 near Rocky Mountain House and the Brazeau Collieries were established. Entrepreneurs from the US, Britain, France and Eastern Canada were interested in exploiting this important resource. Toni Ross writes in
Oh! The Coal Branch:
A delegation of 80 businessmen from Edmonton headed by Hon. G. H. Bulyea, Lieutenant Governor visit the marl deposits. They lunch at the Capital Hotel in Bickerdike and have dinner at the Boston Hotel in Edson. Edson greets them with an arch across Main Street with a banner which reads "The gateway to Grande Prairie and Peace River
It was expected that Edson would become a metropolis and that there would be a real estate boom. This did not happen to the extent that the speculators hoped,
but Edmonton, as the nearest metropolitan centre and seat of government, benefited. The workers for the various collieries,
including Cadomin in the Coal Branch, would come through Edmonton and it was logical that it became a
major destination for Italian immigrants.
already had its own, established coal industry to supply industrial
and domestic needs from the 1870s. Industrial users included
saw and flour mills, riverboats and brickmaking operations. In
an editorial in the Edmonton Bulletin of January 28, 1882,
six mines are mentioned owned by Mr. Groat, Mr. Humberstone and Mr.
Ross. Initial operations were slope mines and involved tapping
surface seams and were between the High Level Bridge and 92 Street
in Edmonton and Strathcona. These were followed by shaft mines
and the first was initiated by Donald Ross in 1889. Thus, work
in mines would have drawn Italian immigrants to Edmonton as early as the end of the 19th century.
Enrico [Henry] Butti, who was interviewed for the Italians Settle in Edmonton Project in 1983, Italians residing in Edmonton, in the early days, were mostly retired miners. However, Edmonton itself had a number of coal mines in the River
Valley that employed miners locally. With respect to the mines
in the Crowsnest Pass, Enrico Butti senior, known as Tino, came in 1912 to work in the mines in the
Pass (Blairmore, Coleman, Bellevue, Hillcrest) as a steam engineer but he was also instrumental in electrifying the mines and was the Chief Electrician at the Bellevue Mine. He had helped in electrifying the silk mills in northern Italy before emigrating and, as a skilled worker, readily found work in Alberta. He also challenged the norm that only poor agricultural workers came to Canada. He was well established in Italy and, according to his son, he came because "he was an adventurous fellow."