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      Lethbridge Region:  Cultural Life

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Early Years

World War I and
Interwar Period

World War II
and After

 Cultural Life


by Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D.

From reading the various family stories, it is evident that, in spite of the hardships, the close-knit families enjoyed life. The fraternal societies or Loggias were not only a means of providing a safety-net to miners whose interests were not well represented by the companies but they were also social organizations. Dinners, dances, selection of a princess, were the usual activities that were done in groups when people gathered to socialize. A quintessential Italian activity, wine making, was adapted to meet southern Alberta circumstances. Anne (Ermacora) Van Vreumingen notes that her Father made wine from chokecherries and had the children trample the berries in a barrel with their bare feet, which remained pink for days.

Anne further notes:

Our Coalhurst days were filled with fun and with such a large family there were always many friends coming and going. We played ball and other games. We had Community sports and picnics and we were all very active. Behind our house in Wigan, we had an old slough where we swam in the summertime, it was knee high with mud, pollywogs, broken bottles and tin cans. In the winter we skated on it and our house was then used to change skates, getting warm and to lend skates to the ones that had none.1

Their Father took them on sleigh-rides but these pleasurable activities were also interludes in the serious business of getting a living. Her brother Louis came to Canada at the age of 11, had three years of schooling in Coalhurst and then went to work in the mines.

A number of the Italian Coalhurst families intermarried with other families and farming and the activities associated with it became a part of their lifeways. The family would farm the land and fathers and brothers would work in the mines in the winter. This gave them a revenue source but also the means to grow much of the food that they needed. The possibility of losing work made their financial well-being precarious. But this seemed to nurture a generosity of spirit and Anne gives a wonderful example. She writes:

Father had a dray and two horses "Mabel" and "Browny". He would go to Coalhurst to try and sell some vegetables and eggs, so we could buy other staples. The Community Miners Hall was one of his favorite spots and he would stop for a few beers and a visit with his friends. Often he would come home empty handed and all the produce gone. He would often give it away to people that were less fortunate than us. With the mine closed all summer and no work, people would have no money and would promise father that they would pay sometime later. Once in awhile dad would come home with sugar, coffee and other things. Mother would ask where he got the money and he would tell us that some lady had stopped him in the street and paid him the money she promised to pay him years ago. He would give to other people sometimes not even knowing their names. He was a very generous man and we loved him dearly.2

Unlike, for example, the Crowsnest communities and even Nordegg and the Coal Branch where some activities broke down along ethnic lines, in Coalhurst, the various ethnocultural groups seemed to inter-relate more based on the accounts in Our Treasured Heritage. She speaks of school ballgames, summer picnics and Christmas concerts as well as sports days with races, baseball and high jumping. Their parents came to watch. While the mine explosion forced most to leave the town, those who contributed to the community history book all note the hold that the town kept on them and the regular reunions and efforts made to keep in touch.

The wave of post-World War II immigration brought a whole new influx of Italian immigrants to the area. John Mazzuca has provided me with information about the Italian society in Lethbridge. It began in the 1950s with the formation of an Italian Club. They wanted to build a hall but without success. In 1960, the club was incorporated as the Romulus & Remus Italian Canadian Club. Again an attempt was made to build a hall without success. They finally succeeded in 1976 and at that time the memberships was 400. The founding board included: John Mazzuca, President; Nick Desimoni, Vice President; Nick Palazzo, Treasurer; Silvio Mauro, Secretary; and councilors, Antimo Altieri, Giulio di Rocco, Pete Fiorino, Joe Mantello, Aldo Meli, Tony Paladino, Fernando Rose, Aldo Vercilio and Mike Vercilio. 

Their activities included the children's party held in February when La Befana (the good witch associated with Epiphany) gave children gifts (or coal, if they were bad). They participated in local Heritage Days activities in August as well as having dinner dances, picnics, spaghetti suppers and seasonal events such as the New Grape Social with a wine tasting content. In the past, they had an Italian language class and brought Sabatino Roncucci from Edmonton to start an Italian dancing program. The dancers went to Expo '86 in Vancouver. The hall is available for bookings for non-members of the community and its membership stands at about 460.

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Copyright © 2002 Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D. and The Heritage Community Foundation

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