by Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D.
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Like the other "boom" communities in Alberta, Drumheller, at the centre of mine development in the Drumheller Valley, was also known as "the fastest growing town in Canada, if not in all of North America," according to the Calgary Albertan. Thus, Drumheller itself grew by leaps and bounds but mining families also lived around the workings in ramshackle cottages built by the companies as well as tents. The Italian families were there from this early period.
Until mining records have been studied in archives, such as the Glenbow Archives and the collections of smaller local history museums such as the Atlas Coal Mine and the East Coulee Museum, and oral history research has been done, we cannot get a complete picture of all of the Italians working in the region. This is challenging because, once the last mine was shut down in the 1950s, the Italian population largely left. In fact, it is through oral history work undertaken with Edmonton's Italian community in the 1970s and 1980s that one gets some first-hand accounts of people who worked in the Drumheller Valley mines. Thus, the primary source remains
The Hills of Home.
Some families did arrive early, for example, L. Maria Cattini, who arrived in Calgary from Italy in 1905 and settled in Drumheller in 1907 after her marriage. We do not know her husband's name or those of her children but, Madge Contenti, who wrote her short biography provides a graphic description of Maria's life in Drumheller in 1907. She lived in a tent for four years, giving birth to some of her children in that period. The family ultimately totaled 10 children, of which eight died in the 1918 Influenza epidemic. The Cattini family managed to save money to buy a farm near Delia but successive crop failures forced them to sell the farm and return to Drumheller. Maria outlived her husband and died, aged 90, in the Sunshine Lodge.
Ercole ("Curly") Miglierina was born in Varese on April 11, 1895, and came to Canada in 1911 going first to Frank to work on the railroad, then, to Hillcrest, to work in the mine.
He subsequently moved to Bankhead and Drumheller where he worked in the Newcastle Mine. In 1917, he built the People's Bakery and operated the store as a bakery and confectionery until 1949. He married Teresa Rosetti from Sundreo who had come to visit her sister Mrs. John Santi. Mrs. Miglierina continued to operate the Bakery after her husband's death. Their store was a popular gathering place for young people and was known as "The Peeps."
Mr. A. Pedrini came to Canada in 1914 to Lethbridge where he married; had two children, Guido and Gina, and, then, in 1917, moved to Rosedale, where a third child, Bruno was born. The family moved to Drumheller in 1918 and worked in the Newcastle Mine. The children went to school and worked in retail (Pullen's Men's Wear, Brown Bros and Fulton's Ladies' Wear and Tony's Ladies Wear) as well as other occupations. Bruno joined the army in July, 1942, and went overseas, as did his girlfriend Irene Wanstrum, who was a CWAC. They married after the war; the various family members continued to live in Drumheller, and that is why their family histories have been set down and are available.
Mrs. and Mrs. S. Stocco came from Italy in 1913 on their honeymoon and settled in Calgary. They moved to Drumheller where they set up the Roma Grocery, which was combined with a boardinghouse (later sold to De Bernardo). In 1921, they moved to the Sunshine Camp, two miles north of Wayne where he worked in the mines. Mrs. Stocco served as a mid-wife in the area as well as administering a range of home remedies.
When the Sunshine Mine closed in 1931, the families scattered going to Midlandvale operating the Scanton Mine, then continuing with the Brilliant Coal Company managed by J.A. Sandino. This mine closed in 1957. Their daughter, Tegla Clozza provides a fascinating account of the Sunshine Camp, which was considered the "Italian" camp in the account titled "Recollections of Life in the 'Sunshine Camp'" in
The Hills of Home. See the
Lifeways section of this regional profile).