The mining regions from the
Elk Valley in the south-eastern
corner of British Columbia through the
Crows Nest Pass to the
Drumheller Valley in Alberta are dotted with small communities
established by people who arrived in different waves of
immigration from Europe beginning in the last decades of the
19th century. The spectrum of cultural backgrounds
includes: Slavic-speaking people of Russian, Polish,
Ukrainian, Czech and Slovak heritage; Italians; and
Anglo-Europeans from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales,
Eastern Canada and the US.
Many worked in the mines; others worked on the
railways or in
sawmills; some cut timber, made roads and established
businesses. Cycles of boom and bust have tested the resilience
of residents in the region as a result of the ups-and-downs of
industrial production associated with market demand. The
coming in of Leduc No. 1 in 1947 signaled the death knell of
coal mining as it had been practised for almost a century as oil
and gas became the fossil fuels of choice. Mining camps
and entire communities disappeared. Some communities, such as
Morrissey and Coal Creek, were relocated in
response to shifting demands of industry and the desire of the
government of British Columbia to emphasize tourism and erase
the mining past, which was no longer productive. Other
populations fluctuated in response to War and immigration
In response to the
strikes that happened in coal
mining communities in 1919 in sympathy with the Winnipeg General
Strike, a royal commission study of the coal industry in Alberta
was undertaken and noted the following makeup of the labour
force in the Crows Nest Pass:
90 percent of the workers in the Pass were
34 percent were British
23 percent were Slovak
14.5 percent were Italian
7 percent were French and Belgian
2 percent were Russian
8.5 percent were "other European"
1 percent were American
These figures are likely representative for
other coal mining regions of both Alberta and British Columbia.
While some ethnocultural histories have been
undertaken, there is much work left to be done. Alberta's
Italian community has been the focus of oral history and
community mapping projects. In the early 1970s and 1980s, oral
history projects were undertaken in Edmonton by the Dante
Alighieri Society and the Italians Settle in Edmonton Society.
Dr. Adriana Albi Davies was involved in the second set of oral
histories and as Executive Director of the Heritage Community
Foundation undertook development of the Celebrating Alberta's
Italian Community website.
Dr. Adriana Albi Davies Interviewed on Global Television
The Festa Italiana Committee was established in
Fernie, British Columbia, to create an exhibit to complement the Da Vinci Exhibit which visited British Columbia and raised
interest in the heritage of Italian-Canadians. As a result of
this project, in 1998, the Fernie and District Historical
Society undertook the "Elk Valley Italian Oral History Project."
This project sought to commemorate the experiences and
contributions of Italians in the Elk Valley.
The "People of the Mines" section of the When
Coal Was King website also draws on the local histories
developed by many Alberta communities as anniversary projects
for the province's 75th in 1980. These include: Our
Treasured Heritage: A History of Coalhurst and District,
Crowsnest and Its People, The Hills of Home: Drumheller
Valley, The Valley of the Dinosaurs: Its Families and
Coal Mines and The History of Diamond City and Commerce.
The Year of the Coal Miner Consortium wishes
to thank Dr. Adriana Albi Davies, the Heritage Community
Foundation, the Festa Italiana Committee and the Fernie and
District Historical Society for permission to reprint text,
images and audio materials.