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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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Alberta's Italian Community
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Sunshine Camp - Jim Stocco with Accordion - 1920sHistory told from the perspective of political and economic leaders is the norm. Their contributions make up the public record and can readily be recounted. To tell the coal mining story in southern Alberta and southeastern British Columbia, it is important to tell of the contributions of ordinary people. They are the laboring masses who built the railways, mined the coal to fuel them, and developed the rich fabric of community life.

Initially, the men came looking for work intending to return to the homeland when they had enough money. The mines provided good paying jobs for those who were not afraid of long hours and the dangers of digging for "black gold." In the end, they realized that this was a good place to live and so they married and had children. Each ethnic group brought its culture and traditions to enrich community life. Through the eyes of Italians in mining communities, we can deepen our understanding of the industrial foundations of the Canadian West.

The settlement of Alberta was part of a national strategy that saw massive immigration as a tool for building a nation from coast to coast. Adam Chiste was born in 1885 in Lasino and his wife Elena in 1889 in Rovere Della Luna in northern Italy. In 1910, Adam arrived in Diamond City and worked for the Commerce Coal Mine. Mining then took him to Coalhurst, Drumheller, Pennsylvania and to a mercury mine in San Louis Obispo. He eventually returned to and worked in the mines and saved for 14 years until he had enough money to buy land through the South Irrigation Farm Lands Ltd. He was a founding member of the Alberta Wheat Pool and the couple retired from farming in 1952 and moved to Lethbridge.The reasons why Italians began to immigrate to North America were economic. As Sabatino Roncucci, a well-known Edmonton educator has noted, late 19th century emigration from Italy was "the immigration of misery." The unification of Italy in the 1860s left some regions, particularly the south, feeling that their interests were not important to the new national government. This, and economic hardships and lack of work, resulted in mass emigration from both impoverished rural and urban areas. While the first choice of destination was the US, immigrants also went to Canadian urban centres, Montreal and Toronto, as well as mining communities in Nova Scotia and Cape Breton.

The West had agricultural land aplenty and its development would assist in nation building by supplying agricultural products to the industrial East and by creating an additional market for eastern manufactured goods. The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) arrived in Alberta in 1883 and it made Calgary the economic centre of the Province. In the last decades of the 19th century, ranching was the initial economic driver but, thereafter, wheat became equally important.

Sunshine Miners - Wayne, Alberta - 1925Italian immigrants were not a significant part of the early settlement history of Alberta. They came, initially in a trickle as early as the 1880s, and in increasing numbers beginning in the last decade of the century. Various mining centres developed to provide the fuel required for transportation, industrial and domestic uses. Immigration from Italy, in the first instance, was to obtain work in railways, mines and forestry camps but workers who might initially go to the mines, eventually, also made their way to the Province's principal cities—Edmonton and Calgary. There, they undertook a range of work including construction and retail activities. A few also homesteaded and some even worked in the mines while farming. This was the first wave of immigration with a second, more limited wave, happening in the interwar years (1919-39), when immigration was restricted. The third phase, the largest, occurred post-1945 with the bulk of Italians coming in the 1951-68 period when immigration largely ceased as economic conditions in Italy improved.


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Dr. Adriana Albi Davies Interviewed on Global Television


From the beginning, workers came from all parts of Italy (for example, Abruzzi, Calabria, Friuli, Molise, Udine, Tuscany, the Veneto). Italian immigration in Alberta is regional in character because it is resource-based. It is also fluid in that labourers, whether miners, railway workers or others, moved where there was work. Oral histories tell of immigration to the US and movement back and forth between the US and Canada and, in Canada, from East to West. The following account provides a provincial overview and makes linkages between regions.

Alberta's Italian immigration history is fully explored in the unique website Celebrating Alberta's Italian Community. The website Presents historical information in Canadian, Albertan and Regional Profiles and includes family histories, photo albums and excerpts from oral histories. For information related to mining history, please visit:

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