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When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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Martini and Violini Families
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As with many Italian immigrants blood and marriage ties meant that families emigrated together. The Martini and Violini families are examples.

In 1907 Antonio Violini married Maria Livieri and shortly after left his home in Pesaro northern Italy. He was sponsored by a brother who worked in the Bankhead Mine. He returned to Italy shortly after and returned to Canada in 1912 with his wife and four-year-old daughter. They were in New York shortly after the sinking of the Titanic and saw first-hand relatives of the victims. Grandson Larry Martini, has obtained copies of the immigration records from Ellis Island and notes that, initially, his Grandfather declared that he had $20 in cash but this was crossed out and increased to $50.

The family settled in Drumheller around 1915 and experienced enormous hardship—in the 1920s, they lost three young children. They were so poor that one of the children, who died in 1922, was buried in a "Free Lot." Two other babies were born in 1927 and one of these was also buried in a "Free Lot." Mrs. Violini supplemented the family income by doing laundry for the local doctor and the funeral parlous in Drumheller.

Two surviving daughters were born in 1915 (Sister Violini, a Grey Nun) and 1918 (Olga) in Drumheller. The family was incredibly religious and the parents were very sensitive about not being able to speak English. They eventually were able to build a home on 4th Street West eventually moving to Calgary were steadier work could be found. They lived in Sunnyside and he worked in construction, helping to build the Centre Street Bridge.

Members of the Martini family came from Italy and worked in the coal mines of the Drumheller Valley. Giovanni (John) came around 1907 and he was joined by his brother Umberto in 1912. The brothers were born in Treviso in the Veneto region of northern Italy. Umberto was born in 1873 and died in 1938. He worked in the Bankhead Mine and then, from 1912 to 1929 in the winter he worked in the coal mines in the Drumheller Valley and in the summer in the cement plant at Eckshaw. and frequently returned to Italy and his four children (two daughters and two sons) were conceived during those visits. His wife died leaving the children to be raised by an Aunt. Eventually, in 1929, the younger Umberto Martini came with a brother and sister to Drumheller (the second sister had died of tuberculosis).

The children traveled alone to France to board an ocean liner bound for Halifax but got off the train in Paris (a homesick Umberto wasn't sure he wanted to go to Canada) and missed their boat. After a week, they got another boat. When their Father, John, went to meet the train they were not on it. Additional delays to their epic journey happened when Umberto leaned out of the window of the train and got a cinder in his eye that required them to leave the train in Winnipeg to get treatment. In Calgary they were helped by Italian Vice Consul Antonio Rebaudengo and his wife Angelina. The children eventually arrived in Drumheller in late October, 1929, to join their Father who was by this time frantic with worry.

In 1930, the young Umberto (now Bert) went to the Henke farm in Rockyford to learn to be a farm hand but he later worked in both the mines and the cement plant. In 1939, he married Olga Violini and the young couple went to live in Vegreville were their son Gerald was born in 1941 and their twin sons, Larry and Barry, in 1952. Umberto and Olga, because of the discrimination they experienced in Eckshaw during the war when members of the Canadian paraded in front of the houses of Italian workers intimidating them, decided not to teach Italian to their sons. Umberto is quoted as saying, "These kids will never get a good education or job if they are Italian" (thus their "English" names).

John and his son Bert were great fans of hockey and supported the Drumheller team. They would be pleased to know that their great-grandson and grandson was today playing for the Drumheller Dragon hockey team.

There is another skating connection in the family. Irma Martini, Bert's sister, married Pete Martini (unrelated), one of the owners of the Brilliant Mine, a mine set up when the Sunshine Mine was shut down. Their grandson is the figure skater Paul Martini.

This article is based on an interview conducted by Adriana A. Davies, Ph.D., with Larry Martini and on an article titled "Dragon finds family roots in Drumheller," by Patrick Kolata, which appeared in the Drumheller Mail, February 25th, 2004.
 

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