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   Drumheller Valley:  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.

Sunshine Camp entertainment group.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 fascinating glimpse into mining camp life is given by Tegla Clozza writing about her parents, Mr. and Mrs. S. Stocco. Sunshine Camp was two miles north of Wayne. She writes:

Home Life - Having no electricity, coal oil lamps were used, pails were hung by ropes into a well serving as refrigeration; in the winter the weather took care of this. We had coal stoves and out-door privies. The homes inside were roughly finished. There were wide boards nailed throughout. Winter time, we judged the cold by the higher frozen nail, whereas with summer rains, containers were placed here and there to catch the dribbles of water seeping in. Mouse traps were in most corners of the homes. The summers were great for continual swimming in the creek. Apart from this, there were only sponge baths or our yearly trip to Calgary, and the glory of getting into a real bath tub. All laundry was done by hand, in tubs, using wash-boards.

Food was one thing that was never lacking. There was always a coop full of chickens, eggs daily, cows-therefore plenty of milk, butter and cheese, pigs and geese. I would see Mon cramming sopped bread down their throats to fatten and rush their growth. There were also rabbits and pigeons, and fishing right after the ice-break. They used a man-made net, placed across the width of the river, this was made form tree twigs, with an interlocking one in front; the fish swam in, and there was no way out. This was set down at night, hauled in in the morning. A few days of this and there were plenty of fish for all at he camp, the "Ling" being everyone's favorite. Every family had their own beautiful garden of vegetation. Yes, one thing-there was always a scarcity of "Dandelions" for salads. 

Rosedale picnic on Cassel Hill, 1916.  Photo courtesy of Glenbow Archives.Tegla is referring to Italian's love for fresh, wild "greens" with the slight bitterness of iron in the taste. She talks of infrequently going to Drumheller because they either had to walk or her Mother would flag down the train. This all changed when they got a Model T Ford and could drive to Calgary in four hours. Her Mother served as mid-wife as well as providing home remedies:

Many were our remedies - for stomach pains the castor oil was always ready. Pure olive oil for sun-burn, also for the hair in that once in awhile attack of lice, common among children in those days. Goose grease as an ointment for itch or rash, bed bug marks. Our daily vitamin Cod liver, the picture on the bottle of "the man struggling with that Cod fish", as big as himself. For a tooth extraction a string was tied around the tooth, a quick pull and it was out, or for some excitement, it would be fastened to the door knob (door opened) then it was closed quickly, and took the tooth with it. More serious cases, the invalids were placed on a railroad hand-car and taken to the hospital in Wayne or Drumheller. 

There were also ball games, Saturday night dances with the "self-made orchestra," the weekly picture show in Wayne, group singing, outdoor bowling and card games - all of those pleasures of any community in Alberta at that time. She also notes that the families made their own wine and "moon-shine" even though it was illegal. She writes:

Sunshine Camp - L. to R.: Mr. Morelli, Mr. S. Stocco, Mr. Contenti, Frank Riciarelli and ? Morelli.Sunshine Camp entertainment group. The miners having worked their five days, had a well deserved week-end. Usually it was Uncle's job to steer the horse and two-wheel wagon across the river to meet the brewery truck, (that was as far as the trail came), load up 4-5 kegs of beer, this took place every week-end. Speaking of this, always brings to mind one time, when the river was high. On his return, one wheel going over an extra large rock, turned the wagon, dumping the driver and the kegs in the river. It was a show, the noise and scramble to save the driver, and of course, the loot. 

This difficult and at times idyllic life ended with the closure of the Sunshine Mine in 1932.

The community pulled together in times of hardship and this is evident in the response to the Spanish Flu Epidemic on 1918. Milton C. Switzer, the pharmacist, writing about the Epidemic in The Hills of Home, notes that many were living in make-shift shacks with no electricity or indoor sanitation.Miner's Hall, community centre, Rosedale, Alberta.  Photo courtesy of Glenbow Archives. The Miners Hall had just been completed and a celebratory dance was held. By Sunday, people began to get ill and he and his wife worked hard to prepare pills but their stocks were quickly exhausted. The new Miners Hall soon became a hospital and morgue. Gertrude Charters provides a graphic account in "The 'Black Death' at Drumheller," also in The Hills of Home. She was a teacher in a small community in southern Alberta (Carmangay), who was a Volunteer Aid Detachment Worker with certificates in first aid and home nursing. She was sent to Drumheller to assist on October 2nd. She is met at the station and told that there were already 23 bodies in the morgue and no-one to bury them. She was taken to the school, which served as the hospital and assigned to care for 20 sick men. She writes:

Many of the men were pathetically young. They had come from Austria, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Italy, and the Ukraine. Except for Jerry, a cocky Welsh lad, they were silent and suspicious. In midafternoon three more patients were carried in. I soon became accustomed to the arrivals of towering Big Mac and his sturdy gentle helper Tony, an Italian, as they brought in the sick on a stretcher and carried out the dead. But that first afternoon, after they had helped me set up the couches and make the men comfortable, they walked over to the sleeping man and began to roll him up in his blanket. "What are you doing?" I demanded. "Just taking out this stiff," Big Mac said, "Doc's orders." The "sleeping" man was dead! No wonder there was fear in the room. . . . .Big Mac and Tony were miners, helping their comrades tirelessly. 

She also notes, "When one young Italian miner died, his brother in the next bed turned toward the wall and stubbornly refused all help. He died the next day. These European miners believed the Spanish influenza was the "Black Death." This might well have been true but, I believe that, with his brother dead, he could not face life in terra straniera, this foreign land, alone. 

St. Anthony's Church - Built 1914The majority of the Italian immigrants would have been Roman Catholic and would have worshipped at St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church in Drumheller.  The Church was built in 1914.  The first Mass in the Drumheller was said in the old Whitehouse Hotel in spring 1913 by Reverend Father Russell.  The priest travelled the region saying Mass in each community once a month.  In 1932 the Junior Choir had the following membership:  May Adams, Theresa Miglierina, Guido Guidolini, Irmo Guidolini, his brother, Joe and Tom Connelly, Madge Sparrow, Madonna Lambert and Nettie Guterson.

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

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