It is a challenge to provide an overview of a diverse ethnocultural
community that has been in Alberta for more than 100 years. The level
of generalization is extreme and makes the material presented suspect.
As well, there is the danger of over-simplification and stereotyping.
Having said this, there are some statements that can be made to
provide a flavour of what life was like for immigrants in the
three waves of immigration to Canada and Alberta.
To be a stranger in a foreign land was a daunting experience—there
was the necessity to earn a living, which was difficult enough, but
there was also the barrier of language. Thus, the ties of kinship
and also of community and region, became very important. This was also true in
Italy were the unification of Italy was still so recent at the end of the 19th
century that, for many, even today, the ties of region are more important than
national ties. Italian communities were marked by their commitment to family
values and also the close connection among people from the same region.
Thus, family ties were supplemented by those of the paese [town] and the
common description of a person with whom there was a tie was to describe
them as paesani.
In recounting some of the stories of the early days, there is an
element of looking at life through rose-coloured glasses.
We have the hard evidence of strikes, accidents and deaths but
balancing it is a love of living, a passionate spirit and the
sheer joy of hardships overcome and having made it. 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 Mom 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.1
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.
It is surprising how
many small-town orchestras and bands there were in those early
days. The H.W. McNeill Co.'s Brass Band was established c1890
and, in 1898, a "bandhall" was built in Canmore, according to
community historian Edna (Hill) Appleby. Among the players is
Pete Balla. In 1923, the Elks Band was established by Lawrence
Faletti, who was their conductor. Italian musicians included:
John Bertino, O. Verdesia, John Balla, Nellio Torino, John
Verdesio, J. Giovanetti, A. Marro, Fred Marro, Ken Balla, Pete
Balla, Attilio Caffaro, Ludwig Massole. Antonella Fanella
mentions the Calgary Italian Boys’ Band, directed by John
She says that they played in Stampede parades for
20 years and includes a Glenbow Archives picture from c1926-27.
In Edmonton, there was Louis Biamonte’s Band, which played at
community events and, in the 1950s, bands led by Fiore Vecchio.
Mr. Vecchio also made his name as a composer of church music
as well as penning several tributes to his hometown and
homeland, which evoked the nostalgia for the paese.
Church choirs also allowed the ordinary community member
to reveal their musical bent. In Edmonton, the Santa Maria
Goretti Church choir, was the launching pad for Ermanno
Mauro's career in international opera. With respect to the
professional arts, a relatively few Albertans of Italian
descent have made their mark. These include Giuseppe Albi,
a visual artist, and Caterina Edwards, Dr. Joseph Pivato
and Peter Oliva—all literary artists.
For more information on the culture of Alberta's Italian
community, go to the Celebrating Alberta's Italian Community website
1. Tegla Clozza in The Hills of Home: Drumheller Valley (Drumheller:
Drumheller Valley Historical Association, 1973)
This digital collection was
produced with financial assistance from Canada's Digital
Collections initiative, Industry Canada.