by Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D.
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a result of an injury in the fall from a scaffold, while working in
Nordegg in 1920, the family moved to Edmonton where Mr. Butti senior
set up an electrical shop assisted by his son. Workers did leave the
mines before retirement. Mining was dangerous work. The Frank Slide
in 1903, killed 70 and the Hillcrest Mine explosion in 1914 killed
189 men on the morning shift, of which 28 were Italian. Butti senior
was the senior electrician at the Bellevue Mine and was one of the
first to arrive to help. Thus, the move to safer employment in the
cities, when possible, had its attractions.
its importance for coal mining and railway construction, Edmonton
very early on became a "staging" ground for northern
settlement and development. On August 28th, 1914, the Canadian
Northern Station saw a party of 20 families from northern Italy
leave on the Athabasca train to set up an agricultural colony near
Lac La Biche. This was western Canada's second Italian colony and
was called Venice because of the place of origin of many of the
settlers. The Naples settlement had been established in 1905 but had
not succeeded and one of the founding families, the
in Edmonton by 1915.
A contemporary newspaper article notes that the Venice colony was sponsored by the Società Vittorio Emanuele Terzo of Edmonton and Industrial Commissioner Hall's Department. The article further states that there were 600 Italians residing in Edmonton. A
clipping from the same year features a photograph, complete with a hunting dog and children in fancy dress under the title "Leaving for a Different 'Front'." The caption refers to the "war front" and states: "There has been some doubt since the European war began, whether Italy would join Germany and Austria, her allies according to the
'Triple Alliance' or turn against them and fight side by side with Britain. There is, however, no doubt as to where the sons of sunny Italy shown in this picture stand."
According to Gisella Biollo writing in the Hylo-Venice:
Harvest of Memories history book, the Italian Society of
Edmonton had been established in 1913 to help organize the
immigrants who came from Italy. She mentions that the first
president was a Mr. Cantera who was replaced by
O.J. Biollo with
Felice De Angelis, the Italian consul. She mentions 200
members. The Cantera she speaks of is likely Lorenzo
Cantera, who came to
Edmonton from the US in 1912, and lived in the Rossdale Flats.
This adventure is captured in the diary
of Felice DeAngelis, the consular agent, who was a civil engineer and instrumental in setting up the colony. His diary is a fascinating document, his writing that of an aesthete who loves nature but is not too knowledgeable about agriculture. The agriculturalist in their midst was Olivo John
(O.J.) Biollo from Campalongo Maggiore. He had emigrated to Canada in 1902 to work on the Canadian Pacific Railway ending up in Winnipeg where he prospered and bought a hotel. He was an amazing entrepreneur and visionary but, according to his daughter,
(Biollo) Doyle, could make money but couldn't keep it.