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It was these accidents as well as the cycle of boom and bust that fostered a spirit of self help initially and, then, union activism. The miners had no reserves of funds and, if an accident occurred, frequently insurance companies did not give them their due. As a result, the Italian miners created mutual help societies. This was not necessarily a North American creation. A fascinating book titled
Storia sociale del Comune di Grimaldi (1905-1925) [A Social History of the Comune of
Grimaldi] by Raffaele Paolo Saccomanno, talks about the setting up of the Società Operaia [Workers' Society or trade union] in Grimaldi in 1905.2
The information about their origin that I have been able to track is sometimes contradictory.
Enrico Butti in his interview mentioned the Figli d'Italia [Sons of Italy], which he says originated in the U.S. in New York but also had branches in Canada. Evelyn Halickman in her unpublished essay "The Italian Community Montreal" mentions that the Sons of Italy began in Montreal in 1920 when some New York Italians visited to start up an organization similar to their own.
In the West, the fraternal society or loggia [lodge] was called the Ordine Indipendente Fior d'Italia [O.I.F.D.I., Independent Order of the Flower of
This society was headquartered in Fernie, and provided insurance coverage. Enrico Butti mentioned that he was corresponding secretary of the Cesare Battisti Society in Nordegg, and also of the Grand Lodge of Fernie. He also mentions a society in Saunders Creek and the Vittorio Emanuele Society in Calgary, as well as societies in Lethbridge and the Crow's Nest Pass. In Edmonton there was the Società Vittorio Emanuele Terzo, which had sponsored the 1914 agricultural colony in Venice. Genieve Rizzo's family history in
Crowsnest and Its People mentions that her Father, Frank Alampi and others founded the Società Italiana di Mutuo Soccorso, Confederazione Columbiana [Italian Society for Mutual Relief, Columbian Confederation]. She also mentions that she joined the Società Stella d'Italia [Star of Italy Ladies Society] in Coleman.
Antonella Fanella mentions the Giovanni Caboto Loggia No. 8 in Calgary. This was founded in 1918 as a branch of the Ordine Indipendente Fiori d'Italia. She notes:
At first, the meetings were held in the homes of lodge members, but late a garage on Edmonton Trail was purchased and used as a cultural centre. The lodge also organized an Italian school, a band and a variety of other social activities. During the Depression, financial stress caused many members to leave the lodge. Other members left to form a rival organization, the Associazione Italo-Canadese, in 1933. In the latter part of the 1930s, a few of the more affluent members tried to revive membership by reorganizing the lodge and rebuilding the existing clubhouse. But with the onset of World War II and the accompanying hostility towards Italo-Canadians, the new facilities had to be sold. 4
John Mazzuca of Lethbridge confirmed the existence of two southern Alberta lodges. He provided me with a formal portrait of members (40 in number) of the Loggia Leonida Bissolati No. 5 of the O.I.F.D.I. of Coalhurst for the period 24 January, 1916 to 24 January, 1926. According to Mr. Mazzuca, the Lodge was disbanded in 1926. He also provided me with a photocopy of the charter of the Ordine Indipendente Fior d'Italia Lethbridge, dated May 1st, 1922, issued in Fernie.
As well, he provided a photograph which, likely, is of a 1926 meeting in Lethbridge that may have included members from the other BC/Alberta Lodges.