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Year of the Coal Miner September 2003 - 2004


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The Mr. and Mrs. Italo Massole and friends, Canmore, Alberta, 1913.  Photo courtesy of Glenbow Archives. family joined him in 1917 and Mr. Butti remembers the journey in wartime and the blackout on the ship. He began work at age 16 (1920) running a boiler and hoist in the mines in Nordegg. He describes life in Canmore on their arrival-there were about seven families, all from the Piedmont, but he also mentions other workers from the southern Italian regions of Abruzzi and Friuli. After being injured as a result of the collapse of a scaffold in 1920, Mr. Butti senior moved his family to Edmonton and with monies received from the Compensation Board set up an electrical shop, which his son operated until his retirement.

These Miners and mine entrance, Bankhead, Alberta.  Photo courtesy of Glenbow Archives. same experiences are replicated again and again in all Alberta mining communities including cities, such as Edmonton and Lethbridge, as well as mining towns and camps. These include Bankhead, Silver City, Coleman and Blairmore, Canmore, Nordegg, Luscar, Mountain Park, Cadomin, Coalhurst, Drumheller-all of those communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that were a part of the industrial development of the Province of Alberta. Individuals involved in this early settlement phase include: ("Curly") Miglierina, Angelo Toppano, Mrs. and Mrs. S. Stocco, Silvio Baceda, Angelo Ermacora, Frank Amatto, Vincenzo (Jim) Bifano and Lawrence Grassi. To experience their lives and hardships, please checkout the Oral Histories in the People section of this website, and family histories in the Pioneer sections of our regional profiles

Evidence drawn from the oral and community histories casts some doubt on the common assertion that most immigrants came from southern Italy. Ties of region are more important than national ties for most Italians.  Italy is comprised of 20 main regions, as shown, each with a varying number of provinces.  This is not borne out in Alberta in this early wave of immigration. A majority of immigrants to the mining centres appear to have come from northern Italy. It is clear, as well, that not only blood kin emigrated together but also people from the same town or region. It is important to understand that the ties of community and region in Italy, in the last part of the 19th century, were more important that any other ties except blood ties. Italy, as a national state, was a new creation and allegiances were to the local governing unit and even the local aristocratic family. Relationship was, thus, not solely based on blood ties but also on the fact that they had lived in a community and had been rooted in a region for generations and generations. 

Thus, the geographical linkage that made them paesani [townsmen] was incredibly important and, as Stan Carbone has pointed out, labourers were recruited through agricultural fairs in their hometowns and emigrated en masse. While in Winnipeg, the early Italian community was from the town of Amato in Italy, this was not the case in Edmonton. Immigrants came from both north and south.1 Raffaele Albi, in an oral history interview, notes that, in 1948, a labour agent was recruiting from Winnipeg and he states: "It was generally believed that in a few years most of Grimaldi would be in Winnipeg." Post-war Italy was suffering from unemployment, lack of food and extreme poverty and emigration to North and South America was as attractive as it had been earlier in the century.  

Related Links

Year of the Coal Miner
September 2003 to September 2004

This is the first time that coal mining museums and historic sites have joined together to celebrate the story of coal mining in the region of Southern Alberta and the Crowsnest Pass.  The partners joining in to implement the Year of the Coal Miner include (to date):

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


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