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   Edmonton: Early Years

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Early Years

 World War I and
Interwar Period

World War II
and After

  Cultural Life


 Population Statistics

Year of the Coal Miner September 2003 - 2004

by Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D.

Page 1  | 3

Construction of the Alberta Legislature, 1912.  Photo courtesy of the City of Edmonton Archives EA-10-2928-8According to some oral accounts, an Italian mosaic artist terrazzieri (Mr. Zuchett) worked on the construction of the Alberta Legislature.  This would make sense, because labourers of Italian ancestry were working on building sites in Eastern Canada and the US and, because of the fine stonework required on public buildings, trained European craftsman would have been in demand.  A.M. Jeffers, the architect who designed the Legislative Assembly, was born in Among these men who worked on constructing the Legislature there were likely Italian workers, perhaps the Mr. Zuchett who was an expert in terrazzo. Photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta PAA A.2348Pawtucket, Rhode Island in 1875.  He studied architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design before moving to Edmonton in 1907 and would have been familiar with Italians working in the building trades in New York, the pre-eminent destination for immigrants from Italy.  Jeffers supervised work on the Legislative Assembly Building from 1907-12.¹   Edmonton educator Tony Falcone confirmed this theory.  His uncle Giacinto Arnano was a mason who emigrated to New York.  He worked on six-month contracts at the Legislature and the workers were brought there to work in the summer and returned to the US in the winter.

The fact that Edmonton had become the capital, instead of Calgary, likely gave the City the edge as a destination for individuals seeking manual labour as well as giving it a cachet as the first city of the Province, if not in time, then, in reputation.  The Capital City of the Province was experiencing a building boom and, soon, it would also be a part of a grid of railroad destinations (the Grand Trunk Pacific and the Canadian Northern Railways).  Large amounts of coal would be needed to fuel trains as well as homes and industry (for example, the B.C. smelters), not only in the west but also across the country.  By 1911 most of Canada's coal came from western Canada.  D. B. Dowling of the Geological Survey of Canada in 1908 reported on a number of coal deposits in the Rockies.  Shortly after, John Gregg discovered coal in the Athabasca Valley near Brulé and Hinton.  Martin Nordegg made similar discoveries in 1910 near Rocky Mountain House and the Brazeau Collieries were established.  Entrepreneurs from the US, Britain, France and Eastern Canada were interested in exploiting this important resource.  Toni Ross writes in Oh! The Coal Branch:

A delegation of 80 businessmen from Edmonton headed by Hon. G. H. Bulyea, Lieutenant Governor visit the marl deposits. They lunch at the Capital Hotel in Bickerdike and have dinner at the Boston Hotel in Edson. Edson greets them with an arch across Main Street with a banner which reads "The gateway to Grande Prairie and Peace River Districts. ²

Cadomin coal mine in the Coal Branch courtesy of the Italians Settle in Edmonton Oral History Project and the booklet of that name.It was expected that Edson would become a metropolis and that there would be a real estate boom.  This did not happen to the extent that the speculators hoped, but Edmonton, as the nearest metropolitan centre and seat of government, benefited.  The workers for the various collieries, including Cadomin in the Coal Branch, would come through Edmonton and it was logical that it became a major destination for Italian immigrants. 

But Edmonton already had its own, established coal industry to supply industrial and domestic needs from the 1870s.  Industrial users included saw and flour mills, riverboats and brickmaking operations.  In an editorial in the Edmonton Bulletin of January 28, 1882, six mines are mentioned owned by Mr. Groat, Mr. Humberstone and Mr. Ross.  Initial operations were slope mines and involved tapping surface seams and were between the High Level Bridge and 92 Street in Edmonton and Strathcona.  These were followed by shaft mines and the first was initiated by Donald Ross in 1889.  Thus, work in mines would have drawn Italian immigrants to Edmonton as early as the end of the 19th century.

Mr. Domenico Chiarello was one of the first Italian settlers in Edmonton.  He worked as a miner in Edmonton's River Valley and in Legal.  Photo courtesy of the family and the Italians Settle in Edmonton Oral History Project and booklet of the same name.According to Enrico [Henry] Butti, who was interviewed for the Italians Settle in Edmonton Project in 1983, Italians residing in Edmonton, in the early days, were mostly retired miners.  However, Edmonton itself had a number of coal mines in the River Valley that employed miners locally.  With respect to the mines in the Crowsnest Pass, Enrico Butti senior,  known as Tino, came in 1912 to work in the mines in the Pass (Blairmore, Coleman, Bellevue, Hillcrest) as a steam engineer but he was also instrumental in electrifying the mines and was the Chief Electrician at the Bellevue Mine.  He had helped in electrifying the silk mills in northern Italy before emigrating and, as a skilled worker, readily found work in Alberta.  He also challenged the norm that only poor agricultural workers came to Canada.  He was well established in Italy and, according to his son, he came because "he was an adventurous fellow." 


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