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by Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D. 

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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 There are twenty main regions in Italy.  To many Italians and Italian emigrants, regional ties are of more importance than national ties.of language.  Thus, the ties of kinship and also of community and region, became very important.  This was also true in Italy where 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. 

Thus, among the first societies, were the fraternal ones, which were a vehicle for providing mutual support and assistance.  This was not 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, Italian Workers League demonstrating during a May Day Parade in Edmonton in 1937.  Photo courtesy of the City of Edmonton Archives EA-160-1237talks about the setting up of the Società Operaia [Workers' Society or trade union] in Grimaldi in 1905. ¹  There are some trenchant statements about "parasitism of the gentlemen."  The notion of mutual aid societies, thus, came with the immigrants and they were formalized.  Of course, the informal aid also continued.  All of those who spoke and wrote English willingly helped their compatriots in writing letters and conducting business.  This might take the form of helping illiterate compatriots write home but, perhaps, more frequently it was helping each other to function in an English-speaking environment.  Mr. Butti mentions that he did this as did the consular agents.  He mentions that they were not paid for by the Italian government but by the immigrants who needed help. 

As we have seen from the articles relating to the Venice Colony, there was a Società Vittorio Emanuele III in Edmonton and another society, the Italian Domenico Chiarello, a former miner, with his daughter Francesca in 1949.  They are shown standing  in front of the Venice Confectionery, which Domenico established in Edmonton.  Photo courtesy of the family and the Italians Settle in Edmonton Oral History Project and the booklet of the same name.Society, which arose out of the Venice Club, described by Mrs. Doyle.  Mr. Butti confirmed the existence of the Italian-Canadian Society/Italo-Canadian Society of Edmonton prior to WW II.  At that time, they met in the German Hall off 92nd Street; they had bingos and dances.  With the outbreak of the war, the German Hall was closed.  They then met in the room above Domenico Chiarello's store on 97th Street and 106A Avenue. 

But membership was not confined to organizations in the geographic community where an individual resided.  There was an informal connection among all of the Italian communities in the country.  Mr. Butti mentions the Figli d'Italia [Sons of Italy], which originated in the U.S. in New York but also had branches in Canada.  In fact, Evelyn Halickman in her 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.  According to Mr. Butti, these were called in the West, the Fiori d'Italia [Flowers of Italy].  This society was headquartered in Ferni, B.C. and provided insurance coverage.  He was corresponding secretary of the Cesare Early Giovanni Caboto convention held in in Lethbridge, Alberta.  Photo courtesy of the Glenbow Archives.  NA 5592-5.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 Crowsnest Pass.  They helped people who were sick and members contributed funds.  They met about once a month and also helped Italian workers who were exploited and who could not speak for themselves.

The transition from self-help societies to social clubs was an easy one and important for individuals who were still outside the mainstream culture.  An important cultural entity was Luigi Biamonte's band, which played for not only Italian community weddings and other events but also in Edmonton and region.  While being a good barber, Mr. Biamonte was a passionate musician and the tradition of local bands was very strong in Italy and every community event including processions had musical accompaniment.  This tradition was continued by Fiore Vecchio, a part of the post-war wave of immigration.  He had various bands before becoming choirmaster at the Santa Maria Goretti Church and concentrating on the composition of sacred choral music. 


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

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