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
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
talks 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
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
Society in Nordegg, and also of the Grand
Lodge of Fernie. He also mentions a society in Saunders Creek and the
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.