by Antonella Fanella
At the end of the 19th century, few Italians lived in
the city of Calgary. During the city's first period of rapid growth (1883-1914), Calgary
held little economic appeal for Italian sojourners; they were more attracted to the mining
industry of the Crow's Nest Pass and the east Kootenays. However, from 1910 to 1912, a
small number of Italians came to take advantage of the city's economic boom. The
construction of the Canadian Northern and the Grand Trunk Pacific railway was making
Calgary an important regional centre. Most of the Italians however, found jobs with the
Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR).
These early immigrants were not sojourners. They came to Calgary intending to
settle permanently in the city. Males came first and
after a short while sent for their spouses and children. They settled in the community of Bridgeland, located north of the Bow River near downtown Calgary. Bridgeland, along with
the community of Riverside, was attractive to Russian-German, Ukrainian, Jewish and
Italian immigrants because it offered affordable housing conveniently located near their
place of employment. The Italians were concentrated on First, Second and Third Avenues in Bridgeland. A few Italian families also lived in the Hillhurst/Sunnyside district.
Italians did not constitute a large percentage of
Calgary's population at that time, but they did have some impact. A couple of Italian
entrepreneurs formed the short-lived Alberta Macaroni Company in 1907, while others
organized a band, under Professor John J. Pompilio, which gave open-air concerts and
played in Stampede parades for 20 years. Professor Pompilio was the proprietor of a music
studio bearing his name.
Several Italian families opened small businesses.
Giulia and Nick Gallelli started
Gallelli Construction. Giulia Gallelli (nee Cicconi)
arrived from Antrodoco in 1908 to join her father, who was already established in the
construction industry. Nick Gallelli was from Albi (Calabria). Their company provided many
Italian immigrants with their first job in Calgary.
Domenico Gasbari was a shoemaker in
his native Abruzzi and had worked in the stone quarries of the United States. He arrived
in Calgary in 1909 and later opened Roma Grocery. The Cozzubbo family owned a
confectionery store in Hillhurst, and the Violini family bought and sold coal.
Most of the families were of working-class background, but the community did have some
prominent individuals, most notably
George Pocaterra, a rancher and explorer originally
from Vicenza, in the Veneto region. Pocaterra came to Canada in 1903 and worked as a
cowboy on the Bar D Ranch near High River. In 1905, he established the Buffalo Head Ranch
on the Highwood River. here he developed a strong relationship with the Stoneys, and
explored and mapped much of the Kananaskis area. The Buffalo Head Ranch was turned into a
successful dude ranch before being sold in 1933. Italians were also prominent in sports. Mushy Gahlahan (Maurizio Vietto, whose family was from Piozzo in Piemonte) and Pet Lazlo
(Peter Giugalli, cousin to Vietto) became provincial boxing champions, while
was a provincial champion in track.
Reprinted from ”With Heart and Soul: Calgary’s Italian Community“
by Antonella Fanella, with permission from the University of Calgary Press and the author.