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     Edmonton:  World War II and After

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Early Years

 World War I and
Interwar Period

World War II
and After

  Cultural Life


 Population Statistics


by Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D.

  Page 2 

The coming in of Leduc No. 1 in 1947 changed the economy of Alberta.  With it came opportunities for work not only in the oil patch but also in the range of industries supporting it and the growing population of the region.  Edmonton truly was also the "gateway to the North." Raffaele Albi and Attilio Gatto captured by a street photographer likely on Jasper Avenue around 1950.  Photo courtesy of the Albi family As has been noted in the Canadian overview, the economy of Italy had been devastated by the War and emigration was encouraged by the Government of Italy.  In its own right, the Government of Canada sought immigrants to support its economic growth.  Edmonton became a destination of choice for both skilled and unskilled labour.  New West Construction provided employment to many among the first being Raffaele (Ralph) Albi and Attilio Gatto in 1949. 

The New West Construction yard, near the CN tracks on 113 street in the Oliver area, had a small duplex in which the Albi and Gatto families resided in 1951-53.   Angelo Santa Rosa was their foreman.  They did road construction work among other construction activities and Bill Nigro was based in Edson from 1946 to 1957 and then came to Edmonton.

Mr. Raffaele Albi in the carpentry shop of the Imperial Oil Refinery in Edmonton in the early 1950s.  Photo courtesy of the Italians Settle in Edmonton Oral History Project and the booklet of that name.Once immigrants were financially on their feet and had learned the language, they looked for other work opportunities.  Mr. Albi moved to Imperial Oil and worked on plant maintenance.  Because he had quickly acquired English, he was able to obtain his carpenter's papers (he was a trained master carpenter in Italy).  He used his knowledge to help many others acquire their trade qualifications by serving as an interpreter when they sat their exams.  He also helped many obtain work at Imperial Oil, among the first being his bestman and friend, Attilio Gatto.  He is fondly remembered by many in the community, but also summer students who worked at the refinery including Allan Shute, founder of Tree Frog Press.

Whereas earlier immigration from Italy had brought largely unskilled labour from Italy's rural south, the new immigration brought people with trades.  This included carpenters, masons and, to a lesser extent, tailors, teachers, engineers and others.  Among their numbers were people who came for the love of travel and adventure, and also because they did not like what was happening in Italy.  Sabatino Roncucci came in to Edmonton in 1958.  He had his own tailoring firm but was not happy with the Italian way of doing things.  Bribery and corruption were rampant.  On his arrival, he bought a house and car and got employment the day after his arrival at the Hudson Bay Co. in downtown Edmonton.  Tony Falcone, a recently qualified school teacher in Italy, came because, having sat state exams, he would have had to wait for up to three years to get either a teaching or civil service job. Alessandro Urso, a newly qualified engineer, originally saw himself as transferring  to rather than emigrating to Canada.  Photo courtesy of the Urso family. Alessandro Urso mentions in his interview that the ad that he saw in an Italian newspaper used the word "trasferire," which means transfer.  He did not see himself as "emigrating" but, rather, as a newly qualified engineer, he saw himself "transferring" to a better position than the one he had.  Immigration authorities had chosen for him a destination in Quebec-Armstrong-near the American border.  He didn't find work there and went on to Sherbrooke and Montreal where he found a job in Domo Chemicals.  Through a friend who found work in the petrochemical industry, he was encouraged to come to Edmonton where he began working for the Government of Alberta in the area of environmental monitoring (specifically, water pollution).

Italian Bakery. Photo courtesy of Il Congresso.The City of Edmonton also became a significant employer for both unskilled and skilled labour.  Carlo and Lina Amodio, as newly-weds, came to Edmonton in 1967 and Carlo was hired by the City of Edmonton as an appraiser and worked for the City for over 30 years before moving into consulting work.  Frank Cairo came as a newly-qualified hairdresser and ended up establishing his own business, which developed into the Marvel School of Hair Design and associated businesses.  Antonio and Aurora Frattin came in 1956 and Antonio began to work for the Honeyboy Bakery and ended up as superintendent.  In 1960, they established the Italian Bakery.

A group of Italian men in Edmonton admiring Frank Spinelli's hunting skills in the 1950s.  Photo courtesy of the Albi familyEarlier immigrants had established grocery stores but, as Mr.  Enrico Butti pointed out in his interview, they sold the same goods as anybody else.  Goods from Italy could not be obtained easily and were expensive.  In the post-war wave of immigration, we see another phenomenon and Mr. Frank Spinelli played a key role. Initially he worked in the North but after a work injury, he received a compensation payment and began the Italian Centre Shop.  He was a clever businessman and expanded his grocery store into a wholesale business supplying Safeway and other mainstream chains.  The Saccomanno brothers, Frank and Maurizio, also began an Italian grocery store. Mr. Frank Saccomanno in his Saccomanno Importing Ltd. store. Photo courtesy of Adriana Albi Davies They were to change the food habits of Edmontonians as were restauranteurs such as Giovanni Prete and Carmelo Rago and his father-in-law Maurizio Saccomanno who started the Sorrentino chain of restaurants.  Ralph Maio set up the popular Sceppas, which flourished in various downtown locations before becoming Il Forno in the west end.  There are numerous other restaurants that have enriched Edmonton's social life. 

GWG was an important employer in Edmonton since the early part of the 20th century.  This pictures the cuttingroom floor in 1913.  Photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta PAA B-1139While much attention has been paid to male immigration, very little has been done with female immigration.  Very few women came to Alberta alone-most came as wives or in arranged marriages.  They too made their way into the work force in jobs requiring skill but not language.  A popular employer was the Great West Garment Company (GWG) and other businesses (such as Tony Lynn) requiring skilled seamstresses.  Women also worked in institutions such as hospitals and also undertook janitorial duties.  

Adriana Albi Davies immigrated as a child to Canada in the early 1950s.  Photo courtesy of the Albi familyThose who came as children (including Adriana Albi, Silvano Vecchio, Rita Vecchio) went to university and qualified as teachers and other specialists.  This was an important sign in the entrenchment of the community and the validation that community members had "made it."  Italian immigrants were now a part of the "mainstream."  Adriana Albi got her doctorate in comparative literature (English and French) from the University of London, England, and, on her return to Canada, became the Science and Technology Editor of The Canadian Encyclopedia.  Others, such as Caterina Edwards and Giuseppe Albi have established reputations as artists.  Enrico Musacchio, Massimo Verdicchio and Joe Pivato are established academics.Mr. Sab Roncucci pictured in his home being interviewed by Adriana Albi Davies.  Photo courtesy of the Heritage Community Foundation. 

After the struggles of the first generation of immigrants in the three principal waves of immigration to Alberta, Italian Community members in Edmonton have become a part of mainstream society.  They have, even, in the case of Sab Roncucci, influenced provincial and national policies in the area of multiculturalism.


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