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Oral Histories

Cosmo Crisafio Outside Minifie's. Circa 1930.In 1998, the Fernie and District Historical Society undertook the "Elk Valley Italian Oral History Project." This project sought to commemorate the experiences and contributions of Italians in the Elk Valley. The oral histories elicited for the archive include work histories, accounts of war and the hardships and joys of immigration. On a cultural level, religious beliefs, marriage customs and political histories are also detailed. Many Italians were sponsored by the Canadian Government as recruited workers for forestry, masonry and mining.

Assunta Marasco's Family in Cosenza, Italy. L-R top: Luigi, Alba, Oliviero, Assunta, Orlando. Middle: Carmene and Maria. Front: Natale, Anna-Maria.Communities in the Elk Valley have been enriched by the entrepreneurial prowess of Italians whose businesses include: hotels, grocers, clothing and shoe stores. Some of these people fought in Italian battalions in the Canadian Armed Forces. All of them, of a certain age, faced the repercussions of War. In Canada, this meant forced registration, curtailment of movements and suspension of privileges of citizenship. In Italy, communities were bombed, peopled lived under the Fascism of Mussolini and some were taken prisoner-of-war by the Allied Forces. Stories of immigration include the often dramatic experience of arriving in a strange land with no knowledge of language, environment or social mores.

Religious images from Italy used to commemorate different occasions (Saint's Day, Christmas, First Communion).The idea for the "Elk Valley Italian Oral History Project" was born during the first meeting of the Festa Italiana Committee, which was established to develop an exhibit to complement the Da Vinci Exhibit, which toured in various British Columbia communities. At that time, it was decided that grants should be sought for an oral history project. The proposal was submitted to the BC Heritage Trust in December, 1977 and was awarded in March, 1988.

This article is adapted from the Summary Report for the Elk Valley Italian Oral History Project prepared by Leslie Robertson (Unpublished Report: Fernie and District Historical Society, November, 1999). The Heritage Community Foundation and the Year of the Coal Miner Consortium would like to thank Leslie Robertson and the Fernie and District Historical Society for permission to reprint this material.

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