When Coal Was King
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Angelo and Betty Schianni

September 9th, 1998


  • Leslie Robertson and Mary Giuliano

Note: “B” indicates “Betty” and “A” indicates “Angelo”

Q: We’re sitting at Betty and Angelo Schianni’s kitchen table on a kind of a gloomy fall day it seems like now. I wonder I you folks would like to just start by telling us about where in Italy your families are from and maybe when your parents came to Fernie and the stories of their arrival.

B: Well I can start I wasn’t born when they came but they did come on the - it was in November of 1928 and this is when my Gligotti Family. Frank Gigliotti, Louise Gigliotti (in front), Maria Gigliotti, Ben Gigliotti, Betty Gigliotti (on her confirmation day). 1930's. Fernie, B.C.mother came over. Actually my dad was over before that two or three times and I can’t recall like what he told us. He went back and then he came back and after that my mother came over and she brought her son over - my brother. And they came over on a boat and they landed in Montreal and then from the boat they got on a train and they came from Montreal to Fernie on a train. They got right off of the train in Fernie at the station here the old station. And at first my mother didn’t like it at all.

Q: What did [your father] do Betty?

B: He was a miner. He worked One East mine. A lot of Angelo’s dad he can interview you about his mother and dad too. His part is quite interesting. But...

Q: The One East was a nightmare. Did your father tell you about that?

B: Oh yeah Oh I can remember people coming home with a boot of my dad’s and he would be in the hospital because his leg was broken you know. Accidents I’m telling you in one of those pictures, the one that’s got my mother - close to my mother he had his finger chopped off. You can see it in the picture. Yeah you can see it in the picture, it’s over there. And oh he was a victim of many, many, many accidents. I guess everything was done manually or with a horse.

A: All the miners that worked in One East were in accidents.

B: Yeah every one of them.

Q: Those bumps aye - those bumps?

B: My dad was in a bump for many hours.

Angelo and Betty Schianni.A: And it always happened on afternoon shifts - like my dad went in the mine I forget what time he went in. No sooner got in and boom. It would bang and he was trapped in the mine they didn’t get him out until two o’clock in the morning.

B: Yeah and he still survived. You can tell that in your thing...

A: He survived he had a broken arm. He was on his way out... He was on his way out with another fellow and Mr. Pallone was stuck and no light.

B: Oh it was terrible well when they have a bump I mean it hits their lamp that’s on their head and that thing totally goes out. But they all....

Q: How did they keep going back there?

B: And they always went back - this is what I was going to tell you.

A: Well sometimes they would take a maybe week off before they went back.

B: Oh yeah but they went back but you know who it was harder on? Our families, like our mothers and us when we got to know it.

A: It was like it was waiting for something to happen.

B: We were just you know we’d always wait for them to come home. My mother would hate to see him go. Because she never knew if he was going to come back. I’m thinking you know she just come over from Italy it was so hard. What was she going to do and stuff Portrait Maria and Ben Gigliotti. 1928. Fernie.like that. It was a real nightmare and it was a panic sometime like my mother... I remember when we were growing up I could always see that fearful look on her face you know and just hoping and watching by the door to see if they came home. And then even in the winters we used to have blizzards and they used to go and walk to the train which was up by the M F & M Shops there where the M F & M building used to be - where the pool is now. And you know she’d never even know if he got there. You could have been lost in a blizzard like the roads weren’t plowed. I always remember them talking about that and it was a real hard life for them and especially coming over to a new country and sort of you know having nobody to lean on you know.

This oral history transcript is extracted from the Elk Valley Italian Oral History Project undertaken for the Fernie and District Historical Society in 1998-99. The Heritage Community Foundation and the Year of the Coal Miner Consortium would like to thank Leslie Robertson and the interview team and the Fernie and District Historical Society, which is a member of the consortium, for permission to reprint this material.

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