Beginning in the 1890s, Italian men arrived to work in
camps and mines. There are three distinct periods of
immigration: from the 1880s to World War I, from World War I to
the outbreak of World War II in 1939 and, finally, post-World
War II. In the earliest period, the numbers were limited
but they became even more limited as a result of the restrictive
immigration practices after the First World War when only family
reunification and farm labourers were allowed to come to Canada.
The boom time was post-World War II when the Canadian economy
required tradesmen of all types and the economic depression in
Italy forces many Italian men, both labourers and professionals,
to leave their country.
Typically, they were recruited by labour agents and even,
according to oral history evidence,
mining companies. By the
early part of the 20th century recruitment at
agricultural fairs became common and family members also
sponsored siblings and cousins. They
came from all parts of Italy from north to south—Udine, Tuscany,
Molise, the Veneto, Friuli, Abruzzi, Calabria, Sicily, etc.
While the post-World War II wave of immigration saw enormous
numbers of immigrants coming from southern Italy, in the early
part of the 20th century a majority of mine workers came from
The entry points were Ellis Island in the US and Pier 21 in
Halifax. The workers were enormously mobile moving back and forth between the United
States and Canada and, in Canada, from East to West. They joined
the immigrant workers that made up 90 percent of the work force
in the mines of southern Alberta and southeastern British
Columbia. According to a 1919 study, the Italians made up
15 percent of the work force in the mines of the
They came to work and make money and then to return to Italy.
But many soon realized that they could have a better life in
Canada than in Italy and they returned to marry or had their
families arrange marriages. The mines and railways were
the principal employers but they also moved on to practice their
trades (carpenters, masons) or set up as small shopkeepers.
They were very entrepreneurial and families helped each other to
establish themselves in the new country.
While in other coal mining regions, the miners worked around
the mine site in various capacities, in the
Drumheller Valley, a
group of Italian miners owned their own mines. A group
headed by Luigia Stocco purchased the Sunshine Mine in Wayne.
When this mine ceased to be productive, they purchased the
Brilliant Mine and continued to employ mainly Italian workers.
With the closing of the mines, many left these communities to
settle in larger cities such as Edmonton and Calgary in Alberta
and Vancouver in British Columbia. Their memories,
however, remain in the graveyards of communities from the
Drumheller Valley in Alberta to the
Elk Valley in British