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November 2nd, 1998
(Please note words “italicized” are phonetic spelling.)
A: My folks come from I guess you can call it the Northern part of Italy. My dad was from Noria the Province of Casto Franco. My mother she come close to him and they immigrated here in 1921.
Q: What were their names?
A: My dad was Angelo Louis Busato my mother was Victoria Margarietta Borsato. Just about close together in fact on the road there they’ve got Borsato instead of Busato. But anyway the guys say change it I don’t bother.
Q: Do you know why they came or the circumstances of their arrival here?
A: Well there was nothing there in Italy - my dad when he was 14 years old had to go to Germany if he wanted to eat to make a living - they were poor peasants aye. So after his brother John come down to Ontario and called my dad, after he was there six months my brother John got killed in one of the shaft mines when they were going down just to pebble. At that time your mine caps were just canvas just a pebble in his head killed him. Then my dad from there left Timmins and come over here. And he worked at the ovens.
Q: In Michel whereabouts which mines?
A: Right in Michel you know outside on the ovens used to have coke ovens there. He worked there for three years then they knew he was a pretty good horseman he got hired at the mine coal company where they had 150 horses there. Oh God yeah and he worked there till they closed it.
Q: Where did you live - so you were born in...
A: I was born in Middletown and at the age of two we moved what they call behind the Coke Ovens. The only thing that separated Middletown and behind the Coke Ovens was the coke ovens. There was two long batches of ovens aye that’s all that separated. Otherwise it was from here to the highway and it was right there. And I lived there till I got married then I moved up Michel.
Q: And you lived in a company house?
A: In a company house. And from the company house after I come down here.
Q: Can you describe what it was like to grow up in the Coke Ovens?
A: O God yeah oh yeah. I was a good boy I know that. Yeah as we grew up there was the Marchi’s, Bonin, Gregoreks, and uh Massaro was there Quarin’s. It was a little league of Nations actually we were all combined there.
Q: What nationalities were there?
A: We had Slavs we had Russians. Italians, French and there was even a Jap that lived there for a while.
Q: Do you remember their name?
A: Most of them yeah the Jap was Coy I couldn’t tell you his last name but we called him Coy. And all the Marchi’s I knew all the Marchi’s, father and mother or whatever. I knew all their names same with the Gregoreks the Quarins I knew them all. We played together and we were all good kids there. At the spring of the year we used to play marbles. And these ovens were lit so it was an arch so actually it gets dark early so to have light and to have warmth we’d pull all the bricks off these doors we’d be nice and warm, nice light there until they put Mike Crawl as watchman. Mike Crawl had a stump he had a hook on the one arm, my God Jesus when we seen that he’d come after us boy did we ever take off. We were afraid of that at first. So anyway they had to put a watchman to keep us kids away from doing that.
Q: Off the end of the coke oven?
A: Yeah on the door it was arch like aye. You’ve probably seen they’ve got them down at Morrissey yet some of them.
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.