Mining communities were characterized by their diversity.
Inevitably, the racial stereotyping of the period impacted on
the way in which communities established themselves. It was a
common belief that northern Europeans were harder working, more
law abiding and generally superior. Southern Europeans and
individuals from other nations were viewed as inferior and only
fit for manual labour.
These attitudes played themselves out not only in the mines
but also in the mining camps and towns. The segregation was not
always of an exclusionary nature. It may also have been
self-imposed—it was easier to be with people that spoke one’s
own language and shared values and beliefs. Thus, there was a
well-established Little Italy in Bellevue. In the
Drumheller Valley there were the all-Italian camps associated with the
Sunshine and Brilliant Mines. In other communities there were
clusters of Italian-owned homes in certain neighbourhoods.
struggle to establish themselves and the danger of the
occupation tended to bring the best out in people. This can be
seen time and again in the family histories in local history
books as well as oral histories.
For good times—births, weddings
and parties— and bad—accidents and disasters, layoffs, wage
rollbacks—the entire community pulled together. There was also a
sense that they were recreating the best of Italy in Canada.
But the passage of time brought acceptance and assimilation
and this is seen through involvement in mainstream community
activities. Italian immigrants began to be less strange and
exotic and more like ordinary Canadians. They were business
owners and professionals as well as officers in civic
organizations. In fact, they seemed to be no different from
anyone else. For example, in 1947, there were two Italian women
members of the Order of the Royal Purple, Coleman Lodge No. 96.
Del D’Appolonia was Associate Royal Lady and Muriel D’Amico was
Inner Guard and Helen Fontana was Outer Guard. The Lodge
undertook a range of good works in the community and fundraised
to support these charitable activities.
Canadians of Italian ancestry were community builders who
believed in family,
God and country. As jobs in the mines
disappeared, many left for the cities but those who stayed did
so because they loved the communities where they had laboured to
Listen: To hear a miner's
perspective on the isolation of mining camp life listen to
Gus and Assunta
Dotto's oral history
Angelo Toppano describes east Coleman, or "Bushtown,"
where he lived when he first arrived in 1913 (oral