When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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Family and Home Life Photo Gallery

Nick Carmelo, before emigrating to Canada in 1906, had already traveled to Argentina, New York and Chicago. Silvio Baceda was born in 1889 in Cavedini, Trento, Italy, and his sense of adventure took him to the gold fields on California in his early teens.  He joined his brother Joe Baceda in Lethbridge were he worked in the Chester Mine.  When he decided that he wanted to settle, he returned to Italy in 1923, to marry Pierina Mosna, and they were married and returned to Lethbridge arriving in March, 1924.  The family moved to Coalhurst where he worked in the Mine until the explosion in 1935.  He then worked at Galt No. 8 until his retirement in 1952.George Chiarovano left Italy at the age of three and traveled with his parents to Turkey, Romania, South Africa, the US and, finally, Canada.Erminio was the youngest and last of the five Peressini brothers to come to Canada and he arrived in Blairmore in 1921.

The typical immigration pattern was that young men left Italy and ended up in the mines.  The early part of the 20th century saw many come to coal mining communities in southern Alberta and southeastern British Columbia.  The 1910s and 1920s saw many of them marry and establish homes in their new country.  Tegla Clozza, whose Father was a founder of the Sunshine Camp, has left a warm and light-hearted account of life at the Camp in The Hills of Home:  The Drumheller Valley.  Life was hard but the bachelors and families that made up the Camp bonded into a strong-knit community.Luigi Pedrini was another adventurous teenager emigrating at the age of 14 in 1904 and making his way to the part of the Northwest Territories that became Alberta a year later.  He settled in Diamond City first working on the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway High Level Bridge in Lethbridge.  He then worked in the Diamond City, Commerce, Picture Butte, Shaughnessy, Royal View and Dupen Mines.  In 1914, he returned to Italy for a visit and had to serve in the army and was wounded.  He met his future wife Clementina (“Emma”) Ceschini and they were married in 1918. He returned to Canada, leaving her behind with their first child, a son, Ezio. Their family is typical of the dislocation experienced by many immigrants.  She came to Canada in 1925 leaving Ezio with relatives and he did not join his parents until 1930.  Luigi then worked in the mines from fall to spring and farmed from spring to fall. Marietta Imbrogno was the childhood sweetheart of Palmo Carmen Biafore, known as Charles in his new country. The family was all-important in Italian society but was an elastic thing including not just blood kin but also others from the home town or paese.  Family relationships defined individuals and a person was identified as someone’s daughter or son.  The typical home frequently housed multiple generations and if ever there was trouble, one could call on a member of the extended family.  These family ties were all important in a land were ethnic origin and language set people apart.

Living conditions in mining communities were frequently a bone of contention.  Mining shacks had no electricity.  Coal oil lamps were used for light.  Pails hung in a well served as refrigeration.  Coal stoves provided heating and out-door privies were the rule.  According to Tegla Clozza, “The homes inside were roughly finished.  There were wide boards nailed throughout.  Winter time, we judged the cold by the higher frozen nail.  Whereas with summer rains, containers were placed here and there to catch the dribbles of water seeping in.  Mouse traps were in most corners of the homes.”  These homes, in contrast, seem palatial.

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