Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Italian Canadians in Lethbridge

Lethbridge has never had a “Little Italy,” as in other Prairie cities–but this region has a strong Italian Canadian heritage nonetheless.

In the early 1900s, southern Alberta’s coal mines and railways attracted workers from far and wide, including Italy. At first, most Italian immigrants were young men, who would send their wages home or save up to pay for the passage of their wife or bride-to-be. Gradually more women and families arrived, and by 1921 there were about 200 Italian Canadians living in Lethbridge. The names of early settlers like Matteotti and Pavan are still well known in the city today.

The close-knit Italian community in Lethbridge maintained many traditions from “home,” including the art of winemaking. Some families would plant grapes in their own backyards, and others ordered them through the Italian Canadian Cultural Centre to make their own wine. Silvio Mauro, who first settled in southern British Columbia and moved to Lethbridge in 1954, used a manual press [shown below] for the tough and messy job of squeezing juice from the grapes. The juice was then fermented and bottled. Opening the wine for special occasions like Christmas, a baptism, or a wedding was an important part of celebrating family and community. The winemaking tradition helped Italian Canadians maintain a sense of their cultural identity.

One of the more notorious Italian Canadians in southern Alberta’s history was Emilio Picariello, an ambitious entrepreneur who ended up on the wrong side of the law as a bootlegger, during Alberta’s prohibition. Check out his story in the new Galt Museum & Archives exhibit, The Rise and Fall of Emilio Picariello, organized by the Fernie Museum. The opening will take place Monday OCT 2 at 2 pm, with guest curator Adriana Davies as the featured speaker.

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