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Fernie’s Pioneer Italian Community, 1881 – 1921

When Filippo (Philip) Carosella left central Italy in 1881, little did he know that he would be a trailblazer for hundreds of Italian immigrants who followed him to the Kootenays. The same can be said of Alessandro Rizutto, who at the age of 15 went to the US to make his fortune and also ended up in Fernie. From the 1880s, Italian men arrived in the Elk Valley drawn by work in railway construction and coal mining. While some came to make money and return, many stayed and put down roots.

They overcame much discrimination and physical hardship aided by arrangiarsi – the Italian philosophy of making the best of things, but as part of the “foreign element” were distrusted by the British elite of the community and suspect if anything went wrong. The dramatic 1908 fire, for example, was blamed by some on the Mano Nera – the Italian Black Hand Society.

Kinship ties and the bonds of a common nationality forged a strong Italian community in the alien environment of Fernie. Holy Family Church became a rallying point. The Ordine Indipendente Fior d’Italia – Independent Order Flower of Italy, created by miners for mutual support, met the needs of the sick and also became a place for social gatherings.

This Community Memories Exhibit tells the dynamic story of Italian immigrants in southeastern British Columbia. The exhibit comprises thematic essays, individual and family histories, extracts from oral histories, newspaper accounts, birth and marriage records, and photographs.


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Project Team: Adriana Davies, Exhibit Curator; Ron Ulrich, Project Manager; Cory Dvorak, Research Assistant; Charles Bogue, translation.