For years James White owned and operated a saw mill across the railroad tracks to the left of 13th street. White still holds the record for being the longest serving mayor of Fernie, (19 years) he was the mayor that smoked the peace pipe in 1964 with First Nations Chiefs in order to remove the legendary curse that was said to have been placed on this town.
White was a very kind and caring person as when my father sponsored several family members to come to Canada, White provided the guarantee that they would have employment on arrival.
In the fifties my father didn’t own a vehicle so he purchased a house on First Avenue directly across the tracks from the mill as this allowed him an easy walk back and forth to work. Most of the immigrant men from Italy that landed in Fernie went to work underground in the Coal Creek and Michel Mines but my father and a few others found work with CP Rail and the lumber mills that were prevalent at the time. One of those was a tall Italian by the name of Elio Della Siega. I would often see Elio walking up 13th street as he came up from 9th Avenue in the Annex where he lived, sometimes he would meet up with my father and they would cross the tracks together talking as they walked.
As a child I would sit on my bed and from the second story window I had a perfect panoramic view of the road, railroad tracks and sawmill.
From that vantage point I could see workers as they unloaded logs and loaded the box cars stacking long narrow pieces of lumber neatly inside. With one man standing on the wooden platform outside lifting and placing each piece on the bar across the opening and one inside receiving and stacking it was a work rhythm that was mesmerizing at times. That action and the buzzing of mill saws was quite soothing even when screechy at times.
Fernie had a large contingent of southern Italian immigrants most of whom were of medium height. Elio was well-regarded for his stature and I recall hearing my parents and their friends refer often to his height in a most admiring way. Additionally, Elio and Rosa came from northern Italy and back in the day as that was Italy’s commercial and industrial area and the south was mostly farming anyone from the north was considered to better due to the incorrect assumption that if you used your brains to make a living that made you superior to the person who used his hands. It’s ironic that today southern Italy has become a tourist mecca and many northern Italians own vacation homes there as it is renowned for its natural beauty.
My husband Nick was employed at the mill in Elko and by that time Elio was as well as the James White mill had been shut down. Nick and Elio became friends, and so our friendship with this couple began. Rosa, tall, willowy and beautiful, was also friendly, kind and very talented. She could produce a garment that was professional and tailored to perfection. But she was good at other things as well, she painted inside and outside of her home, she gardened and loved to walk. She and Elio could be seen taking long walks daily or she would walk to town with friends.
When my fourth child was born my oldest was eight, the second was five and the third twenty months. My mother was not well at the time and so only the two older children stayed with her and Rosa offered to take care of Nicky. After a ten day hospital stay coming home with a surgical scar and a new baby was tough and so Rosa and the family offered to keep Nicky a bit longer. He loved Rosa, Elio and their two young sons Dennis and Eugene so much that he didn’t want to leave—even calling Rosa mom.
There are many caring people in this world; unfortunately media attention prefers to concentrate mostly on the negative that occurs. More consideration needs to be paid to the goodness that really abounds. People like Rosa and Elio that give love out to others. I’ve been fortunate that I have had some amazing women in my life that have been incredible models to emulate. It is because of my own mother and other incredible women that I developed strong respect for all people, especially the older generation.
Let me tell you a little bit about my friend Rosa who passed away only a few days ago. She was born in the town of San Martino di Codroipo in Italy. Rosa was the daughter of Rosario and Santina Della Mora.
Her parents, three brothers and Rosa shared a multi-family home with several others. She worked in the tobacco factory and in the family silk worm farm while studying to become a seamstress. She immigrated to Fernie on December 28th, 1954 to meet her fiancé Elio and they were married on January 8, 1955. Rosa developed friendships quickly with members of the Italian community who helped her and for whom she reciprocated in many ways especially with her sewing skills.
In the many decades that we were friends this couple remained steadfast in who they were, I was proud to deliver the eulogy when Elio passed on and happy to have had a really good conversation with her a four weeks before she passed away. As always, each time we spoke she would end by asking about each of my children, especially Peter who was her godchild, and she would say I will pray for them and I knew she would. I could write so much about this person and some of the other individuals that enriched my life so greatly. Instead I will offer thanks that I was so privileged to have had them in my life for so long. I hope they knew how deeply they were appreciated because all too often with our busy lives we forget to let the people we love know that.