From Rum Runners to Shoot-outs, exploring the cultural heritage of The Crowsnest Pass in Southern Alberta…Part 2 of 5…

Cosmopolitan Hotel, built in 1912...

Cosmopolitan Hotel, built in 1912…

Considering the entire Crowsnest Heritage Route is approximately 20 kilometers long, it did not take me long to venture from the town of Coleman to the town of Blairmore, one quick jaunt on Highway 3 and I was back driving down more historical streets of the Pass.

Blairmore was and continues to be a larger town than Coleman; the residents can thank the opening of the 1901 coalmine in nearby Frank for the original building boom, this boom would result in the population growing to 1,137 by 1911. Numerous brick buildings line the main street and thankfully they have stood the test of time, some having a more notorious history than others.

Greenhill Hotel, built in 1921...

Greenhill Hotel, built in 1921…

In 1918, a gentleman by the name Emilio Picariello, an infamous Italian, purchased the Alberta Hotel located along Main Street. During the Prohibition of Alberta, which started in 1916, he decided to run an illicit rum-running operation from this location.  Located across from the train tracks, a tunnel was dug under the street to help facilitate the movement of his liquid gold; however, did it matter?  Numerous officers would become part of the cover up just to receive their cut. So, why was it called “rum running” instead of “bootlegging”? There is one major difference, bootlegging involved selling illicit liquor of much lower quality. Rum-running would involve crossing the border into BC and Montana for higher quality alcohol, usually shipped up from the Caribbean. Supplying the thirsty locals with quality alcohol, he soon became known as the “Emperor Pick”. However, his life would be short-lived. In 1922 a rum-run by his son Steve was leaked to a law-abiding police officer, as Steve tried to make his way back to the BC border, Cst. Lawson started to fire shots at his passing car in the nearby town of Coleman. Soon after, Emilio and his business partner’s wife, Florence, came running to Steve’s aid, more shots were fired and Cst. Lawson dropped to the ground. A trial pursued and both Emilio and Florence were found guilty and both were hung as punishment.

West Canadian Collieries Office, Thompson Grocery, and Greenhill Grill/JE Uptown Building...

West Canadian Collieries Office, Thompson Grocery, and Greenhill Grill/JE Uptown Building…

Rum-running was only part of the history of Blairmore, labour unions also started to make their mark in the 1930’s. Known as the “Communist Capital of Canada”, resident and miners soon took their voices to the election table and decided to elect “communist-leaning civic officials”. A new era was sweeping into the area.

Orpheum Theatre, built in 1921 and thankfully still operational...

Orpheum Theatre, built in 1921 and still operational…

Driving down the Main Street of Blairmore, I was soon engulfed in the town’s history. Building after building all laced with its own unique history waiting to be explored. Once again, I turned to the map to provide guidance for the numerous brick buildings, many built by an Italian Immigrant named Enrico Pozzi. In my opinion, the most notable building lining the street is the Cosmopolitan Hotel, built in 1912 after the original building was destroyed by fire. The second would be the Greenhill Hotel, known to many as the “watering-hole” after it was built in 1921. However, the most colourful and unique building award is given to the Orpheum Theatre; “In 1921, Peter Ubertino dismantled an old brick building in Frank, cleaned the bricks and hired local builder, Enrico Pozzi, to construct a theatre.” While these are my favourites, numerous other buildings, many being transformed to unique businesses encompass the area, including a great little European eatery called the “Tin Roof”.

As I headed out to visit the next town, I knew that I would be back, perhaps next time I would stop to take in a movie.

Links:  Rum-Running Days

Discover Crowsnest Heritage

The Rum Runner Restaurant and Lounge

The Tin Roof Bistro

Blairmore, Alberta

Categories: Alberta Road Trips

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