Emilio Casale was born in Turin, Italy, in 1907. His mother died so he was raised by his grandmother until her death in 1921. At the age of fourteen, Casale travelled to Canada, 5000 miles away, alone, speaking no English, to be with his father, Tony, whom he had never seen. Tony Casale was ecstatic to have his son with him. Casale and his father lived in Bankhead until the mine closed in 1922. They then moved to Canmore into the area called Prospect where Casale attended school in the second and third grades to learn English and Tony worked at the coal mine.
Casale was quite handy at many things. His teacher once read the story of Pinocchio to the class. The story was set near Casale’s hometown in Italy. Gepetto, the wood carver, was supposed to have lived there. A few days later, Casale came to school with a perfectly carved replica of Pinocchio which he had done himself. The carving was on display at the school for many years but later disappeared. One time his friend, Louis Trono, from Banff, came to Prospect to visit him. There he was, cutting some kid’s hair, while another waited. When he had finished, two other kids appeared, one to take a mandolin lesson, and the other, the clarinet. Towards evening, another couple of kids came to have their skates sharpened. Casale sharpened them with a file and the kids went away happy. Casale did all of these things free of charge and seemed to enjoy every minute of it.
At eighteen, Casale started working at the mine as a track layer and brattice-man. In 1927, he married his girlfriend and neighbour, Millie Byers. The wedding celebration lasted three days! Everybody from Prospect and half of Canmore must have attended. The following year, a baby girl, Anita, was born to Casale and Millie. Anita still resides in Canmore today.
In 1931, Casale’s love of music lured him and his family to Calgary. This was during the Depression Years, so life was a struggle. In between club appearances, Casale also repaired saxophones and stringed instruments at Heintzman’s for money to buy food and Millie cleaned the President apartments in exchange for free rent. Gradually, the situation began to improve and eventually Casale was playing at the prestigious Palliser Hotel with the Jerry Fuller Orchestra. As well, he played with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra under the internationally famous Gregory Garbowitski.
When World War II was declared, the Canadian Government requested that those with needed skills return to essential war work and mining was one of those skills, so Casale returned to Canmore and the mines in 1940. At the mine, many stories have been told about his escapades, but here’s one that was everybody’s favourite. After completing their shifts, the miners would head for the showers in the washhouse. One time, Casale noticed several pairs of dentures sitting on a shelf, so he switched them around. There was soon a big commotion when the guys came back and they tried to fit them in their mouths. Of course, this caused much laughter and jokes among all of the men. One of the men had a hunch that Casale was the culprit so he took after him as he stepped out of the shower and chased him all around the wash house. Then Casale ran outside with the guy still after him. It was customary for the wives to arrive in cars at the wash house to pick up their husbands. As they sat in their cars, out came Casale with the big guy chasing him, both naked. The wives honked horns and killed themselves laughing. These two may have been Canmore’s first streakers!
Throughout Casale’s years in Canmore, he pursued his music in whatever way he could. He taught saxophone, clarinet and mandolin to many of the town’s youngsters and he played for the town’s special occasions, as well as functions at the Legion and the Miners’ Union Hall. Casale and his good musician friends: Vic Lewis, Bill Belenky, John Byers, Fred Marra and Andy Shellian, on a whim, would gather together in the wee hours of the morning and start playing their “oompa” music in the streets, right into people’s houses. In those days, no one locked their doors. The group was always welcomed with laughter, refreshments and food.
Later, Louis Trono started the Louis Trono Trio with Casale and Vic Lewis. At first, it was just Saturday nights at the Banff Legion, then many other club engagements began to appear. Soon they were “on the road again”, playing Calgary, Jasper and other out-of-town dances. When the Banff Springs Hotel decided to open in the winter months, the Trio was engaged to play for the numerous conventions, Christmas and New Year’s. This was six nights a week for several years. Casale remained at the mines during this time as well. The Louis Trono Trio even produced two record albums.
In 1970, Casale’s wife, Millie, passed away at only sixty years of age. Two years later, Casale retired from the mine but continued playing in the band. In 1978, Casale began to experience health problems and on December 21, 1978, passed away. To his friends and family, Casale was one of the most charismatic and kind gentlemen they had met.
In 1980, Casale’s friends put together a sixteen-piece brass band and had a fund-raiser memorial. They raised enough money to buy a piano in Casale’s memory and donated it to the Canmore General Hospital. It still remains there today. Casale and Millie left behind one daughter, Anita, three grandchildren, Cootchie, Billy, and Terina, eight great-grandchildren and six great-great-grandchildren, many of whom still reside in Canmore.
All the old houses in Prospect were demolished many years ago and there are not many Prospect residents still around, but memories of Casale’s spirit and his music still remain.
In Canmore Seniors at the Summit, ed. Canmore Seniors Association, 2000, p. 36-38.