John Riva and Family

John and Doris Riva
Written by Canmore Museum

John and Francesca Riva moved to Canmore from Italy when their son, John, was two and a half years old. Three more sons, Joseph, Victor and Michael, and a daughter, Linda, were born in Canada. Linda died young. Miners were considered to be essential workers so the boys were kept working in the mine during WW I. 

Alfred and Caroline Smedley came from Cheshire, England, to Banff. Alfred was a cook and baker and worked for the construction crew on the C.P.R. (Banff Springs) Hotel when the towers and other additions were being made between 1911 and 1914. They then moved to Canmore in 1915. Here Alfred cooked at the Oskaloosa Hotel, a boarding house for single miners. Their family consisted of Doris, Harry, Ethel, Charles and Ernest. Doris and Ethel worked as waitresses at the Oskaloosa. 

Henry (Harry) Smedley went down with Kitchener’s ship in WW I. Charles Smedley was a deep-sea diver in WW II. His ship was torpedoed on a run to Murmansk, Russia, and he was in the water forty-eight-hours somewhere off Newfoundland but he survived.

Doris married John Jr., the son of John and Francesca Riva. Their family included May (Doris Mary), Joseph, Frances and Ernest. May was born at home in the Lakusta house on Main Street, next to what is now the Fireside Cafe. She took all her schooling here, up to grade twelve, having been a student of Edna Hill’s some of those years. Her Grandfather Smedley set up his own bake shop in the dePencier house on 6th Street, where he baked 1000 loaves of bread two or three times per week. These were sold in Canmore, Georgetown and Exshaw. 

May remembers that Good Friday morning her grandfather would bake 100 dozen hot cross buns, which she would then deliver on her bicycle. She first worked at the CPR hotel in Banff (for seventeen cents per hour!), then came to work in the laundry at the old Canmore Hospital on 8th Street (now the private home of Bob and Eileen Warwick). She was working there in the mid-thirties at the time of the “Doukhobor Incident”, when two Doukhobor men who had shot someone in Saskatchewan were trying to make their getaway. When Sgt. Harrison of the Canmore R.C.M.P. tried to stop them, they shot him in the throat. May saw him just before he passed away in the doctor’s office. The culprits were later stopped and shot by Banff Park warden. 

John Riva was the first superintendent of the briquet manufacturing complex for Canmore Mines and was followed at that job by Vic Lewis. John and Doris lived in the house next to the Legion, the one with a dome now added. Doris played the organ in the Anglican Church and was superintendent of the Sunday School which had an enrollment as high as ninety children at times. She also played the organ at the Roman Catholic Church on the occasions when the nuns were “in retreat”.

May, Joe and Ernie all joined the Forces in WW 11 – May in the Women’s Division, R.C.A.F., Joe in the R.C.A.F., and Ernie in the Army, later transferring to the Navy. May joined up in 1942, was sent to Toronto for training in Transport Command, then returned to Claresholm and finally to Patricia Bay, B.C., before going overseas to Yorkshire, England. A shipboard romance, like so many of the time, did not survive later separation. Finally, she was sent back to Vancouver to be discharged. She remembers the last Christmas there when she and two officers had looked unsuccessfully for a Christmas tree on the north shore but spotted an ideal one in Stanley Park on the way back. They weren’t caught but a newspaper item next day reported that “vandals” were cutting trees in Stanley Park! 

After her discharge, May went to Kamloops to work at repairing sewing machines for the Singer Sewing Machine Company. Her parents had retired to Victoria and bought a rooming house, but they returned to Canmore so May went out to take over the rooming house. The manager of the Singer store there got her to return to her repair work for them. Later, she transferred to their store in Penticton for seven and a half years. Finally, she returned to Canmore to be near her parents. She worked for Floyd Bray in his store on Main Street, was in the telephone office for a few months, and then went to Rundle Mountain Trading Company until change of management there. Her mother died in 1968 and her father in 1969. Then she went to Banff to work for Len Kamenka in his gift shop, was at the Upper Hot Springs through the winter, then back to the Kamenka shop the next summer. Finally, she went to work for the Banff Bakery and came with them when they moved to Canmore. In 1975, she became assistant matron at the Bow River Senior Citizens Lodge where she remained until she retired six and a half years later. Immediately, she moved into the Lodge herself, before making a three-month trip to Australia and New Zealand from March to May. While there, she was able to visit Dorothy and Madge Ashley, cousins of her mother.

May still drives for Meals on Wheels, is an active member of the Rebekah Lodge and organizes trips to Casino Regina so she can indulge in her favourite pastime. She looks after numerous friends in town, visiting, running errands, driving them to appointments and shopping. She was named Canmore’s Woman of the Year. Then, in 1994, she was named Volunteer of the Year and also received the Decoration of Chivalry (a service award) from the Rebekah Lodge.

Her brother, Joe, re-enlisted in the R.C.A.F. after the War, and in 1950, began developing a computer system to pinpoint the exact time for a drop of paratroopers or supplies before take-off, rather than these calculations having to be made after a plane was in the air. In the later stages of development, he was assisted by F/ C J.W. Michaud of Montreal. At the time of development of this project, Joe was Command Navigation Officer at Tactical Air Command, Edmonton. He had married in England and his bride, Hilda, came over expecting the worst because May had told her a few tall tales about the West! They have two daughters, JoAnne, a librarian in Ottawa, and Linda, a mathematics teacher in Chilliwack and Abbotsford. 

Ernie remained in the Navy and was stationed at Halifax. There he married Winnie and they have three children. Roderick (Rod) married Mary Ellen, Dale married Jim Cardinal and Barry was married but divorced and now lives in Richmond, B.C.

Frances married Albert Grainger and lived in Canmore. Their son, Pat, married Sheila and they live in Sylvan Lake. Ken, married to Juanita, lives in Penticton. 

In 1984, after both having lost spouses, Frances and Vic Lewis were married. They had been childhood sweethearts but their families said they were too young to marry, so they went their separate ways. Vic passed away on November 27, 1999, and with his death, Canmore lost their “Mr. Music”. 


John and Doris Riva


Ernie, May and Joe Riva


Frances and Albert Grainer

In Canmore Seniors at the Summit, ed. Canmore Seniors Association, 2000, p. 240-242.

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Canmore Museum