Experience the rich history and culture of Fernie, BC through the life and times of one of Fernie's most notorious residents and business tycoons.
Emilio Picariello remains one of the enigmatic personalities of his time, capturing the imaginations of Canadians today almost as much as he did during his sensational murder trial and death by hanging ninety years ago.
From his arrival in Canada to his death, Picariello was a larger-than-life personality. In 1899, at the age of 20, he immigrated to the United States. He came to Toronto in 1902 and arrived in Fernie in 1911. He was a loving husband to Maria and proud father of their six children. A successful entrepreneur, he operated a number of businesses, beginning in eastern Canada and culminating in Fernie and Blairmore. He served as a one-term town councillor. To the poor and friends, he was generous.
Picariello became a bootlegger operating between Fernie in British Columbia and Blairmore and Lethbridge in Alberta, as well as the American Pacific Northwest. As one of the so-called “criminal class” of bootleggers for whom this was a business, he became a target for the Alberta Provincial Police.
On September 21, 1922, the A.P.P. and local police set up a sting operation in Coleman and Blairmore to entrap Picariello and his men while engaged in a bootlegging run. Chased by the police, Picariello’s son Steve was shot in the hand by A.P.P. Constable Stephen Oldacres Lawson. Picariello, accompanied by a young family friend, Florence Lassandro, confronted Lawson about his son’s condition later that evening at the A.P.P. detachment in Coleman, and Lawson was shot.
After a sensational trial in Calgary in which Picariello and Lassandro were tried jointly, they were found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang.
An exhibit on Emilio was on display at the Fernie Museum from September, 2015 - March, 2016. The exhibit, now traveling to other communities, traces the rise of Picariello from a young Italian immigrant to a shrewd and successful businessman to his fall and eventual death as one of Canada’s most infamous bootleggers. The exhibit also paints a picture of the social context in which the fateful events took place: immigration, the push for women’s suffrage and the Temperance movement.
A new book about Emilio is now available at the Fernie Museum.