Lawrence Grassi: From Piedmont to the Rocky Mountains

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Lawrence Grassi book cover

Lawrence Grassi was a trailblazer in every sense of the word. A working-class man of humble Italian origins who worked as a labourer and a coal miner for most of his life, Grassi had a deep passion for the Rocky Mountains. He was famous in the region for his commitment as a guide, a mountain climber, and a builder of greatly admired hiking trails. Today, in or near Canmore, his name graces a mountain, two lakes, and a school, and he is commemorated at Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park.

   In Lawrence Grassi: From Piedmont to the Rocky Mountains, Elio Costa and Gabriele Scardellato uncover the deeply private man behind this legend, from his birth in the small Italian village of Falmenta to his long and inspirational career in Canada. Using previously unexamined family letters and extensive information on Grassi’s cohort of Italian immigrants, the authors reconstruct his personal and professional life, correcting myths and connecting his story to the long history of Italian immigration to Canada. The definitive biography of this Canadian mountain hero, Lawrence Grassi is essential reading for those interested in the history of immigration, sport, and the Rocky Mountains.

ELIO COSTA is a professor emeritus in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics at York University.

GABRIELE SCARDELLATO is an associate professor and the Mariano A. Elia Chair in Italian-Canadian Studies at York University.

Advance Praise for
Lawrence Grassi: From Piedmont to the Rocky Mountains

“This is the first complete biography of Lawrence Grassi, the remarkable Italian-Canadian mountaineer, photographer, and trail builder who did so much to open up the Rockies in the vicinity of the Bow Valley corridor to recreational climbing and hiking in the mid-twentieth century. Lawrence Grassi is painstakingly researched, carefully argued, engagingly written, and splendidly illustrated with photographs, many of which Grassi took himself. I greatly enjoyed reading it.”

Bruce Kidd, Principal, University of Toronto Scarborough, and Olympian

“Lawrence Grassi has long been an enigmatic and poorly understood character in the story of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Coal miner, mountain climber, guide, and trail builder, Lawrence’s roots have been shrouded in mystery and his exploits the stuff of legend. Who he really was and what he really did has been the subject of speculation for decades. In this book, Elio Costa and Gabriele Scardellato have pulled the curtain back on this mythic figure, revealing a man who is even more complex and enigmatic than
previously imagined. Meticulously researched, this book is a wonderful new contribution to the fascinating history of the Bow Valley and a tribute to the millions of pioneers who ventured across the oceans to find their fortune in a harsh and distant land.”

Chic Scott, author of Pushing the Limits: The Story of Canadian Mountaineering

“Lawrence Grassi is a book of fascinating stories and intriguing detective work. Costa and Scardellato offer a stronger picture of Grassi’s life than has been available to readers until now, as well as adding to our understanding of the development of western Canada, working-class experience, and well-known parks in Alberta and British Columbia.”

PearlAnn Reichwein, University of Alberta, and author of Climber’s Paradise:
Making Canada’s Mountain Parks, 1906-1974

Cover photograph: Lawrence Grassi climbing the Eisenhower Tower on Castle Mountain, Sydney Vallance photograph, 1930s, courtesy of Glenbow Archives S-20-5.
University of Toronto Press 2015
352 pages / 6 x 9 / 100 illustrations
Cloth 978-1-4426-4849-4
Paper 978-1-4426-2624-9