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Emilio Picariello in Trail

Updated: Feb 2

Western Canada’s most infamous bootlegger was once in the ice cream business in Trail.

Emilio Picariello immigrated from Capriglia Iprina, Italy to the US in 1899, moved to Toronto in 1902, and then came west to Fernie in 1911, where he worked in a macaroni factory. He later went into the liquor business as a representative of the Pollack Wine Co. By 1916, he cornered the local market on bottles, earning him the nickname the Bottle King.

Legendary bootlegger Emilio Picariello (right) in a postcard. His friend and employee Charles Lassandro is at left. They’re with a pet bear in Coleman, Alta, ca. 1920. The Glenbow Archives has a similar but not identical image.

(Greg Nesteroff collection)

When BC enacted prohibition, he moved to Alberta, but when that province followed suit in outlawing the sale of alcohol, his extensive operation went underground. His public persona, however, remained a respectable businessman and civic-minded philanthropist. He was elected to Blairmore council, bought large sums of victory bonds during World War I, and contributed money to the families of striking coal miners.

It all fell apart in 1922 when Picariello’s son Steve was involved in a car chase with the Alberta Provincial Police. The elder Picariello, in company with Florence Lassandro, who was part of the bootlegging operation, confronted and fatally shot Cst. Stephen Lawson in front of his home.

Although it was unclear who pulled the trigger, both Picariello and Lassandro were charged with murder. They were tried jointly, convicted, and sentenced to die. Their appeals were denied. Lassandro became the only woman ever hanged in Alberta.

Lethbridge Daily Herald, May 2, 1923

Louis Pozzi mentioned Picariello’s connection to Trail in the 1979 book Crowsnest and Its People:

[B]y 1916, he had developed a large ice-cream manufacturing centre which could produce up to 400 gallons of the product per day and had opened ice cream parlours in Trail and Blairmore and had placed what was one of the earliest ice cream wagons on the streets of Fernie.

Other sources have since repeated this statement, but none have expanded on it. We don’t know exactly where the ice cream parlour was, but this listing appeared in the 1918 Trail civic directory:

Picariello was not listed the following year. We know he probably lived in East Trail, though, thanks to a tax sale notice that appeared in the Creston Review on Sept. 12, 1919:

Picariello still owned the property as of 1921 when his will was drawn up. The legal description corresponds to 1894 Third Avenue, but according to the BC Assessment Authority, the house now standing there was not built until 1934.

An ice cream parlour does appear in the Gulch on the 1923 fire insurance map at Block 33, Lot 3, seen below (the pink outline denotes a brick-veneered building). This is 876 Rossland Avenue, now Taste of India, formerly the Bud-A-Bong shop, formerly Nellie’s Ristorante, and formerly (as of 1917) Priore’s liquor store. While I can’t swear this is where Picariello did business, it seems plausible.

The family history book Trail of Memories contains one reference to Picariello, in the entry for Cesare and Marina Molina. Granddaughter Joanne Pasquale wrote that her grandfather, who moved to Trail in 1928, was a rum runner in Blairmore and knew Picariello.

During an interview with the Lethbridge Herald, Cesare’s son-in-law Angelo Toppano produced a black three-cell flashlight and explained where it came from. He was watching a poker game between Picariello and Cesare in a bootlegger’s backroom. After the game, Picariello forgot the flashlight, which Toppano picked up. He asked his mother-in-law what to do with it. She replied: “Keep it, he’s got lots of money.”

(Cesare Molina started the Milano Grocery on Rossland Avenue in Trail.)

Further details about Picariello’s time in Trail await the digitization of the city’s newspapers, but the story of his bootlegging empire and the shooting that resulted in his execution is told in The Rise and Fall of Emilio Picariello, by Adriana A. Davies (2016).

Updated on Jan. 31, 2024 to add the image from the fire insurance map.

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