A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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General History


Antonio Martues Teixeira da Silva was born in the village of Vila Nova de Gaia near the city of O Porto. In 1919, at the age of 13, he secretly fled Portugal, stowing-away aboard a schooner bound for Newfoundland.

It is the same fearless spirit of adventure that propelled many Portuguese explorers to the New World. It's believed that Portuguese were among the first Europeans to lay eyes on the land that became Canada. Joao Vaz Corte Real touched down on Canada's east coast in 1470. Joao Fernandes and Pedro de Barcelos came in 1493. Miguel and Gaspar Corte-Real were lost in Newfoundland waters in 1501 and 1502. This early Portuguese presence lives in the numerous place names such as Labrador, originating from the Portuguese "lavrador" meaning "small landowner or farmer."(1)

During the 500 years between Portuguese explorers and Antonio de Silva's time, only a few Portuguese fishermen settled on the Atlantic coast. The attraction to Canada was its waters full of codfish, a staple in the Portuguese diet. By the 20th century, a number of cod fishermen started coming ashore to stay. They numbered as many as 6,000 by 1935.(2) It wasn't until the 1950s that Portuguese immigration started to increase. Until that point the Portuguese belonged to the non-preferred group of potential immigrants according to the immigration policies of the day.(3)

Between 1953 and 1954, 1,129 Portuguese men arrived in Canada. Most were from the Azores and had been recruited for work programs sponsored by the Canadian government seeking non-skilled labourers.(4) Canada was looking to Portugal to solve its problem of a shortage in agricultural workers. At the same time, Portugal had a problem with unemployment and was interested in finding suitable destinations for their poor.(5) By 1957, 8,115 Portuguese had emigrated. Numbers steadily increased from then until the 1980s: between 1958 and 1962, 16,731 arrived; between 1963 and 1967, 32,473; between 1968 and 1973 54,199; and in 1984, 869.(6) The current Portuguese population in Canada is estimated at nearly 300,000.(7)

Following the initial waves of Portuguese immigrants looking for work in Canada, the most pressing reasons for immigration was family contacts -- even more so than the desire to escape political crisis. Despite their early settlement on the east coast of Canada, most Portuguese Canadians eventually moved to larger cities in Ontario, Québec or British Columbia.(8) The urge to reunite families also motivated the concentrations of Portuguese communities in certain areas such as Toronto.(9) Fifty-one percent of the Portuguese population in Canada who report Portuguese as their mother tongue live in Toronto. Another core city is Montréal. Kitchener, Ontario, has the highest percentage of Portuguese in ratio to the total. The only rural concentration of Portuguese are those who are fruit farmers in the southern Okanagan Valley of British Columbia.(10)

The 1998 Canadian & World Encyclopedia
(McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, 1998).

A Future to Inherit, The Portuguese Communities of Canada, by Grace M. Anderson and David Higgs
(McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, 1976).

A Canadian Profile: Toronto's Portuguese and Brazilian Communities
(Portuguese Interagency Network, Toronto, 1995).

Portuguese Immigrants, 25 Years in Canada, by Domingos Marques and Joao Medeiros
(Portuguese Community Movement, Toronto, 1978).

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