Portuguese Immigrants
in Toronto*

By: Domingos Marques and Joao Medeiros

From: Polyphony Summer 1984 pp. 154-158
© 1984 Multicultural History Society of Ontario

*From "Portuguese Immigrants. 25 Years in Canada," by Domingos Marques and Joao Medeiros (Toronto: Marquis Printers, 1980).

Kensington Market and the surrounding area had already known a long history as a place where immigrants made their first homes in Toronto. Jewish, Italian, Hungarian and Ukrainian newcomers had all settled here, one after the other. Now it was the turn of the Portuguese. Since 1964 they had been settling in Alexandra Park, and, according to the first census returns (1962), there were ten thousand Portuguese registered in St. Mary's Church on the corner of Adelaide and Bathurst Sts.
"There were three or four Portuguese families in Toronto in 1953 when I left for Labrador. But when I got back nine months later, there were already many more. Kensington Market looked like a market at home, all the merchandise out on the streets in full view of everybody. Beans and rice were sold in exactly the same way as they would be in Portugal. If you wanted to buy fruit, for example, you selected your own, then went and paid for it. Houses were relatively inexpensive at that time in this area. So many Portuguese newcomers settled there."
António Sousa, Mississauga

The chief problems of the new immigrants arose from the difficulty of finding jobs, and from their lack of English. There were no Social Agencies in those days either, so some of the Portuguese who knew a little English began to act as interpreters for the others. The first two to do this kind of thing were José Menezes and José Rafael. Meanwhile more Portuguese kept coming from every direction seeking work and somewhere to live. Naturally they were attracted to go where they could find someone who knew how to communicate with them and with the Canadian authorities. So many found their way to this area. One of the first meeting places for the Portuguese who came to Toronto from other parts of the province and other Canadian cities was a restaurant on the corner of Nassau Street and Bellevue Avenue known as "Sousa's Restaurant." António Sousa writes:

"We opened at 6:00 a.m. and closed at midnight. I had to go out to work at a bakery till 3:00 p.m. in order to have enough money to pay my debts. I had spent seven thousand dollars to renovate the building I had bought to serve as a restaurant, so I owed money to a great many people, to carpenters, to stone-masons and to friends. My wife looked after the restaurant while I was at the bakery. Everybody came there. People who were all alone in the city could meet each other there and talk and laugh and cry. They came to find friendship, and they did. So my restaurant became a kind of family home for the Portuguese."

Meanwhile the First Portuguese Canadian Club was formed and was lodged just across the road in front of the restaurant, where the Portuguese bookstore is located now. Portuguese festivals were organised and a soccer team was formed. You could hear people singing Portuguese songs. A little later, the Lisbon bakery made its appearance. It was the first bakery to make real Portuguese bread in Canada. Next came the first store with Portuguese foods for sale, and after that the first Portuguese Travel Agency.

The growth of the Portuguese population in Toronto was rapid, and Public Services could not cope with the needs of the newcomers. The St. Christopher House was the only agency which offered them social services in those days, and this was owing to the interest of a Portuguese lady who was the daughter of an immigrant from Macau. English classes and a Day-Care Centre were set up. The Portuguese Consulate began to function officially on August 1st, 1956. Until that date Toronto had only the services of an honorary consul who was assistant to the Portuguese Consul in New York. The first Portuguese Consul in Toronto was Dr. Armando Nunes de Freitas. Marcelino Moniz, Vice-Consul, writes:

"When I came to work in the Consulate at the end of 1956 there were literally piles of immigrants' letters for me to attend to. My first job was to sort them out and reply to all this correspondence. Portuguese were writing from all regions of Ontario, complaining about working conditions, asking for information etc., etc. Many were concerned with sponsorship of their relatives and consular protection."

Pastoral care for the Portuguese Catholics began in St. Michael' s Cathedral under the direction of a German priest who had worked for some time in Brazil. Then a group from Madeira invited a priest from the islands, a Padre Camacho, to come and serve the Portuguese community in Toronto. Their centre moved from the Cathedral to St. Elizabeth's Church on the corner of Spadina Ave. and Dundas Street West. It was nearer the Portuguese settlement. Meanwhile Padre Camacho was replaced by a priest from the Azores who was working in the United States at the time. This was the Rev. Joaquim Esteves Lourenco, and it was he who established St. Mary's as the Portuguese parish in Toronto. As the Portuguese population grew, other priests from the Azores were sent to help him, the Rev. P. Antero de Melo in 1962, and the Rev. Francisco Fatela in 1964.

Besides the Church and the First Portuguese Canadian Club, there also existed another club situated on Spadina Avenue near Dundas known as the Portuguese Association of Canada. But it only lasted a few years and then, owing to domestic misunderstanding and financial difficulties, it had to close. A festival took place in 1963 to mark the first ten years of Portuguese immigration from Madeira. A group of these who had set foot in Canada in June 1953 rented a farm in Orangeville from Carlos Pereira, and organized the celebration of the feast of Nossa Senhora do Monte (a great festival in Madeira). It is now kept every year in Madeira Park, south of Sutton, Ontario. This is a social-religious occasion, but the Portuguese began to organize politically as well. In August 1959 a group of Portuguese democrats met together "to form a front against the Fascist regime in Portugal." This became the Portuguese Canadian Democratic Association. From its first days this Association initiated celebrations and orientation workshops, conferences, etc. in order to bring artists, writers and political leaders from Portugal to Toronto. They were anxious to keep their compatriots informed as to what was going on in Portugal, and to assist them towards participating in Canadian Society in a fuller and more enlightened way than they had hitherto been able to do.

The Decade of 1964-74

During these years the Portuguese community in Toronto grew in strength, and by 1974 it was one of the greatest nuclei of Portuguese immigrants anywhere in the world. It has been calculated that there were about eighty-five thousand people of Portuguese descent living in Toronto at that time. From the sixties, the Portuguese began to move West from the neighbourhood of Alexandra Park and Kensington towards Ossington, and South from College Street towards King Street. The Church was still an institution of greatest influence and importance among the Portuguese. On February 3rd, 1966, Padre Alberto Cunha arrived to replace Padre Joaquim Lourenco. He and Padre Freitas de Leite, a priest who had come to Toronto as a tourist, began to organize the formation of a Co-operative to buy the building known as "La Cubana" on College Street. This was to become a Portuguese Centre with a church hall, a Medical Clinic, a Legal Office, a Travel Agency and other facilities. However when the Bishop of Toronto heard of what was going on (five thousand dollars had already been collected), he put a stop to it and the two priests were replaced. In 1956 the Portuguese began to use a permanent Parish Centre close to St. Mary's when they needed social assistance of any sort. For some years this Centre helped Portuguese clients to more than two thousand jobs. At the same time cultural and recreational activities were organized by the Parish Centre. On June 10th, 1966, the first socio-religious festival took place. About ten thousand Portuguese gathered in the Exhibition Coliseum for this occasion. A year later, a Procession was organized. This was a really big public event complete with allegoric wagons which moved along Bay and Front Streets. Another, more famous festival, is that of "Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres," of Azorean origin which is still celebrated every year at St. Mary' s. It, too, began in the year 1966. Manuel Arruda writes:

"Mr. Mariano Rego offered the statue of Santo Cristo to the Church as a present. My brother and I brought it to Toronto. It was decorated with flowers by some ladies in the parish, and was taken in procession round the streets of Toronto (going by Richmond and Niagara Streets)."

As the Portuguese population grew in size, other priests were needed to help the parish of St. Mary' s. One of these, who deserves special mention and leaves behind him a memory of dedication and personal holiness, was Padre P. Candido Nogueira, who was quite young when he died.

About 1965, another Portuguese parish began to be formed. This became the Church of St. Patrick, and an American Redemptorist, who could speak and understand Portuguese, was appointed pastor. In 1968 the Rev. Antero de Melo replaced him, but two years later was transferred to serve the Portuguese community in the area of Dundas and Grace Streets. Their priest was a Brazilian, the Rev. Alexandre Neves, who had returned to Brazil. Neves had been serving the Portuguese in the Italian church of Santa Inês. However with the advent of Padre Melo the Church became predominantly Portuguese, and the Italian congregation moved to the church of St. Francisco which lies on the same street (Grace) a little further north.

The development of industry in Toronto during these ten years attracted many Portuguese immigrants to the city, and, after they had settled down, they sponsored their families. Many young men also came to Canada in order to avoid military service overseas in the African colonial war. At this time a visitor to Canada could get landed immigrant status on request, and many Portuguese found an asylum here.

A Portuguese newspaper already existed, the "Correio Português" (Portuguese Mail) which had been founded by Maria Alice Ribeiro and her husband, António Ribeiro, in July 1962. Now another appeared, "O Jornal Portugues," (The Portuguese Newspaper) founded by the Reverend P. Alberta Cunha, whose editor was Fernando Pedrosa. The first issue came out in March 1968. Two years later a third newspaper, "O Novo Mundo," (New World) made its appearance, launched by A. Pina Fernandes. But it had to give up at the end of 1973 for lack of community support. It wasn't only in the realm of journalism that the Portuguese community developed in the seventies. Several organizations came into existence at this time, such as the Clube da Madeira, the Club Recreativo da Nazaré, the Casa Benfica de Toronto, the Interpreter Service, the Centre of Culture and Education, and the Portuguese department at the West End YMCA .

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