Portuguese pioneers in Canada

Based on their 2018 survey, The Institute of Business Ethics, whose mandate is to promote high standards of business behaviour based on ethical values revealed that Portuguese are the most ethical in Europe.

As early as the fifteenth century, Portugal was the first European kingdom-state to engage in significant overseas exploration. They explored and claimed Cape Verde off the coast of Africa and the Madeiras in the Atlantic. Portugal is one of the oldest countries in Europe with unchangeable boarders since 1297 and longest running empires from that stretches from China to Brazil. The Treaty of Windsor, in 1386 ratified the alliance between England and Portugal.

Portuguese navigating and exploration dates back to the late 1300’s with Prince Henry who financially supported many voyages and became a leader in the Age of Exploration. Those that also shared his passion and followed in his footsteps were Bartolomeu Dias (1450-1500), Vasco da Gama (1460–1524), Pedro Álvares Cabral (1467–1520), Ferdinand Magellan (1480–1521) and Francis Xavier (1506 –1552). He was the first European to cross the Pacific Ocean and en route discovered what is now known as the Strait of Magellan.

In giving continuity to their reputation for excellence, Portugal maintains their traditional image by their amazing innovations and inventions, for example the Green Lane toll pay system and the pre-paid mobile phone card. The most advanced ATM system in the world is Multibanco in Portugal.

Since 1297, Portugal is one of the oldest countries in Europe with unchangeable boarders and longest running empires that stretches from China to Brazil. In 1386, The Treaty of Windsor, ratified the alliance between England and Portugal.

What do Joey Silvey, from Vancouver, British Columbia, Pedro da Silva, from Quebec City and David Tavares from Toronto, Ontario have in common? They are Portuguese Pioneers who came to Canada to build a better future, change history and leave a legacy for all future generations.

Pedro (Pierre) da Silva (1647-1717) was born in Lisbon. He holds the distinction of being Canada’s first official postman. In 2003, he was honoured with a stamp in his name, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Portuguese immigration to Canada. A commemorative plaque that adorns an old post office building on St. Jacques Street in Montréal, Québec, reads “From 1693 couriers, the first known of whom Pierre DaSilva was, called the Portuguese, carried the mail between Quebec and Montreal. In 1763, Benjamin Franklin, then Deputy Postmaster General in North America, established the first organized postal service in Canada. A.D. 1938.”

The author Eduardo Galeano describes Pierre’s work in his book Face and Masks, calling him “The Man Who Didn’t Believe in Winter”: “The Portuguese Pedro da Silva spends the winter carrying mail in a dog sled over the ice of the Saint Lawrence River. In summer he travels by canoe, and sometimes, due to the winds, it takes a whole month coming and going between Quebec and Montreal. Pedro carries decrees from the governor, reports by monks and officials, offers by fur traders, promises from friends, secrets of lovers. Canada’s first postman has worked for a quarter of a century without asking winter’s permission”.   

On May 16th, 1677, Pedro (Pierre) da Silva married Jeanne Greslon in Quebec and between 1681 and 1706, they had14 children – 7 girls and 7 boys.

Portuguese have been fishing from the Grand Banks since the 15th century.

As a result of the Portuguese intensive exploration of the Maritimes during the 15th and 16th hundreds, there have been assertions and acclaims by historians that the name Canada is derived from the Portuguese word for a narrow trail, (Canada). That would be no surprise if they visited Canada before Cartier in the 1400’s.

I remember my great uncle, John Baptista, whose father (my great great grandfather) who was the pioneer of the Baptista family in North America, immigrated in the late 1800’s. They started building their wealth in northern California, in the gold mines, farming, whaling and later building successful businesses. My uncle great uncle John who had a great sense of humour would jokingly say to me, “You know, my niece, I am convinced that the Portuguese were the first on the moon, but forgot to erect the flag”. And we just chuckled.

Portuguese Joe Silvey and his first wife Khaltinaht

However, as Professor Jean Barman’s book, “The Remarkable Adventures of Portuguese Joe Silvey”, (Harbour Publishing, 2004), shows, there was a small community of Portuguese pioneers in British Columbia before Confederation. This group of virtually unknown early pioneers were mostly former whalers who deserted the ships of the Pacific whaling fleet for the California gold rush of 1849 and the British Columbia gold rush of 1858. They generally married Aboriginal women. They left small footprints but big shoes in the history of British Columbia.

Born on Pico Island, of Portugal’s Azores Islands, sometime between 1830 and 1840, Joseph Silvey began whaling when he was just 12 years old. In 1860, when Silvey came to the BC coast on a whaling schooner, he decided to jump ship to try his hand at goldmining, and then owned a successful bar in Gastown named, “A Hole in the Wall”. Silvey was the Renaissance man of his generation, he was first man to have a seine license in BC. He was the first naturalized Luso-Canadian (1867).

Although Portuguese Joe and his family prospered – he had 11 children with two wives and his descendants of more than 500 still populate the BC coast – they also had their share of grief. Joe’s first wife Khaltinaht died after a few short years of marriage; his eldest child Elizabeth was later kidnapped and forced to marry against her will; and his sixth child John was murdered in a rowboat while on his way to buy clams.

The legacy of Portuguese continues into the 20th century with David Nicodemio Tavares, Founder & CEO, GlobeStar Systems Inc., born on 23 January 1947, in Feteiras, Sao Miguel (Açores). He is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of GlobeStar Systems Inc.

Like the history of his precedents’, David’s story is the most fascinating, but there is a divinity component to it. According to the tribute paid to him, in the book authored by the former Portuguese Member of Parliament, the Honourable Mario Silva and Michael Giles, foreword by Charles Pachter, O.C., entitled, “Fabric of a Nation, stories of Journey to Canada”, one is left with the impression that because of his parents’ faith in God, David was able to overcome what others thought impossible.

Mr. Tavares immigrated to Toronto, Ontario, Canada with his parents, in 1966. He graduated from the Electrical and Mechanical Engineering program at the Escola Industrial e Comercial de Ponta Delgada, whilst acquiring practical experience as an Intern at EDA and working for Portugal Telecom. He later completed the Executive Sales and Marketing Leadership program at Western University.

Like all newcomers, the language was a barrier for Mr. Tavares. He enrolled in an English-speaking course at George Brown College. His goal was to secure employment in telecommunications. In 1966, he was employed by Bell Canada which was a steppingstone that catapulted him to the successful businessman that he is today. The first English word David learned on the plane travelling to Canada, little did he know that he would later establish the Canada Pure Water Company.

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This article was developed with the support of the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada, under the Local Journalism Initiative (LJI) program, strengthening the voice of small Portuguese-speaking communities in remote areas of Canada. Creative Common Attribution: CC by BrazilianWave.org


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