Leamington – Reconstructing identities in the Portuguese communities in southern Ontario

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In the book, entitled, “Transitional Identities and Practices in Canada”, in 1998, Sally Cole describes three groups of Portuguese in southern Ontario, Wheatley, Kingsville and Leamington. The groups are Nazarenos, from the city of Nazareth in mainland Portugal, Transmontanos from the northern part of Portugal, from Ilhavo, a sister city with St. John’s New Foundland, which resulted from a series of expeditions to St. John’s by Portuguese from the Azores as early as the 16th century, and Portuguese ships from the mainland and the Azores islands crossed the Atlantic annually to fish the waters off the Avalon Peninsula.

It appears the groups have positioned themselves differently with links to Portugal. Azoreans are most likely to commit and adjust to Canada and built families and futures here. They also intermarried with other groups including Italians or Anglo-Canadians. Where the people from mainland Portugal built retirement homes in Portugal with the intention of living part of their lives in Canada and other part in Portugal. Historically the Portuguese from the Azores would identify their homeland as neglected, impoverished, and social roles were restrictive for women. According to statistics, 70% of the Portuguese found in Toronto, where the largest population of Portuguese reside in Canada come from the Azores. Since, the Portuguese immigrants in Germany and France are mostly from mainland Portugal, they try to balance their lives in both countries with a future return to their homeland.

May 13, and June 2nd, 1953 were timelines which Immigration Canada opened the doors to large-scale legal immigration. Some of these men arrived at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, either aboard the Saturnia Vulcania; or Nea Hellas. Prior to the men who boarded these ships from mainland Portugal, Azores and Madeira, were accepted, they underwent rigorous medical tests by both Portuguese and Canadian inspectors. Some were contracted to work on Canadian farms, railroads and isolated mining towns, where they had a hard time adjusting. Some who were already from the farming and fishing communities in their respective countries moved to the farming and fishing communities in southwestern Ontario, where they remain.

Luso-canadians, make up the Canadian mosaic by enriching the arts, sports, politics, business, science, cuisine, healthcare, fisheries and many more. Like many other ethnicity, luso-canadians have fused nicely with the Canadian culture.

I have many relatives from my maternal side of the family residing in southern Ontario from Ilhavo (mainland Portugal). They worked very hard to build their wealth in Canada and built their retirement homes in the mainland. The second-generation intermarried, with Italian, Lebanese, Australian, and Canadian. I have fond memory as a child of the numerous trips which I took with my grandparents to visit my relatives in Wheatley and Leamington. During the summer we had extended vacations at family ranches or homes. I also have a precious memory of our family reunions, with our family from New Jersey, California, Portugal and Brazil. As a child I was fascinated by a gigantic Tomato set on top of a tower, which is a famous landmark in Leamington, welcoming us to Tomato Capital. I also derive a lot of joy fishing on my family’s fishing vessels. My cousin Julia cooked the smelts to perfection. As an adult, that tomato tower served as my JPS. Most admirable though is that despite the differences that exist between the 4 groups of Portuguese residing in southern Ontario, and especially in Leamington, these craftsmen came together to unify the Portuguese presence in Southern Ontario by building one community club, “Leamington Portuguese Community Club”. This was built from a labour of love, which is evident in the fine craftsmanship in the building’s construction, the marble flooring, lighting, and wood carvings. I have lived in major cities across Canada, including Toronto, which has the largest population of Portuguese immigrants, but I have never seen experienced a sense of community and unity as I have experienced in Leamington. This is a multipurpose venue built-in 1984. The hospitality received is the same level and quality as in the Mediterranean or the Iberian Peninsula, a joy of life, “joie de vivre”, like the French would call it.

In a world that is separated by differences, where misunderstandings and miscommunications quickly transform into war, Leamington’s Portuguese Community has gone the complete opposite. Families, labourers’ and craftsmen united from different parts of Portugal to create a venue to leave the legacy of their hard work, commitment, dedication, and patriotism. It will also preserve their culture, customs and heritage for our future generations of Portuguese and extends the invitation to the diverse ethnic groups that makes up the Canadian Mosaic to experience Portugal in Southern Ontario.

Leamington Portuguese Community Club’s motto is, “Proud of our heritage…. proud of our culture…proud of our Club”.

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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