One of the earliest European settlers in B.C. traces his roots back to Portugal. His name was José Silva, a.k.a. Joe Silvey. He was also called Portuguese Joe. Not long after building a house and being Stanley Park’s first resident, Silvey became the first Portuguese in Canada to receive Canadian citizenship in 1867. Now there are about 500 of Silvey’s descendants in B.C. and a Portuguese population that continues to make its presence felt in the community.
Vancouver’s Portuguese population is small compared to other ethnic communities. Still, this tight-knit community continues to care for each other and promote Portuguese heritage through community groups and events.
Portuguese Canadian Seniors Foundation
This staunch group of 1500 members was founded in 1988, and is dedicated to serving senior citizens in the Portuguese community. The seniors typically come for lunch every Friday. Afterwards, they spend the day relaxing and socializing with a game of cards or bingo. The main goal though, is to eventually build a seniors’ housing project.
On June 10, Portugal’s national holiday, the foundation will open its doors to everybody for a barbeque, games and bingo. “We don’t restrict to anybody. Everybody’s welcome,” says José Santos, president of the Portuguese Canadian Seniors Foundation.
Santos says that this holiday is important because it’s Portugal Day – a day that the community traditionally celebrates. He says that he feels proud to be able to remember Portuguese heritage at this time.
However, Santos also expresses some regret that the younger generation doesn’t celebrate this holiday as much. “My sons, my grandsons, they don’t recognize [it] anymore. They don’t celebrate that too much because they’re born here,” he says. Santos suggests that the younger ones don’t participate as much due to the ageing Portuguese population in the Lower Mainland.
But, every year, Santos always looks forward to meeting lots of people on this day.
Rancho Folclorico Cruz de Cristo
The Rancho Folclorico aims to promote Portuguese culture through music and dance. The dances they perform are from different regions in Portugal. Isabel Da Silva, one of the group’s directors, explains that the costumes they wear represent two areas in Portugal: the Minho district of Northern Portugal and the fishing village of Nazare in Central Portugal. They will be part of the Burnaby Hats Off Day Parade on June 2.
Grupo Folclorico Chamarrita do Pico
The Folkloric Group of Chamarrita do Pico is a performance troupe that promotes the culture, folklore, music and dance of the island of Pico in the Azores Islands in Portugal.
Victor Marques, vice president of the Grupo Folclorico, says that the dance they typically perform, which originated from Pico, is one that’s rehearsed but not memorized. He likens it to square dancing, where there is a caller who calls out the dance moves to the dancers who follow along, and it is hoped, don’t make any mistakes.
Marques believes bringing Portuguese cultural events to the Lower Mainland is significant because his community is relatively small and the events are a way to bring them together, and also to bring Portuguese culture to the forefront amongst B.C.’s other ethnic communities.
“I still live, I still think, I still function in Portuguese…it is important to me personally because it means that we are still here and that we are still recognized,” Marques says.
The troupe will be performing at the Canadian Seniors Foundation and at the Our Lady of Fatima Church on June 10.