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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Portuguese Profile provided courtesy of the 1984 Alberta People Kit

  Portuguese explorers first landed on Canada's Atlantic coast in the 16th century and Portuguese fishermen, enticed by abundant fish stocks, have fished off the coast of Newfoundland for over 400 years. Many Canadian place names, such as the Bay of Fundy (Rio Fundo) and Labrador (Lavrador) are Portuguese in origin and are reminders of early Portuguese visitors. The biannual journey of Portuguese fishing fleets to the banks off Newfoundland played a critical role in Portuguese-Canadian relations until the 1950s. Only a handful of settlers of Portuguese heritage settled in New France and early Canada. Until the end of World War II, and the signing of labour contracts by the Canadian and Portuguese government, only 500 Portuguese made the journey. In the decades to follow, Canada became a viable destination for Portuguese immigrants. 

Of the 20,000 Portuguese immigrants who arrived in Canada in the 1950s, most came from Azores; a string of islands situated approximately 1,300 kilometres off the coast of Portugal. Family sponsorship, active recruitment by the Canadian government to address a shortage of agricultural labour and group migration, drew another 140,000 immigrants. The 2001 census estimates that 357,690 people of Portuguese decent now reside in Canada. Interestingly, in the 1970s and 1980s, a large proportion of the Portuguese immigrants arriving in Canada were ex-residents of Angola and Mozambique. In addition to farming, many of the new arrivals found work as contract labourers on the Northern Railways. 

Many of the Portuguese immigrants who came to work on farms soon began to gravitate towards the cities, where on the job training for skilled trades was available. Those living in western Canada tended to move to Ontario and Quebec, where job opportunities were more lucrative and it was less expensive to bring over family members from Portugal. Employment in the cities was frequently found through family and social connections. Construction, railway and industrial trades were the predominate source of employment in the Portuguese community throughout the 1960s and 1970s. 

Reflecting a general Canadian trend, the first Portuguese-Canadians (also called Luso-Canadians) to arrive in Alberta came from the Azores in the 1950s to work on the railway. By the 1970s, there were 3,500 Portuguese in Edmonton and more than 1,500 in Calgary. Today, the Portuguese-Albertan population is estimated at approximately 14,000. Most of this population, almost 90 percent, are Catholic and celebrate the numerous religious holidays and festivities of the Catholic faith.

The Portuguese community in Alberta has gone to great lengths to preserve its heritage. Cultural and social needs are met through the efforts of various institutions and organizations, including the Rio Lima Portuguese Canadian Cultural Society of Edmonton and the Luso Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. In Calgary, the Portuguese community is centred on two organizations—Our Lady of Fátima Portuguese Church and The Portuguese Society of Calgary (Club). There is also traditional marching band, the Filármonica Portuguêsa de Calgary, a Portuguese School and a traditional dancing troupe called the Portuguese Folk Group of Calgary. Larger Canadian organizations such as the Federation of Portuguese-Canadian Business and Professionals and Adiaspora.com also provide resources and services of value to Portuguese-Albertans. In 1993, the Portuguese-National Congress was created to represent all Canadians of Portuguese heritage, acting as a consultative body assisting in the development and maintenance of Portuguese culture.

The first Portuguese-language newspaper in Canada, O Luso-Canadiano (The Portuguese Canadian) began publication in Montréal in 1958. Its objective was to unify Canadians by writing about Portuguese immigrants living in all regions of the country. Today, A Voz De Portugal (The Voice of Portugal) continues to provide news for the Portuguese community and the Portuguese Sun prints weekly in Toronto. On the local level, roughly 50 different Portuguese publications throughout the country keep Canada's Portuguese community informed about ethnic and cultural life abroad and at home.

Although they did not arrive in significant numbers until the 1950s, through a wide range of endeavours Portuguese Canadians have demonstrated their value to Canadian culture. Their presence has added vibrant texture to the fabric of Canadian life.

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