Portugal’s era of seafaring exploration is tied to Canada’s history. Portuguese ships were in the waters near Newfoundland by the 1450s. In 1498, João Fernandes o Lavrador reached the coast of North America, with many expeditions following.
A major influx of Portuguese people to Canada occurred in the 1950s and 1960s. Many were from the Azores, a group of volcanic islands about 1500 km off the European coast. They are tropical outposts in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, with rich soils and mild weather. Before the rise of the services economy and tourism, agriculture and fishing were the main economic drivers.
Ottawa’s official sponsorship of Portuguese immigration began in 1953. Canadian government officials on the islands actively recruited and assessed Azoreans to fill labour shortages on farms and the railways. With their skills in the trades and agriculture, Alberta was a natural destination for many, including my grandparents. Whereas immigration to Canada had previously taken place by boat, many from the Azores used a newer technology: the airplane.
For 17 years, my grandmother, and mother for a summer, worked at Pinecrest (later under the Lilydale brand) poultry plant in Ramsay. It opened in 1943 with community permission when the neighbourhood (formerly called Grandview) was a mix of residential and industrial activity, particularly since it was also a stockyard for the railway. The City acquired the land in 2022 and the plant will be demolished to make way for Green Line LRT construction and new developments. A modern and efficient poultry plant now operates in Dufferin North Industrial Park.
Two organizations in Calgary celebrate Portuguese heritage. Our Lady of Fatima Church began in 1970, with Father Raymond Vozza of Holy Trinity Parish offering monthly Mass for Calgary’s Portuguese Catholics. Other services were held at host churches until Fatima Church was constructed in 1996.
At the Portuguese Society of Calgary, my grandfather played the tuba in the Filármonica Portuguêsa de Calgary, and dances are performed by the Portuguese Folk Group, established in 1983. Whether through culture or work, Portuguese people continue to add to Calgary’s vibrancy and prosperity.
– Anthony Imbrogno is a volunteer with The Calgary Heritage Initiative Society/Heritage Inspires YYC
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