The Portuguese in Toronto, 1953-2013:

60th Anniversary of Portuguese Immigration to Canada, 1953-2013
Researcher, Curator, Designer, Translator

Poster EN low res

May 13, 2013 marked the 60th anniversary of the arrival of the steamship Saturnia to Pier 21 Halifax, bringing aboard the first group of Portuguese labourers to arrive in Canada under the official labour migration agreement between the governments of Portugal and Canada. This initial movement would eventually lead to massive chain migration from many Portuguese towns, villages, and cities, which would create the various Portuguese communities across Canada.

To celebrate the date and the six decades of history that followed, the Consulate General of Portugal in Toronto, Dr. Júlio Vilela, invited the Portuguese Canadian History Project | Projeto de História Luso-Canadiana (PCHP) to organize a photo exhibit  with historical images that illustrated the experiences of Portuguese immigrants and their descendants in Toronto. The exhibit was to be displayed during the week of May 13-19, in the rotunda of Toronto’s City Hall, under the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival. To cover the expenses of curating such an event, we were provided with sufficient funds from the Consulate General of Portugal in Toronto, the Secretary of State of Portuguese Communities, and the Camões Institute. The staff of Portuguese-Canadian city councilor Ana Bailão also offered us significant logistic support with setting up at City Hall. In addition, we sought and received various kinds of support from the Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections (CTASC), York University; CIRV Radio & Festival Português TV; CHIN Radio; Post Milénio newspaper; and RoughCut Audiovisual Production.


In preparation for the exhibit, we launched an informational campaign  through the consulate’s channels, introducing the goals and activities of the PCHP to Toronto’s Portuguese community, and appealing to its various clubs and associations to partake in the organization of this event. The organizations Casa dos Açores do Ontário, Casa do Alentejo, CIRV Radio & Festival Português TV, Federation of Portuguese Canadian Business and Professionals, and photographers Gilberto Prioste e Sérgio Garcia, answered our call and allowed us to use their photos and artifacts in our exhibit. To these, we added photos selected from the archival collection built by the PCHP and the CTASC, along with images from the extinct Toronto Telegram. We also acquired the rights for a group of photos from the Archives of Ontario.

sample postcard low res

We designed 2 panels (retractable banners) with text and images, contextualizing the remaining 20 photos mounted on easels. We also printed 850 12-paged catalogs in English and Portuguese, with captions for each photo, and additional content, which the visitors could take for free. In addition, we offered over 1000 postcards with four different images included in the exhibit.

The exhibit was widely publicized in the local Portuguese language radio, TV, and press, which granted it a great deal of coverage, as well as the massively popular show Metro Morning with Matt Galloway on CBC Radio. The film company RoughCut Audiovisual Production also donated their time and expertise to producing an excellent promotional TV spot, which was broadcasted by Festival Português TV, and through social media.


The exhibit’s inauguration at Toronto’s City Hall, organized and hosted  by Consul Vilela, was a tremendous success. There were about 150 people in attendance, including various dignitaries, such as the Portuguese Secretary of State of Portuguese Communities, the Portuguese Ambassador in Ottawa, Canadian municipal, provincial, and federal politicians, the Ontario Minister of Finance, among reporters, scholars, and community members. The highest point of the event were the speeches of the small group of migrant “pioneers” from the 1950s. It is impossible to know exactly how many people saw our exhibit throughout the week it was at City Hall, but judging by the number of catalogs that were taken (and replenished daily), they were certainly in the hundreds.

Designed to be mobile, the exhibit has had a long shelf life as we continued to receive invitations to take it to other venues and events in Toronto, including: the Dundas West Fest, organized by the business associations of Dundas West and Little Portugal, on June 8, where thousands of people participated; the Archbishop Romero Catholic Secondary School, on June 13, upon invitation from the Portuguese-Canadian teacher Jennie Lopes and the students of her Portuguese language class; the Almada Negreiros Gallery at the Consulate General of Portugal in Toronto, on June 10 (Portugal’s national holiday), and during the months of July to September; and at the Casa dos Açores do Ontário, during its “cultural week” on November 3-8, 2013.

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