History of Portuguese association in Thunder Bay

Incorporated: June 13, 1978

First meeting of Officers: July 15, 1978 at the Lakehead Motel, 421 N. Cumberland St.

Inaugural board of Directors:

President – Jose Martin Frade

Secretary – Maria Olivia da Silva

Treasurer – Jaime Rodrigues

Directors – Henrique Da Rosa, Fernando Gil, Albino Guerreiro, Joao Neves, and Antonio Tavares

For more than 70 years people of Portuguese descent have been a presence in Northwestern Ontario and for more than 45 years the Portuguese Association of Thunder Bay has been building a bridge between these newcomers and the place they have chosen to lay down roots and call home.

The first documented Portuguese to settle in the Lakehead dates to 1949. In the intervening years, small numbers arrived from mainland Portugal and primarily the mid-Atlantic islands of the Azores, drawn by the opportunity to work in the forests, in construction and on the railway. Over the decades this steady stream of immigrants reached the point that a vibrant Lusitanian element was added to the city’s cultural mosaic next to expats that included Italians, Finns, Poles, Ukrainians, Spaniards and other distinct cultures.

By the 1970s there were several hundred first- and second-generation Portuguese families dotted across the city but they were nevertheless coming together to socialize and strengthen their bonds with each other and maintain ties with their homeland and heritage.

The next natural step was to solidify a Portuguese identity in the community. On June 13, 1978, the provincial Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations issued a letters patent, formally establishing the Portuguese Association of Thunder Bay.

Its purpose was multi-fold: to strengthen the ethnic bonds with Heritage language classes, dances, picnics, and soccer tournaments as well as to celebrate religious feasts and holy days.

The meeting of the first directors of the board – and the first dues-paying members of the Portuguese Association of Thunder Bay, in the token amount of $1 – occurred July 15, 1978, where plans were discussed for a sumptuous outdoor picnic at Boulevard Lake. Having reached the minimum quota of 50 people signed up as members, it was also decided to charge for membership. The rate was $5 per month or $50 per year.

Along with organizing a variety of events (such as bringing flowers to members who were in hospital or for a death in the family), the executive also considered the issue of finding a permanent location for the Portuguese to gather regularly at a place they could call home. Many ideas were mooted, such as building a community centre with a bar and restaurant. Eventually, having looked at different options, in 1992 a building was purchased near the city limits at 5480 Mapleward Road.

Over time, a portion of the 10 acres was cleared to set-up a soccer field and in 2011 an ambitious half-million-dollar renovation was undertaken to expand the building, enlarge the kitchen and make the site accessible for people with disabilities. Today, this modern facility can seat up to 220 guests and caters to both the Portuguese and non-Portuguese communities, hosting events such as weddings, retirement parties and other social occasions.

Along with sit-down meals at the volunteer-run hall, the profile of the Portuguese is highlighted by their participation in two high-profile community-wide events:

The annual Thunder Bay Folklore Festival, where a food booth is set up offering both Portuguese-inspired cuisine and beverages. Youth and adult dancers perform on the main stage in traditional costumes.

The cultural-religious festival known as “Festas Do Divino Espirito Santo” (Celebration of the Holy Spirit) typically occurs in June and features a mass at St. Anthony’s Church and a procession down Hilldale Road, culminating in a variety of events at the hall on Mapleward Road.

And while the faces that serve on the executive and through the general assembly have changed over the years, the principles that guided the formation of the Portuguese Association of Thunder Bay in 1978 still ring true today.