Wednesday, 15 February 2017





The series of digital stories about Toronto history and culture which make up this project are the work of fifty-three Master of Museum Studies (MMSt) graduate students. The project was inspired by the 2015 Myseum Intersections – Telling Toronto’s Stories and invited each storyteller to select an object from local collections which has significance to Toronto’s past and present. The objects inspired the authors to connect historical events with contemporary context so that they tell stories about the multiple intersections that happen in the city.

Musings will be posting collected stories once a cycle. We hope that, after reading the stories, you will know Toronto a little bit better. And perhaps you will find similar stories in your own objects!

Our partners for this project, to which we are extremely thankful, are:
Now, without further ado, object stories from Real Canadian Portuguese Historical Museum.


Guitarra Portuguesa belonging to Nuno Christo, RCPHM.
Photo by Anya Baker.
The Real Canadian Portuguese Historical Museum (RCPHM) displays three musical instruments used in different genres of traditional Portuguese music; one of these, the guitarra Portuguesa, along with instruments like the steel-stringed viola and the double bass is used in the popular genre of fado. Its owner, instrumentalist Nuno Cristo, plays fado in the Toronto Portuguese community. He was part of the local fado resurgence in the 2000s when new players entered the scene, at the height of musical exchanges between local Portuguese musicians and Canadian musicians outside of the Portuguese community, which reflects the long-standing musical exchange between local talent and visiting musicians from Portugal.

Fado started in the 19th century in Lisbon. With its simple harmonic progressions and sentimental lyrics, it was considered the music of the lower classes, sung in taverns. It was suppressed and then re-branded as music of national prominence during the Estado Novo (1932-1973), the five decades of authoritarian rule in Portugal under António de Olivieira Salazar and Marcelo Caetona. [1] Fado’s history is reflected in what Cristo calls its saudade: a kind of bittersweet, melancholy, but pleasurable feeling.

Mariano Rego was one of the first fado players in Toronto in the 1970s, when many Portuguese immigrants settled in the area. “Immigrants tend to retain the ‘old’ culture,” Cristo explains; Toronto fado performers tend to rely on traditional arrangements, in contrast to more innovative fado coming directly out of Portugal. Still, a musical dialogue exists: artists from Portugal have been visiting Toronto under the invitation of Portuguese clubs and organization since the 1970s. Local Toronto musicians open for the shows of these visiting musicians, and often a local singer will perform.

For younger fado performers born in Canada, fado is a way to explore Portuguese heritage, while also representing the Portuguese community within the wider Toronto music scene. Older fado performers who immigrated from Portugal seek to keep their community’s connection to their homeland alive. Cristo entered the Toronto scene in 1985 playing traditional Portuguese music. He started playing fado in Canada during the 2000s. He was part of Anima Fado, a group of musicians and singers new and old playing fado and incorporating Canadian musicians outside of the Portuguese community. The group eschewed traditional costumes and setups, and was booked in non-Portuguese venues such as music festivals, the Gladstone Hotel and Lula Lounge.

Despite challenges that forced many younger performers to quit the scene, including rivalries, competition for gigs, and changing public tastes, fado groups continue to play at venues like Lisbon By Night Restaurant and Chiado Restaurant. The innovation of the resurgence is not forgotten, but nostalgia for authentic fado maintains the community’s ties to Portugal, even as it forces Toronto fado to set itself apart from the Portuguese scene. Bringing fado to Toronto created a new Canadian Portuguese tradition--this is Toronto’s music.

1. Gray, Lila Ellen (2011). Fado’s city. Anthropology and Humanism, 36(2), 142.



Many Portuguese pescadores or fishermen sailed across the Atlantic in search of codfish during the mid- to late-1900s. After having undergone many voyages aboard different vessels, some decided to return to Portugal, but many decided to call Canada their new home. I was introduced to the story of one of these fishermen through the Real Canadian Portuguese Historical Museum, inspired by the museum’s many panels on the history of their arrival on the coast of Newfoundland. His name is José Peña and he started his journey at sea in 1951 at the young age of 15. Peña would spend many years exploring the waters and coast of Newfoundland before he would finally settle down in Toronto in the late 1960s with his family. So for some Portuguese, codfish carries a significant meaning. It is what brought them to Canada and to later seek a home in Toronto.
One of the panels on the history of codfish and the Portuguese in Newfoundland
displayed at the Real Canadian Portuguese Historical Museum.
Photo credit: Amanda Barbosa with permission of the Museum.
The journey experienced by José Peña has made me reflect on the ways that food often travels together with those who move to different countries. The Portuguese who migrated to Canadian cities, such as Toronto, brought recipes of codfish or bacalhau, as it is called in Portuguese, along with them. Bacalhau is one of the most important ingredients in the Portuguese cuisine. In fact, it is said that there are over 300 different ways of cooking the fish! I want to share this story of how the Portuguese-Canadian community has continued to practice their food customs and how, as a result, they have transformed the “food-scape” in Toronto.

One of the areas where the Portuguese first began settling into was Kensington in the 1950s and 1960s. [1] There, they found themselves sharing the neighbourhood with many other immigrant communities, such as Italians, Jews, Hungarians and Ukrainians. [2] In the late 1960s and early 1970s, many Portuguese, including José Peña, would start moving into the area known today as “Little Portugal” or “Portugal Village,” located west of downtown Toronto. [3] Here, the Portuguese began to open restaurants, bakeries and grocery stores, along with other businesses. Codfish - boiled, fried and baked - was one of the most common food found on their menus.

In Kensington, these food businesses influenced the area so much that it went from being “known as a ‘Jewish market’” to being called a “Portuguese market.” [4] Augusta Avenue, where many of these stores and restaurants were and still are located, even became “known as the street of Portuguese!” [5] Although this shift occurred, to this day, Kensington Market remains an area where different immigrant groups have come together to share the tastes from their homelands. Even in Little Portugal many other eateries can be found, such as Italian, Asian, and of course, Portuguese. If there’s one thing I have learned, it is that food is one of the ways different immigrant groups have been able to connect in the city.

Teixeira and Murdie, 2009, p. 192.
Teixeira and Murdie, 2009, p. 192.
Teixeira and Murdie, 2009, p. 195.
Teixeira and Murdie, 2009, p. 192.
Teixeira and Murdie, 2009, p. 192.

Works Consulted 
Andrieux, J-P. (2009). Portuguese Fishermen in Newfoundland. In C. Teixeira and V. M.P. Da Rosa (Eds.), The Portuguese in Canada: Diasporic Challenges and Adjustment (pp. 61-77). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Baptista, L. D. B. (2009). Peixe, Patria e Possibilidades Portuguesas: “Fish, Homeland, and Portuguese Possibilities.” Text and Performance Quarterly 29 (1), 60-76. 

Belas, Antonio. Personal Communication. November 6, 2015.

Padolsku, E. (2005). You are Where you Eat: Ethnicity, Food and Cross-cultural Spaces. Canadian Ethnic Studies 37(2), 19-31.

Peña, José. Personal Communication. November 4, 2015.

Teixeira, C., and Murdie, R. A. (2009). On the Move: The Portuguese in Toronto. In C. Teixeira and V. M.P. Da Rosa (Eds.), The Portuguese in Canada: Diasporic Challenges and Adjustment (pp. 191-209). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.



Antonio Amorim’s scale, in the Real Canadian Portuguese Historical Museum.
Photo by Jane Campbell.
The most humble object can tell a fascinating story. Even a scale! Antonio Amorim’s scale may not draw too much attention, but the story it tells is one that reflects a strong community and a compelling Toronto narrative. Amorim, the scale’s owner, immigrated to Toronto in 1955. According to his daughter Suzy Soares, president of the Real Canadian Portuguese Historical Museum (RCPHM), life in Portugal was difficult after the Second World War, with paying jobs few and far between. Soares recounts that her father had initially worked at St Michael’s College in maintenance, until 1960. Her mother was still living in Portugal at this time, working as a teacher. When Mrs Amorim joined Antonio in Toronto, they decided to rent 5 acres of land and cultivate potatoes, carrots and onions. The farm’s crops were taken to the city to be sold in Kensington Market, which was at the time a prominent Portuguese neighborhood1. The scale, now on display at the museum, managed by his daughter, was purchased by Amorim to weigh the farmed goods for customers in the city, and, while humble in its appearance, was important to Amorim’s life story. 

Kensington Market produce trucks, circa 1963.
Via the City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5612.
In its current home, Amorim’s scale holds its own amidst the rest of the museum’s treasures – antique flags, countless oil paintings, musical instruments – because its story livens up its unassuming appearance. The scale testifies to Amorim’s story of making a life for himself and his family in Toronto through hard work. Amorim’s scale also speaks to the important intersection between the Portuguese community and commerce in the city. The entrepreneurial vigor of Toronto’s Portuguese community is visible in the sheer number of Portuguese owned businesses and operations in Toronto, which number over one hundred 2. The Portuguese business history in Toronto is written into the very walls of the RCPHM as the museum and archive is housed in the headquarters of Portuguese-run Ferma Foods. Businesses like these rely on the community’s support, much like the museum does. The museum has ties to agriculture as well – in the early years of the institution, the collection was held in the working space of agricultural equipment manufacturer Massey Ferguson 3. Amorim’s scale fits in the intersection of these aspects of the community’s presence in the city.

Suzy Soares donated her father’s scale to the museum in order to tell his story. The pride he felt for his business and his entrepreneurial roots in Toronto are embedded in the object. The scale reminds us as well to take a closer look at those objects in our own families that may not call attention to themselves. If you look around at the everyday items from your own home, you may just find a portal to a personal and collective history.

Works Cited

Costa, Daniela. 2012. “From Minho to Macau: The Portuguese Canadian Historical Museum.” Heritage Toronto, December 7 2012. Accessed October 19, 2015.

Federation of Portuguese Canadian Business Professionals. N.d. “Business Directory.” Federation of Portuguese Canadian Business Professionals. Accessed October 19, 2015.

Kensington Market Historical Society. N.d. “Kensington Market in the 1950s-1960s.” Kensington Market Historical Society. Accessed October 30, 2015.



Group postcard of Saturnia’s Portuguese immigrants, from the Real Canadian Portuguese Historical Museum, Received via e-mail from Suzy Soares
On May 13, 1953, at the Halifax harbor, the first eighty-five Portuguese immigrants to modern Canada arrived on board the Italian liner Saturnia. [1] Brought over by Canada’s post-war demand for workers on railways and farmlands, this was an opportunity for them to leave behind their country’s political authoritarianism and economic underdevelopment. [2] Coming to a nation the knew close to nothing about, and leaving Portugal all alone without money, what life will be like was unknown.

One of the men in the postcard photo is named Antonio Sousa, who witnessed his fellow passenger’s homesickness as they wept, unsure when they will meet their family again. [3] At the arrival to Canada, they lacked their Portuguese communities, stable employment, and social integration programs, making their early life in Canada distinctly challenging. [4]

After parting with the passengers in Halifax, Antonio stayed in Toronto briefly before going to Sarnia. Failing to be employed in Ontario, he found work as a cook and a shopkeeper in distant Labrador. [5]

In 1954, after securing sufficient income in Labrador, Antonio felt confident about returning to Toronto, settling in Kensington Market. What surprised him was that the number of the Portuguese residents in the neighborhood has grown since he left for Labrador nine months prior. There were no more than ten Portuguese families when he left, but now there were dozens more, with new residents moving in every month. With his savings, he opened a restaurant at the intersection of Nassau and Bellevue Streets, a gathering place for the growing numbers of Portuguese. [6]
Portuguese immigration increased tremendously in the next two decades. At least 7000 arrived annually between 1965 and 1975, with Montreal and Toronto as primary destinations. [7] This demographic change expanded the Kensington Market’s Portuguese neighborhood westward towards Landsdowne. By the end of the 70’s, this new community became known as Little Portugal. [8] Antonio must have marveled at the dramatic changes in the city’s Portuguese presence since the first eighty-five arrival aboard Saturnia.

Antonio’s son, Charles Sousa, was born in Kensington Market in 1958. Today, he is the MPP of Mississauga South and the provincial Minister of Finance, a significant feat for the Portuguese Canadian community in Canada. [9] Antonio’s interesting life stories represented the nature of the intersection between Portuguese Canadians and Toronto, where an immigration community expanded and become a significant part of the city’s social fabric. This postcard is a reminder of how different the Portuguese community was upon its arrival. It marked a time before the existence of Little Portugal and the birth of one passenger’s son named Charles Sousa. 

To discover more of Saturnia’s arrivals and their life stories, visit this website. How can these immigrant experiences be a mirror to today’s migrant experiences?

1. Marques and Medeiros, 26.
2. Libertucci, 6-8.
3. Marques and Medeiros, 54-55.
4. Libertucci, 16-17.
5. Marques and Medeiros, 64-65.
6. Ibid, 136-137.
7. Ibid, 32.
8. Libertucci, 19.
9. Morrow.

Works CitedCandido, F. (2010). The Saturnia Ship Portuguese immigrants. Retrieved October 22, 2015 from

Libertucci, A. (2011). Schooling in Little Portugal: The Portuguese experience (Dissertation). Retrieved from University of Toronto Libraries. (Catalogue key 8309127)

Marques, D., & Medeiros, J. (1980). Portuguese immigrants: 25 years in Canada. Toronto: West End YMCA.

Morrow, A. (2013, April 27). Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa calm, collected. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from



The Pedro da Silva Commemorative Stamp on Display
at the Real Canadian Portuguese Historical Museum
photographed by Orvis Starkweather
With Canada Post slowly phasing out door-to-door delivery, perhaps it’s a good time to look back on its history. Pedro da Silva was the first European formally appointed as a mail carrier in New France. While some of the details of his life, such as his birth year - either 1647 or 1651, we know that he was living in Canada by 1673. Da Silva married Marie Jeanne Greslon and the two settled in Beauport, now a suburb of Quebec City. He and Greslon had fourteen children, and one of his sons, Nicolas da Silva, became a stonemason, working on many prominent houses. Known simply as “the Portuguese”, in reference to his country of birth, da Silva was granted official permission to carry the King’s letters in 1705. Pedro distinguished himself from other couriers because he delivered the post in all seasons, unlike many of his competitors who only worked when the weather was favourable.

At the Real Canadian Portuguese Historical Museum (RCPHM) in Etobicoke, Pedro da Silva is remembered through a stamp. Designed by Clermont Malefant, the stamp combines a painting of Quebec City, with the King’s coat of arms, and a reproduction of the letter with his official designation. Released in 2003, the stamp marks fifty years since Canada endorsed accepting Portuguese immigrants. While Portuguese people have been visiting the shores of Newfoundland since the 16th century to fish for Cod, a change in Canada’s official policy in the 1950s made it easier for Portuguese to immigrate, many of whom helped establish the thriving community in Toronto. According to Sylvie Soares, director of RCPHM, starting in 1950s, several stereotypes were circulating in Toronto about Portuguese, one of the most popular being that all Portuguese-Canadians worked in construction. Many children of Portuguese descent living in Toronto grew up with this stereotype. By celebrating a different profession, postal carrier, the stamp challenges some misconceptions about Portuguese and their professional paths.

Twelve years after the release of the stamp, the object now resides at the Museum. The stamp, which originally was intended to be used and discarded, gives us important clues about the life of early Canadian-Portuguese immigrants, and could be the start of a great oral history project where Portuguese people are asked to remember how images of their heritage depicted in popular media altered their sense of identity. 

If you’re searching for more information on the stamp, check out Bill Moniz’s documentary on da Silva’s life. Then again, there is nothing quite like a trip to the Real Canadian Portuguese Historical Museum to see the stamp and hear more about it from the expert, Suzy Soares.

Canada Post. (2015, June 6). Pedro da Silva. Retrieved November 25, 2015, from

Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. (2015). The Portuguese in Canada. Retrieved November 25, 2015, from

City of Toronto. (2015). Diversity - Toronto Facts. Retrieved November 24, 2015, from

Lord, Gail Dexter and Ngaire Blankenberg. 2015. Introduction: Why Cities, Museums and Soft Power. In Cities, Museums and Soft Power G Lord and N Blankenberg (eds), pp. 5-28. Washington: AAM Press.

Vaillancourt, M. (n.d.). Pedro Da Sylva « Nos ancêtres de la Nouvelle-France. Retrieved from

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