Canada is diverse and multicultural, where immigrants from different backgrounds and cultures contribute to its social and economic development. Among the various immigrant groups in Canada, the Portuguese have a long and rich history of presence and influence. However, in recent years, the Portuguese community in Canada has faced some challenges in maintaining its language and culture and attracting new immigrants from Portugal. This article will explore the new wave of Portuguese immigration to Canada and how it can benefit both the host country and the newcomers.
The History of Portuguese Immigration to Canada
The Portuguese have been in contact with Canada since the 15th century when explorers such as João Fernandes Lavrador and Gaspar Corte Real reached the eastern coast of Canada and gave names to places such as Labrador. For centuries, Portuguese fishermen also frequented the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, where they fished for cod. However, it was not until the 20th century that significant Portuguese immigrants settled in Canada.
The first official wave of Portuguese immigration to Canada began in 1953, when a bilateral agreement between Portugal and Canada was signed, allowing the arrival of about 200 Portuguese pioneers on board the ship Saturnia. Most of these immigrants came from the Azores and Madeira islands and were recruited to work in rural and isolated areas of Canada. However, they soon moved to larger cities such as Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, where they found more opportunities and established their communities.
Between 1953 and 1973, more than 100,000 Portuguese immigrants arrived in Canada, mainly from the Azores, which accounted for 70 percent of the total. They were primarily attracted by Canada’s economic prospects and political stability, as Portugal was under a dictatorship regime until 1974. The Portuguese immigrants worked hard in various sectors, such as construction, manufacturing, hospitality, and domestic services. They also brought their traditions, values, religion, and language, enriching the Canadian cultural mosaic.
The current situation of the Portuguese community in Canada
According to the 2016 census, there were 482,610 Canadians who reported being of Portuguese origin and 221,540 who reported having Portuguese as their mother tongue. Most of them live in Ontario (324,930), followed by Quebec (69,805) and British Columbia (41,765). They are primarily concentrated in urban centers such as Toronto and Montreal, where they have established their neighborhoods, businesses, churches, schools, and associations.
However, despite their achievements and contributions to Canada, the Portuguese community needs help to preserve its identity and vitality. One of the main challenges is the decline of the use of the Portuguese language among the second and third generations of Portuguese Canadians. According to José Carlos Teixeira, a professor of geography at the University of British Columbia, only about 53.7 percent (240,680) of the Portuguese in Canada declare Portuguese as their mother tongue. The rest do not speak Portuguese or use it very rarely. This is a result of integration or assimilation into mainstream Canadian society and intermarriage with other ethnic groups.
Another challenge is the low rate of new immigration from Portugal to Canada. Since the 1970s, the number of Portuguese immigrants arriving in Canada has decreased significantly due to improved economic and political conditions in Portugal, stricter immigration policies in Canada, and increased competition from other countries for skilled workers. In 2019, only 1,055 permanent residents from Portugal were admitted to Canada, compared to 54,199 in 1973.
The need for a new wave of Portuguese immigration to Canada
Given these challenges, some experts and community leaders argue that a new wave of Portuguese immigration to Canada is needed to revitalize its Portuguese community and culture. They believe that recent immigrants from Portugal can bring fresh energy, skills, and perspectives to Canada’s economy and society. They can also help maintain the Portuguese language and culture among the existing community members by providing role models, mentors, and peers for the younger generations.
Moreover, new immigrants from Portugal can benefit from coming to Canada as well. They can enjoy a high quality of life, a stable democracy, a diverse society, and a welcoming environment in Canada. They can also take advantage of the existing networks and resources established by the Portuguese community over the years. They can find support and guidance from fellow compatriots who have settled and succeeded in Canada.
The way forward
To facilitate a new wave of Portuguese immigration to Canada, some steps can be taken by both governments and communities. On the one hand, the Canadian government can adopt more flexible and favorable immigration policies for potential immigrants from Portugal, such as increasing quotas, streamlining processes, recognizing credentials, and offering language training and settlement services. On the other hand, the Portuguese government can promote and facilitate the mobility of its citizens to Canada by providing information, funding, visa assistance, and consular support. Additionally, the Portuguese community in Canada can actively attract and integrate new immigrants from Portugal, such as raising awareness, organizing events, offering mentorship, creating opportunities, and celebrating diversity.
Canada and Portugal have a long and fruitful history of friendship and cooperation. The Portuguese immigrants who came to Canada in the past have made significant contributions to the development and enrichment of their new homes. However, to sustain and revitalize the Portuguese community and culture in Canada, there is a need for a new wave of Portuguese immigration. This can benefit both Canada and Portugal and Portuguese Canadians’ current and future generations. Therefore, it is essential to foster and facilitate the migration flows between these two countries and to support and celebrate the Portuguese presence in Canada.