City street names have many stories to tell and on Saturday, November 9, 2019 at 3:30 in the afternoon, the unveiling of Antonio Lopes Lane keeps alive the tale of our Little Portugal neighbourhood where Antonio Lopes made a home for his young growing family and built community. Antonio Lopes Lane runs parallel to Gladstone and Northcote Avenues, south of Cross Street and north of Argyle Street.
Through the Toronto City Council Adopted Street Naming Policy, a community gathered and mobilized to pay tribute to a pioneer Little Portugal resident, a proud Portuguese Canadian. The family is grateful to Ward 9 Davenport City Councillor and Deputy Mayor, Ana Bailão, and her office for the work put into this happy occasion. She presented each of the late resident’s grandchildren with commemorative street signs and shared, “we can only know where we’re going if we know where we’ve been”. Recently re-elected Julie Dzerowicz, MP for Davenport and Frank D’Amico, Ward 6 Trustee TDCSB, were present as well.
Neighbours, friends and family were on hand to tell us more about senhor Lopes, including his six year old granddaughter. His godson, Paul Teixeira, boastfully expressed how his godfather was “still leaving his mark on this community from above”. It is fitting that the ceremony started and ended in his family’s garage. The same garage was always kept open by this friendly neighbour, who was always ready to talk and help his neighbours. A long-time resident shared how he regularly gave neighbours vegetables from his urban garden and lent them whatever tools he kept in his extensive tool box.
Antonio Lopes Lane will serve as a walk down memory lane for the family and for long time and newer neighbours. His daughter, Cindy Lopes, shared that the public space was where many of the neighbourhood children learned how to ride their bikes and played. It brings her family joy to see the current neighbourhood children do the same. It is evident to see how this laneway kept and continues to keep Antonio Lopes’ family so connected as his siblings made their way to the celebration from their homes accessing the late patriarch’s home via the laneway. Since his arrival in Canada in 1966, Gladstone Avenue was the only street he resided at. He arrived with his wife Maria Alice and their four year old daughter Maria Adelaide. At arrival, they lived with family friends a few doors north of the only house he called home in Canada. That home became part of other Portuguese newcomers’ immigration narratives as he also welcomed and opened his home to them.
Cindy also shared that he worked as a welder and was a proud member of Iron Workers, Local 721. He was proud to say that he contributed in building several Toronto landmarks. However, watching all who gathered to commemorate this man, it is evident that he not only built physical structures but he too built community. Community was something he valued and instilled in his children. He was an active community member, served as chair of the Parent Council during the 1980s at Alexander Muir/Gladstone. He was a pioneer in developing the Heritage Language Program at the former Toronto Board of Education, today’s Toronto District School Board’s International Language Program where TDSB students continue to benefit from these programs. His son-in-law, Bill, tells us that Antonio Lopes believed that “when children were fluent in their native language and could communicate clearly with their family at home, they performed better academically”. Former and current Alexander Muir/Gladstone staff were present as well to celebrate a man who valued education. It is no coincidence that each of his two daughters became elementary school teachers working in neighbouring schools. Each of them spoke lovingly of the community advocate both in English and Portuguese.
Lastly, he was a founding member of the First Portuguese Canadian Club and Associação Cultural do Minho de Toronto. His family continues to be members of Amigos do Minho, where they also came to pay tribute in their beautiful colourful Portuguese folklore costumes, singing and playing music to warm our hearts and home and to keep alive the story of one of Little Portugal’s pioneer residents. The celebration truly reflected the warmth this Torontonian gave to all whom he encountered and his gift for bringing people together. The family shared that the day’s celebration would have made the late Antonio Lopes very happy as he enjoyed when friends gathered to share stories. A warming Toronto tale on a chilly late fall afternoon.
Madalena Lopes /MS