Canada is home to one of the biggest Portuguese diasporas in the world, with almost half a million people of Portuguese descent. Portuguese community hails from many different Portuguese regions, 70% of them from Azores and they have kept their individual traditions, language, and culture alive in one of the most multicultural countries in the world.
Throughout Canadian history, members of the Portuguese community, Luso-Canadians, have influenced every aspect of national fabric and helped to develop Canada. In 2017 Ottawa designated June as Portuguese Heritage Month, “a time for us to celebrate Portuguese culture and accomplishments”, like Julie Dzerowicz, MPP from Davenport, said to Milénio Stadium.
This year, with COVID-19 pandemic, celebrations would have to be different. Toronto cancelled all city events and permits until June 30 and Portuguese Parade was one of the many events that was postponed. Even so the 10th of June continues to be the day of Portugal, Camões and the Portuguese Communities.
Milénio Stadium: Portuguese explorers were among the first Europeans to lay eyes on what is now Canadian soil. In the 2016 Canadian census, 482, 610 people reported being of Portuguese origin, and 221, 540 people reported having Portuguese as their mother tongue language. Most of them live in Davenport, the ride that you represent. How do you describe this community and what are their challenges?
Julie Dzerowicz: The Portuguese community are dedicated and proud Canadians, but they also have a deep love of their country of origin and you can see it in how they continue to embrace and hold on to their traditions, language, food and culture. They are active and we can see that via the many Portuguese clubs in Davenport and across the country. The challenge moving forward is leadership. Many of the leaders of the current clubs are in their 60s, 70s and 80s and there is a need for the next generations to step up and decide how to continue to keep Portuguese culture, language, traditions and language alive.
MS: In November 2017, the House of Commons designated June as Portuguese Heritage Month. What was the goal of the proposal and what did it change in this last 2 years and a half?
JD: The goal is to recognize this the many contributions of the Portuguese community that has been living in Canada for decades and helped build not just Canada but much of our city. Over the last two years we are seeing how the community continues to evolve and change. You can now find Portuguese Canadians as members and leaders working and leading in a wide variety of sectors across Canada. Portuguese Walk of Fame highlights many of these leaders and their accomplishments. Portugal Heritage Month is also a time for us to celebrate Portuguese culture and accomplishments.
MS: Due to COVID-19 Toronto cancelled all city events and permits until June 30. Portuguese Parade was one of the many events that was postponed. Do you think we should it move to online, like many other ones did?
JD: I think so, the parade is in many ways the main event of Portuguese Heritage month and its absence this year will be keenly felt. It won’t be the same experience, of course, but it is such an important way for the Portuguese community to come together and celebrate their culture and that should still go forward – in any format that can be done safely. It’s difficult to capture the beauty and magic of a parade online or virtually. But it would be wonderful if we could find other unique ways to celebrate this year. Portuguese community and leaders can also try to be creative – there are so many ways to celebrate this month. Share parts of the culture that you love – music, food, literature, etc. – do it online, with your family, with friends. The sky is the limit!
MS: What were the biggest contributions of Portuguese-Canadians to this country and province?
JD: Portuguese-Canadians have contributed their culture including food, music language but they have also contributed their talent and hard work in all areas from the Arts (co-chair of TIFF), to education as teachers and the many small and medium sized businesses that we can find in our communities across Canada. Whether it be through world-renowned artists such as Shawn Mendes, Superior Court Justices like the Honourable Madame Justice Maria Linhares de Sousa or Portuguese-Canadian Olympians such as Meaghan Benfeito, Portuguese Canadians have contributed heavily to building a better Canada.
MS: What are the main differences between the first Portuguese generation and the most recent ones?
JD: I think the main difference is that the more recent generations are breaking into sectors and industries that were not traditionally associated with the community. The first Portuguese generations came here during a different time and worked hard to establish themselves and their families. Recent Portuguese generations, on the success of the previous generations, are reflective of how cultures evolve and change and how Portugal has evolved and changed since its citizens first started emigrating decades ago. You will find Portuguese Canadians in all segments of Canadian culture and society. There is a leader in every field.
MS: Many of the Portuguese community centres are located in Davenport and probably some of them will have difficulties to pay the rent during pandemic. How can non-profit organizations apply to Ontario Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program?
JD: Non-profits, as you mentioned, are eligible for the rent subsidy program and their landlord can apply online at Canada.ca/coronavirus. If anyone from Davenport is having any particular issues with the program, I would encourage them to reach out to my office at [email protected] or 416 654 8048. For a list of all programs – that businesses can access please visit www.canada.ca/coronavirus. For an online tool that will help businesses determine what supports they are eligible for visit www.canada.ca/coronavirusbenefits. Federal government teamed up with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to offer free accounting advice around COVID-19 emergency support. This service is being offered 7 days a week and until June 22 – call this number 1-866 989 1080. The federal government is determined to help small businesses during this unprecedented time in Canadian history. We know that they are the backbone of our economy and we must do all we can to help them.
In general, here are some key points to share with Milénio Stadium readers on the federal government’s emergency support to all Canadians, to our small businesses and our economy. In these extraordinary times, no Canadian should have to worry about paying their bills, rent, or putting food on the table. The federal government is unwavering in our commitment to support Canadians, our healthcare system, and our economy. Through Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, we are focused on providing immediate help to those Canadians and businesses that are most in need. With the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, we’re protecting jobs. With the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, we’re helping those who lose their job and with easy, guaranteed loans for businesses of all sizes, we’re helping people access credit. This wide-ranging support will help ensure Canadians can pay for rent and groceries, and help businesses continue to pay their employees and their bills during this time of uncertainty. This is just the beginning, and our Government will be there with Canadians every step of the way. We will do whatever it takes.