This week we are highlighting landmark areas or spots that have defined the Portuguese community in the city of Toronto. Just like many other communities before and after these spots have been areas that folks congregated, meet friends, possibly meet a significant other or is responsible for a turning point in their lives. This week’s Milenio Stadium will feature many of these landmarks that you will be able to relate to with joy, regret or anything significant that may have affected your life.
I would like to give you some highlights of some of the people who have been instrumental and have made a significant impact on many of these areas by either working here or having many years of hard work that contributed to these landmark spots in Toronto. Many of these builders are people who deserve to be acknowledged and should be admired as builders in some sort or another. My reference point to the folks that l will be highlighting, and l can only do a few and l apologise in advance for not including everyone, but l will tell you where you can go and be amazed by much of the history and who these people are.
I would like to take a few minutes and talk about the Gallery of the Portuguese Pioneers located at 960 St. Clair Avenue West just west of Oakwood Avenue. This is a must visit if you want to get a true sense of the original builders that landed here in Canada and untimely settled in Toronto. The information that you can obtain and the paraphernalia from the past are all housed here at the Pioneer Museum. Everything from instruments, to custom costumes, tools and so much more can be seen here, and the price is right…it’s FREE.
In the Gallery of the Portuguese Pioneers there is a section on the east wall that displays many of the pioneers that had a very important role in the way the Portuguese community has evolved to this day. If you can’t make it to the Gallery once things open up again, you can get a glimpse of what l’m taking about by going to the website at [email protected]
The following individuals are just a few that l will highlight that have had a significant impact on the community and the landmarks that they frequented, whether it was Kensington market or Dundas and Ossington and beyond….
Cesar Albert Nunes Morais
First l must say that Cesar was a personal close friend of mine for many years right up to his passing who in my opinion had a significant impact not only on the community but on many people that knew him. He was very political, and l say that with respect, because he always represented the Portuguese community when he was involved with the political system. He was one that always pushed the envelope when it came to his community and trying to get its fair share…. his background was banking where he started out at CIBC and then opened up one of the first Portuguese banks in Toronto. I remember fondly when a friend asked me if l could get his Portuguese son a job when he was having difficulty finding one, l called Cesar and asked him to interview the kid and within days he had found a job for him within the banking system.
Cesar was instrumental in opening up branches in the community that contributed to the vitality and growth of the community. He opened up the first Portuguese bank at Dundas and Ossington called SottoMayor bank and his involvement in that area was legendary to the growth of Dundas Street where many Portuguese folks would migrate to. It must be noted that his contribution to other areas such as Kensington market and Dupont and Symington where he had impacts on those areas as well. Mr. Morais in my opinion was a significant contributor to many of these landmarks.
Antonio Santos e Sousa
When you say Kensington Market, this legendary landmark is synonymous with the name Antonio Sousa. You may ask why, well he had one of the first restaurant in the market that many folks migrated to whether you lived here in Toronto or if you had just landed. Mr. Sousa was the go-to guy if you needed a room to rent or some sort of accommodations, he was also very resourceful when it came to recommending you for work.
Mr. Sousa was very instrumental in co-founding other businesses that were associated with the Portuguese community from the Iberian Bakery to importing and other business ventures that had a long-term impact on these landmark areas especially Kensington market. Later on in life his contributions to the community were invaluable and should be credited to individuals like Mr. Sousa.
Antonio Sousa was also inducted into the Portuguese Walk of Fame in 2013 for his numerous contributions to the Portuguese community and its landmarks.
Mario Coelho Tomaz
Mario and his wife opened the Portuguese Book Store at 86 Nassau Street which became a landmark for the community and its recipients. This landmark also in the Kensington market area was a place that locals would hang out at and exchange stories, hardships or joys. This location was also a draw to soccer fans to congregate and catch up on the games. Once the sports newspapers arrived, this place became a buzz for local conversation.
Mr. Coelho also had purchased a shortwave radio frequency which would pick up broadcasts of Portuguese soccer games and locals would gather at the store to listens and socialize. This landmark was a way that locals would get their news or sports and at the same time be able to reminisce about the homeland.
I had the privilege of speaking with Mr. Coelhos family when he was inducted into the PCWOF in 2019 and acknowledged to them at the time that their father was definitely a valuable contributor to the community and their Nassau Street bookstore was a landmark. This true Portuguese landmark when closed had served the community for over 50 years.
Ms. Branca Gomes
Ms. Gomes was an extraordinary teacher and mentor to many youths from the Portuguese community. She was someone that was very compassionate and truly cares for the community and its positive move forward, especially with the youth.
She started the first Portuguese school that was located at 244 Augusta Avenue with about 15 children and continued the traditional method of education for over 50 years. This educator was a true pioneer that contributed to the fabric of this city and the landmark where the school was.
Ms. Gomes was inducted into the builder’s category of the Portuguese Canadian Walk of Fame with an amazing mural respecting her contribution to the community. This mural can be seen at the home of the PCWOF located on the east wall of 722 College Street.
Jose Mario Coelho
I have to give honorary mention to this great contributor to the Portuguese community…where he was the founder of the Gallery of the Portuguese Pioneers Museum of which he was the curator and person who started to assemble many of the items and artifacts that you can see at the Gallery.
Mr. Coelho was also a great contributor to the Portuguese community through his programming that was broadcast throughout for many folks to listen to over the years. He was inducted into the builder’s category of the PCWOF in 2015.
Landmarks are marked by the people who make these locations either a talking point or an actual landmark for the community. The people that l have just mentioned are just a few and there are many more that need and should be acknowledged.
You can find out much more about these true heroes at the Gallery of the Portuguese Pioneers located at 960 St. Clair Avenue or drop by the PCWOF located at 722 College Street.