Início / Recursos / Recortes de imprensa / 2009
Portuguese community brings culture, entrepreneurship to town
Helping Bradford grow. By Michael Owen.


Bradford’s agriculture industry grows more than just plants; it grows communities. One of the most recent examples is a community attracted from across the Atlantic Ocean a few decades ago. 

A large number of Portuguese emigrated to Bradford from the late 1950s through the 1960s, the majority of whom found work on local farms and in packing plants in the Holland Marsh.

"My dad came to Bradford in 1966 to find the land of opportunity. He didn't speak a lick of English, but he was used to working in agriculture," Lucy Balugas said.

Ms Balugas came to Bradford two years later with her mother after her father saved up enough money and sent for them.

She still remembers the house she lived in with her father, mother, aunt, uncle and cousins on John Street.

Ms Balugas remembers the small community of Portuguese families got together every Sunday and initially didn't associate with those who weren't Portuguese.

"Everybody lived on John Street and all our parents worked at Bailey River Farms," Ms Balugas said. "Even we kids worked on the marsh or at old Bailey."

Bailey River Farms was a productive packing plant that stood right across from where the Topic office is currently located on Bridge Street.

The plant burned down in the late 1980s.

By then, the Portuguese community had grown and become part of Bradford, with a Portuguese Community Club registered in 1984. The Portuguese Cultural Centre opened in 1987.

Many Portuguese who had originally come to work in agriculture started branching out to other fields, such as construction, landscaping, paving and garages, John Paz, Portuguese Cultural Centre president for the past five years, said.

"They came over, they started working, they started buying. That's just how it happens. That's just growth," Mr. Paz said.

Among the most well-known Portuguese businesses in Bradford is Portugalia Bakery at Holland Street and Dissette Street, which offers pastries, a cafe, a deli and authentic Portuguese food, drinks and newspapers.

A hub for members of the Portuguese community, the bakery is a place where people go with friends and family to sit for lunch or have a coffee.

Owner Alcides Santos sees this as a reflection of the Portuguese community's family values and relaxed outlook on life.

"It's a very peaceful community," Mr. Paz agreed.

Perhaps it's that good nature that allowed the community to fit in so well in Bradford.

"We have evolved. We're business owners, lawyers and teachers. It's night and day from where we were. Not only are we integrated into the community, but we're part of the community. We're no longer outside looking in," Ms Balugas said, referring to the strides the community has made since the first Portuguese workers arrived in Bradford.

"It's a lot different now. Back then we were ashamed of our culture because we really were a minority," Isabel Oliveira, office manager for Bradford Immigrant and Community Services, said.

She sees Bradford and all of Canada as much more accepting now, leading to the younger generations of local Portuguese having more opportunities than their parents did.

Her mother was one of the many who worked at Bailey River Farms.

"Portuguese were always blue collar workers on farms, in construction and in factories, but now that's changed. A lot of Portuguese work in nursing administration or banking, for example," Ms Oliveira said.

A large part of the transition was the removal of the language barrier.

"People relied on each other more before, but now people from Portugal speak English fluently. Our parents relied on us," she said.

The majority of Portuguese coming to Bradford today aren't making a great journey across the Atlantic, but instead making the scenic drive up from Toronto.

"Immigration from Portugal has mostly stopped. The majority come from Toronto to be with family or to get away from the city," Mr. Paz said.

Although Ms Oliveira still sees some Portuguese coming from their homeland, taking advantage of the English as a second language courses and other services offered by Bradford

Immigrant and Community Services, she agreed the majority are coming from the city.

"The trend is to move north and the Portuguese are no different," she said.

However, the growing Bradford Portuguese community, with a population of more than 5,000, is also following another Canadian trend - loss of cultural identity.

"Canada is multicultural and Bradford is the same. The youth from different cultures blend in and start losing their heritage. With less and less of the older generation around, most youth don't need to speak Portuguese anymore, so they don't bother to learn it," Mr. Paz said.

He sees the loss of language as the first step on the path to losing culture, as the Portuguese youth who don't speak the language never learn the culture's lore and slowly stop celebrating the Portuguese holidays.

"I don't really know why the youth are less interested in heritage, but I think all kids, regardless of race or culture, are proud of where they come from," Ms Oliveira said.

With less interest in the cultural centre, Mr. Paz sees it as a larger problem.

"There are so many Portuguese in town, but we only have 230 members. It's a real shame the Portuguese don't get more involved in the club, because there's a lot of things that can be done. When we had more active members, we used to have a Portuguese theatre and folk group, but right now, nobody wants the responsibility, so it's hard to get anything going," Mr. Paz said.

He's not about to give up on the club, though. Mr. Paz hopes to gear the club toward both providing a place for the older generation to stay active and keeping the younger generation involved in their Portuguese heritage.

"...I want to create a place for the older generation, where the younger generation can go and learn from them," Mr. Paz said.

For more information on the Portuguese Cultural Centre, or to become involved, call 905-775-3742. Membership is open to everyone.

The Topic. Bradford West Gwillimbury, aqui.


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