On this day in 1965 Newfoundland Premier Joseph R. Smallwood proclaimed June 17th Portugal Day in the province. It was at the Confederation Building when the Portuguese Fisheries Organization presented a statue of the 15th century explorer Gaspar Corte-Real to Newfoundland. At the ceremony, Joey spoke about the bond between two peoples, two nations.
“Newfoundlanders have a deep affection and a great deal of respect for the people and country of Portugal. We intend every year to have Portugal Day. It will always be a simple ceremony.
And we hope that it will be attended always by Portuguese people and they will join with Newfoundlanders here at this monument, this statue that was given to Newfoundland by Portugal. For a few minutes once every year we will remind ourselves of the long and honourable friendship that has existed between our two maritime countries, our two fishing countries.
And remind ourselves too that whatever other industries there may come to Portugal and to Newfoundland, the fisheries continue, they go on, they continue to be important to both of us.”
National interests – multiplied
But by 1965 Newfoundland was part of Canada, something Joey had fought hard for. So it was no longer Newfoundland and Portugal talking; it was Canada and Portugal. When Portugal joined the EU in 1986, it was Canada and the whole of Europe. Diverse industries and interests, with Portugal and the Grand Bank fishery just one small part.
In 1986 Canada banned Portuguese vessels from entering Canadian ports after a dispute over illegal fishing. No more coming into St. John’s to refuel and resupply. Or play soccer on the waterfront, shop on Water Street, go to bars and restaurants. Play music. Visit friends and family.
Newfoundlanders and Portuguese
Tony Charana, a retired trawler captain from Buarcos: “For Portuguese to arrive in St. John’s is like arriving home.”
For him, that’s especially true. His wife was born and raised in St. John’s.
Irene Fleming Charana: “When I was small and went shopping with my mother downtown – the fishing clothes on and the long boots and everything like that, I was afraid of them. But I remember my mother saying she felt sorry for them because they were so far away from home. Little did she know that I’d end up marrying one!
Tony: “Now – I have my family. But I go to St. John’s like a tourist.”
Their friend Valdemar Aviero, another retired captain, felt it was a betrayal of history as well as friendship:
“At least thirty years before Columbus and John Cabot, João Corte-Real was there and named the land Land of Codfish. Terra do Bacalhau. 1463.”
Terra do Bacalhau
Vasco Garcia, a University of the Azores professor and former member of the EU Parliament:
“That instinct of being an ocean-goer five centuries ago with the feeling of possessing the sea: this is so hard for someone who has imprinted this, when they look to the fishing grounds of Newfoundland. For cod is called in Portugal the faithful friend, fiel amigo. It’s in the gastronomy. One cannot have Christmas in Portugal without bacalhau cozido – boiled cod – and bacalhau com batata – cod with potatoes. So cutting the Portuguese from these kind of roots is very painful. Not even from an economic point of view, but also from the heart – chromosomic, historical. It’s almost as if you are cutting the roots of the tree.“
A young inshore fisherman in Buarcos, José, wishing he could fish on the Grand Banks:
“It’s my life. Because it’s in my blood. My family is working on the ocean all the time, you know.”
There’s long been an ex-pat Portuguese community in Newfoundland. But it’s also like there is – or was – a big Newfoundland outport in Portugal. They are the people Joey Smallwood was talking about, I think. The Portuguese, and Newfoundlanders, who looked forward every year to the arrival in St. John’s of the fishing fleet. Newfoundlanders like Art Stoyles:
“I used to go down with me accordion waiting for them to come in. So they docked and they’d be off. They had their music, mandolins and whatever. One day, this buddy come up over the hill, ya know, with a great big accordion. I heard the music and said, where in the hell is that comin’ from! That’s beautiful. This guy had a big accordion – five rows of buttons. He was on the Gil Eannes, this guy. He was a captain, right. And boy, he had some outfit there. It had more bass on it than the poles on Water Street! Anyway, we played. He played a few tunes and I taped them off. After, I learned that Portuguese song.”
The huge cod stock that gave the name Land of Codfish to the island of Newfoundland has been overfished to near extinction. Still, salt cod remains “the roots of the tree” for both Portuguese and Newfoundlanders. And the relationship between the two peoples goes on too. So here is Art’s “Portuguese Waltzes” on this, Newfoundland’s 54th Portugal Day. Let’s celebrate this “long and honourable friendship”.
CBC Land and Sea has footage from 1967 of a White Fleet sailing ship’s journey here. CBC also has video and audio from 1955 when Portuguese fishermen carried Our Lady of Fatima statues through St. John’s, their gift to the Basilica. At Archival Moments you can read more about the Portuguese in Newfoundland as well as at Newfoundland: The land of the Portuguese king.
Richard Simas wrote a book about how The Portuguese Waltzes became part of Newfoundland’s music. It’s illustrated by Caroline Clarke. (2019, tap image for Amazon). Also see his article in the Summer 2019 Newfoundland Quarterly.
The quotes in this post come from CBC archives for Premier Smallwood, and from interviews I recorded in 1995 for a radio documentary.