Anthony de Sa
Born and raised in Toronto.
There is always one person in the family that is the family recorder, and I saw and heard everything than went on. And for some strange reason I kind of absorbed it. It became part of who I understood myself to be – Anthony de Sa.
The son of Azorean immigrants from São Miguel, who arrived in Canada in 1956, Anthony de Sa reflects on his memories of growing up in Toronto’s Portuguese community in his celebrated books Barnacle Love (2008) – nominated for a Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Toronto Book Award in 2009 – and Kicking the Sky (2013). In this video, Sa revisits the Palmerston Avenue laneway where much of the action in Kicking the Sky takes place.
Anthony de Sa was born in Toronto, where his parents settled in the 1950s, leaving behind their home in Lomba da Maia, São Miguel island, Azores. In 1956, his father, Manuel, arrived in Canada as one of the Portuguese immigrant workers brought under the “bulk order” labour migration agreement between the governments of Lisbon and Ottawa. His father’s first job in Canada was as a railway track worker for the Canadian Pacific Railway. After five years in Canada, at age 35, he returned to São Miguel to find a wife. He met Anthony’s mother, Georgina, in the small village of Lomba da Maia and asked her to join him in Canada. Georgina was 21 when she left her home and moved to a different country with her new husband. Once in Toronto, they found work alongside other family members at St. Michael’s Hospital. Manuel later became head of the housekeeping department and his mother worked in the sterilization labs.
Ten years after his father arrived in Canada, on August 28, Anthony was born. As a young boy growing up in Toronto’s Little Portugal neighbourhood in the 1970s, he enjoyed a great deal of freedom, given the fact that his parents worked long hours in multiple jobs. As a result, he and his sister Teresinha were able to explore the city, usually on their bicycles. Nonetheless, Anthony was rarely unsupervised. His grandmother lived with them and was a constant presence in Anthony’s life since he was a child. Furthermore, the Portuguese community was very close knit and his neighbours kept a close eye on him.
Like many Portuguese families, Anthony’s parents experienced economic hardship and difficulty integrating into a new English-speaking society. Anthony was often called to help his parents and grandmother navigate Canadian society and act as a translator when visiting the doctor, the bank, or other English-speaking places. While he appreciated his cultural heritage, in which he was seeped growing up, Anthony was also drawn to the broader Canadian culture and society. Sometimes he found it challenging to conciliate the two and act as a bridge for his parents, especially as a young man trying to figure himself out between two cultures.
Early in life, Anthony found an escape in books. Particularly at the Sanderson branch of the Toronto Public Library on Dundas St. West and Bathurst St. At home, his exposure to stories and the written word was through his family’s Globe and Mail subscription. Like many immigrant parents, who came to Canada to provide a more prosperous future for their children, Anthony’s father wished for him to pursue a high-paying occupation, like a lawyer or a doctor. But Anthony was drawn to the arts and humanities, and enrolled at the University of Toronto – at a time when few Portuguese-Canadian youth were pursuing higher education. Unfortunately, his father, Manuel, did not get to celebrate his son’s achievement since he passed away when Anthony was 18. After completing his undergraduate degree in 1989, Anthony did a bachelors of Education at Queen’s University, which he completed the following year. He then became an English teacher, working in multiple Toronto Separate School Board schools throughout his teaching career.
In 1996, Anthony married his wife Stephanie; the same year his mother, Georgina, passed. The couple has three children: Julian, Oliver, and Simon.
In 2004, Anthony took a one-year sabbatical and attended the Humber School of Writers, where instructors like Ania Szado and Brad Reed helped develop his creative writing skills. His instructors encouraged him to submit his work to literary magazines, including Sharp Magazine, which published his first short story about a toy G.I. Joe. In July 2006, he received an email from Emily Shorthouse, an agent with Denise Bukowski Literary Agency, who was impressed by another story he published about the murder of the young Azorean “shoeshine boy” Emanuel Jaques in 1977. She asked him to pull together his short stories and send them to her. Shortly after, Anthony was approached by Canada’s top seven publishing companies, who wanted to see the complete manuscript. Anthony signed a book deal with Doubleday, in November 2006, which resulted in the publication by Random House of Canada, in March 2008, of his first book – a collection of short stories – titled Barnacle Love. The book was very well received by the public and critics, which nominated it to the 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the 2009 Toronto Book Awards.
Anthony expanded on the “Shoeshine Boy” story from Barnacle Love and turned it into the novel Kicking the Sky, published by Doubleday Canada on September 10, 2013. In this coming-of-age story, set in the summer of 1977, Anthony explores the impact that Jaques’ murder had on the Portuguese community and Toronto as a whole. Anthony was 11 years old when that horrific and highly-mediatized crime happened. The book is a work of fiction, but highly informed by Anthony’s experiences growing up around Palmerston Avenue, in the Little Portugal neighbourhood.
In February 2020, Anthony released his third book, Children of the Moon. While it departs from his childhood memories, the themes are still inspired by his Portuguese family history, particularly his uncle who fought in the Colonial Wars in Mozambique. The novel takes place in that country during the bloody conflict and tells its narrative through the perspective of three characters; Pó, a woman with albinism; Ezequiel, a man with dementia living in Toronto; and Serafim, a Brazilian journalist visiting Beira, Mozambique.
Anthony continues to write and mentor new writers.
Hora dos Portugueses
Short description: Grandmother’s wedding vase
Place of origin: Portugal
Description: Rose-tinted vase gifted to Anthony’s grandmother, Maria Terezinha Couto, by his grandfather for their wedding. She used to have it on her night stand for as long as Anthony can remember. When it came time to divide her belongings, Anthony chose to keep her night stand and vase.