Ganadaria Sol & Toiros
Monumental Arena Vitor Mendes, Dundalk, Ontario
Here it’s bloodless. The bull gets tired but not as tired as in Portugal. He is still very aware, he is not losing blood… Guys from Portugal when they come here they think we’re pretty crazy for grabbing bulls that haven’t been stabed. I would have to say that it’s a little tougher, but we get it done – Élio Leal
The primary promoters of bullfighting in Canada have been Élio Leal and his family. Élio moved to Canada at age eighteen and brought with him the love of bullfights typical of his native island of Terceira, Azores. Élio introduced bullfighting by rope and horse bullfighting to Ontario in an arena that he built in Dundalk. But first he had to adapt to Ontario’s animal protection laws by adopting the “bloodless bullfighting” (using velcro spears) idea first introduced by Portuguese-Americans in California.
Élio Leal was born on Terceira island, Azores, where bullfighting by rope (tourada à corda) is one of the most loved forms of popular entertainment, involving a cattle ranching economy and culture. After migrating to Canada at the age of 18, his first job was at a perfume factory earning $2.85 an hour packing cardboard boxes. Two years later, he started working in the construction industry. In 1996, Élio opened his own subcontractor company specializing in the reconstruction of exteriors. In 2005, he founded another construction company specializing in the rehabilitation of interiors.
Élio dreamed of building a cattle ranch and arena in Canada. In 2010, together with Fernando Gonçalves, they spent nearly $1 million turning that dream into reality in a 360-acre property in Dundalk, Ontario. By 2016, the Leals had 300 heads of cattle and 50 horses in their ganadaria (ranch), which they called Sol e Toiros (Sun and Bulls). About 75 percent of his stock was sold for meat. The rest was primed for the bullfights.
The arena, named after the distinguished Portuguese bullfighter Vitor Mendes (a personal friend of Élio), had capacity for 3,000 people; although it never filled. The biggest turnout was 2,200 spectators at its opening corrida on July 9, 2011. After that, each corrida (about two a year) drew about 1,200 spectators, most of them coming from the Greater Toronto Area. Among the staff employed by Élio at his ranch was a live-in family that tended to his Lusitano horses, bulls, calves, and breeding cows; and three Portuguese horsemen that prepared the stallions for battle. During the bullfighting season, from June to August, Élio would fly in professional toureiros and forcados from Portugal, California, and Mexico.
Because Canadian law do not permit the stabbing of animals for training or entertainment, Élio had to adapt his bullfights to this context. He adopted a technique first developed by Portuguese-Americans in Southern California, consisting of gluing velcro onto the bull’s dorsal and on the tip of the spear (bandarilha), allowing the latter to stay attached to the animal without stabbing him or drawing blood. This presented a challenge to traditional bull farmers, who typically identify and prime the most aggressive bulls by stabbing them prior to the fights.
Another element of Portuguese bullfighting introduced in Canada by the Leals are forcados – groups of eight men dressed in traditional campino (cattle handlers from the Ribatejo region) outfits who grab the bulls by the horns with their bare hands and bodies as the animal runs towards them. The Grupo de Forcados Amadores do Canadá was made up primarily of young Portuguese Canadians, and Canadians of different backgrounds.
After the 2016 bullfighting season, the Leal family closed their arena and sold their land in Dundalk. The high costs of organizing corridas (about $30,000-$40,000) and the relatively low turnout were the reasons leading to this decision. Since then, the Leals bought new land in Caledon and opened a new ranch where they raise cattle and Lusitano horses.
Hora dos Portugueses