Born in Lisbon.
Raised in Toronto.
Based in Mississauga and Ottawa.
[Prof. Moniz Pereira] invited me to go to Lisbon, Portugal, to the Sporting Club in Alvalade. I lived there, at the stadium. And Prof. Moniz Pereira always spoke of the “University of Alvalade,” and what we learned as athletes but also as citizens, and as people throughout our career. And that touched me very much – Peter Fonseca.
Peter Fonseca has been winning races since his youth, first as an Olympic long-distance runner and later as a provincial and federal politician representing the riding of Mississauga East – Cooksville with the Liberal Party. A former cabinet minister in Ontario, Peter is one of the longest serving Portuguese-Canadian politicians. His civic and political consciousness was in large part shaped by his parents’ volunteerism in Toronto’s Portuguese community and his time training with Professor Moniz Pereira at the Alvalade Stadium in Lisbon.
Born on October 5, 1966, in Lisbon, Peter Fonseca moved to Canada with his parents two years later. His family first settled in Toronto’s Little Portugal neighbourhood where he was initially raised and later moved to North York. Peter’s father worked in a washing and drying machine factory, while his mother worked in a factory that made car carburetors. While the parents were at work, Peter and his sister stayed with their grandmother, who taught them Portuguese.
At some point in his youth, Peter developed a passion for long-distance running, a sport that is popular in Portugal, which has produced multiple Olympic medalists and record-holders. As a way of encouraging his son to learn Portuguese, Peter’s father subscribed to the monthly magazine Atletismo. Indeed, Peter became more interested in his country of birth by reading about it, which carried to other aspects of his cultural heritage. Watching the long-distance runners Carlos Lopes, Rosa Mota, Fernando Mamede, Fernanda Ribeiro, and the brothers Domingos and Dionísio Castro win multiple medals at international competitions also inspired him to pursue the sport.
After graduating from St. Michael’s College School, Peter enrolled in the University of Oregon in the United States on an athletic scholarship, where he completed a Bachelor of Arts. He followed this with a Bachelor of Education at the University of Windsor. Another important school in Peter’s formation was the “University of Alvalade,” or the Sporting Club of Portugal in Lisbon, where most of his Portuguese long-distance running heroes trained under Professor Moniz Pereira. At a competition in London, England, Pereira approached Peter after a race and invited him to train with him. Peter accepted and moved to Lisbon for some time, during which he lived at an apartment in the Alvalade Stadium. According to Peter, Prof. Pereira was an influential figure in both his athletic and civic formation.
Peter would represent Canada in multiple athletic competitions, including the 1994 Commonwealth Games (finishing in 5th place in the 10,000 meters race) and in the the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia Men’s Marathon (finishing in 21st place, making him the top Canadian finisher). Peter also competed in marathons in Los Angeles (1990), New York City (1992), Toronto and Houston (1994), where he finished in the top three places.
Peter’s parents were very involved in the Portuguese community clubs and associations. Seeing them and other community members help each other in times of need, and doing volunteer fundraising for St. Christopher House and other causes, informed Peter’s sense of civic duty and social justice. In 2000, after having retired from athletics, Peter volunteered in the organization that tried to bring the 2008 Olympic Games to Toronto. After giving a speech to a large crowd, Peter, whose parents were fans of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, was invited to run for office with the Ontario Liberal Party in the Mississauga East—Cooksville riding. Starting that year, Peter and his wife Christine – later elected to the Mississauga City Council and the Peel Regional Council – knocked on doors almost every day. In the 2003 Ontario elections, Peter defeated the Conservative incumbent, the Portuguese-Goan-Canadian Carl DeFaria, by almost 3,000 votes.
Peter served as a Member of Provincial Parliament in that riding for the next seven years, winning his seat again in 2007 with 59% of the votes. In 2007, under Premier Dalton McGuinty, he was appointed Minister of Labour, and then Minister of Tourism and Recreation between 2008 and 2010. That year, he resigned from his seat at Queen’s Park to run in the 2011 federal elections in his riding. He lost that election by less than 700 votes to the Conservative candidate Wladyslaw Lizon. He ran again in 2015, this time defeating Lizon by almost 10,000 votes, becoming the third Portuguese-Canadian to ever become a Member of Parliament, after Mário Silva and Alexandra Mendès – all of them with the Liberal Party. Peter won his seat again in 2019 and 2021 by large margins.
Hora dos Portugueses