Portugal Day Celebrations
Alliance of Portuguese Clubs and Associations (ACAPO)
First Portugal Day celebrations in Toronto held in 1966.
Every year [our parade] draws more and more non-Portuguese people to Dundas… and they leave with a reflection of Portugal that they didn’t know before. Such a small country but so drastically different and beautiful, with a fabulous history that is immediately noticeable on the days we celebrate – José Eustáquio.
Every year since it was founded in 1986, the Alliance of Portuguese Clubs and Associations of Ontario (ACAPO) has organized the Portugal Day parade and its surrounding festivities in Toronto. Its 2016 edition marked the 50th anniversary since the Portugal national holiday of June 10th was celebrated in this city. Several thousand Portuguese-Canadians, representing over 200 organizations in Ontario, paraded down Dundas St. West in the Little Portugal neighbourhood of Toronto.
The Portugal Day national holiday was instituted in 1910 to mark the death of the poet Luís Vaz de Camões, author of The Lusiads, an epic poem about Vasco da Gama’s trip to India and the feats of Portuguese seafaring explorers in the 15th and 16th centuries. In 1944, the Estado Novo dictatorship renamed the celebration “Day of Camões, Portugal and the Portuguese Race,” and turned it into a militaristic propaganda event. In the mid-1960s, the nationalist regime introduced the celebration to Portuguese emigrant communities around the world.
The first celebrations in Toronto were held in 1966 and were organized by the Catholic priest Alberto Cunha of St. Mary’s Catholic Church. They gathered several thousand Portuguese at the CNE (Ricoh today) coliseum. In subsequent years, Trinity-Bellwoods Park became the main site for the festival’s events. At first, the Portugal Day festivities were organized by a small group of community elites with the help of the Portuguese Consul-General. Dignitaries from Portugal and Canada spoke at these events, which included soccer tournaments, Catholic services, and a parade of various community associations. After the 1974 Carnations Revolution, a shift happened in the way the celebrations were organized. Reflecting the democratization process unfolding in Portugal, the festivities in Toronto started being organized from the “bottom-up.” No longer just the business of a small privileged group but involving a larger number of stakeholders. At the same time, the new democratic government in Lisbon renewed efforts to reach out to the diaspora after the fall of its colonial empire, and in 1977 renamed the national holiday “Day of Portugal, Camões and the Portuguese Communities” – no longer the “Portuguese Race”.
Since 1986, the Alliance of Portuguese Clubs and Associations of Ontario (ACAPO) has organized Toronto’s program of festivities. ACAPO was created after various community clubs and associations came together to commemorate the first anniversary of the “Portugal Village” Business Improvement Area, responding to a growing need to pool their financial resources. That year also saw the official proclamation of June 10 as Portugal Day by the government of Ontario. In 2001, Carl DeFaria, the first Goan-Portuguese Member of Provincial Parliament, representing the riding of Mississauga-East, succeeded in having June officially proclaimed Portuguese History and Heritage Month in Ontario.
Initially, the Portugal Day parade went down Augusta Ave. in Kensington Market, then west on Dundas St. West, following the trajectory of Portuguese (re)settlement in Toronto in the 1970s-80s. During that time, Dundas and Ossington became the new heart of Toronto’s Portuguese community, known as Little Portugal. At that point, Dundas and Trinity-Bellwoods became the main venues of the Portugal Day festivities. In the first decade of the 21st century, the Little Portugal neighbourhood gentrified quickly, as trendy cafés, bars, galleries, and boutique shops catering to young urbanites gradually replaced the older Portuguese businesses. As Portuguese immigrants moved to other parts of the city, like St. Clair Avenue West, so did the Portugal Day festivities, part of which have been held at Earlscourt Park since the mid-2010s.
Possibly the third largest parade in Toronto, after Caribana and Pride, the Portugal Day festivities are run primarily by volunteers from multiple grassroots groups. The longest running president of ACAPO was José Eustáquio, who led the organization from 1997 until 2017. During this period, the Portugal Day festivities grew from a one-day event to a week-long celebration of Portuguese-Canadian culture and civil society. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the festivities spanned over a month and featured over twenty events, including rancho folclórico festivals, concerts with local Portuguese-Canadian artists and popular bands from Portugal – like Xutos & Pontapés, who played in the Toronto festivities fourteen times – among others. According to the organizers, in 2016, the parade involved about 5,000-6,000 participants representing over 200 organizations. They traveled 3.5 kilometres for two hours along Lansdowne Avenue and Dundas Street West until reaching Trinity-Bellwoods park, drawing an estimated 180,000 spectators.
The future of the Portugal Day parade and surrounding festivities after the Covid-19 pandemic is uncertain at the time of writing this (January 24, 2022).
Hora dos Portugueses