Portuguese Pioneers in Stanley Park
(Adapted from Lusitania.ca, January 2004, by M. Azevedo)
On November 5th, 1923, the case of the City of Vancouver against Gonzalves, Peter Smith and Mary DeKosta came on for hearing before the Honourable Mr. Justice Murphy of the Supreme Court of British Columbia at Vancouver. The City of Vancouver and the Attorney General of Canada sought to eject the defendants from their homes in Stanley Park which the defendants and their families had occupied before Vancouver was incorporated in 1886 (The townsite of Granvile was surveyed in 1870).
In their defense, the defendants sought to prove that they and their predecessors had occupied the lands and homes near today’s nine o’clock gun for at least 60 years which would give them title to the lands in question.
The defendant Alfred Gonzalves, born in 1891 in Stanley Park, claimed title through his father Joe Gonzalves who came to Gastown in 1874 from Madeira via San Francisco to care for his uncle Gregory Fernandez who died shortly thereafter.
Joe Gonzalves of Pender Harbour (Madeira Park) was the only original Portuguese settler to testify at the trial:
Q: Your name is Joe Gonzalves?
Q: You are known as Portuguese Joe?
A: Yes I did, he is gone now. I used to know him.
Q: Aren’t you sometimes called Portuguese Joe?
A: I am Portuguese Joe, I guess because I am from the same flag.
Q: When did you come to Stanley Park?
A: In 1874, my uncle Gregorio Fernandez was running a store in Gastown. Tomkins Brew lived in his house at the time.
Q: Who was living there at that time?
A: Joe Silva was there and Peter Smith.
Q: Parcel 2, is that you are now living?
A: Yes, I got the place from Joe Silva. The place was so old, I built a new house. I repaired the broken fences and I started a garden there. I built a shed to repair boats, and a chicken house. My uncle used to fish and smoke fish in the early days.
Q: How much did you pay Joe Silva?
A: Nothing. He told me he was leaving because he was not catching much fish. He went to Howe Sound to a place called Gibson’s Landing. He just gave me his house. He didn’t want any money.
Peter Smith (Jr.) was too ill to attend court and on November 7, 1923 the court went to his house to take his evidence:
Q: Where were you born Mr. Smith?
A: Right here, in the little house next door.
Q: How old are you?
A: 48 last May.
Q: What was your father’s name?
A: Peter Smith, he lived in the house in the middle.
Q: When did your father come to this Province?
A: 1858, he went up to the Fraser River to Cariboo Country in the gold rush. He came back here in 1860 and built the house.
Q: Had your father any other names other than Smith, do you know?
A: Not that I know of. Oh, Portuguese Pete; in them days they all had nicknames, the old timers.
Mary DeKosta, wife of Frank DeKosta, testified on November 8th, 1923:
Q: You are a daughter of Peter Smith Senior?
Q: He was Portuguese.
A: Yes, he died about 18 years ago.
Thomas Fisher, 79 years old testified on behalf of the defendants. He came to Vancouver in 1867 “when there were no white people in this side at all.” In the spring of 1867 he passed by Brockton Point in Stanley Park,
“there were three little wharves there… where these Portuguese were… there was one named Portuguese Joe – his name was Joe Fernandez, the next man who was living there was – well, we called him Portuguese Pete – that is Peter Smith and Joe Silva.”
Tom Abraham, an old Indian testified through a Chinook interpreter. The judge questioned him:
Q: Now at that time when the Gold Rush to Cariboo was on ask him were there any white men here in Vancouver.
Q: Were there any Indians living in the park?
A: There were people living all the time.
Q: Ask him if he remembers a Portuguese named Joe Silva?
A: Yes, he knows Joe Silva.
Q: How many houses were there at the time of the gold rush?
A: Three or four.
Q: How many Portuguese people were living at the park at the commencement of the Cariboo Gold Rush?
A: I think about four. – I can remember Portuguese Joe and Shwuthchalton’s son-in-law (Peter Smith).
Q: Portuguese Joe afterwords sometime ran a saloon at Brockton Point, near the gun, didn’t he, near where the gun is now?
A: No, a store.
Then the judge had a few questions:
Q: Was Peter Smith a Portuguese?
A: Yes, he was a Portuguese.
Q: The whole three of them were Portuguese, were they?
A: Yes, they were all Portuguese.
The Defendants lost the case at trial but won before the Court of Appeal of British Columbia, which believed the evidence of the Indian witnesses. Unfortunately for the defendants, upon appeal by the City of Vancouver, the Supreme Court of Canada restored the trial judge’s finding that no weight could be placed on the testimony of the Indian witnesses. The pioneers lost, but fortunately, their story can now be told.
Professor Jean Barman’s book, Forgotten Families of Stanley Park will be published in the fall of 2004.