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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

(Adaped from, June 2003, by M. Azevedo)

[ Bittancourt Family Portrait ]
 Bittancourt family-Saltspring Island Archives

In May of 1917, Estalon Joze Bittancourt (Bettencourt) died in his home at Vesuvius Bay on Salt Spring Island, B.C. He had lived on the island for nearly 60 years. An obituary in a local newspaper described him as one of the most prominent residents of the island with large real estate holdings and a wide circle of friends, not only on the island, but also throughout British Columbia.

Estalon, also known as Estalno, Bittancourt was 17 years old when he swam ashore at Royal Roads on Vancouver Island. He had stowed away from Sao Miguel, Azores, on a sailing ship bound for the goldfields of Australia. He did not stay long and soon set sail for greener pastures.

Salt Spring Island, at 120 square miles, is the largest of the Gulf Islands. It did not have any  permanent settlements, although nearby Indians fished and hunted there. It was a paradise of 200-foot tall trees  teeming with wildlife. In 1857 and 1858 a small number of Blacks settled there. In 1859 Governor Douglas permitted 29 people to pre-empt land with no down payment. The small colony soon consisted of Indians, Blacks, Hawaiians, and Caucasians. By 1895 an informal survey counted 22 Portuguese.

Estalno and his brother, Emmanuel Antoine, were among the first settlers. After jumping ship, Estalno bought a sloop to carry freight. A fierce gale soon destroyed it but Estalno, a powerful swimmer, managed to save himself. Soon after he met John Norton (another Portuguese from Flores Island in the Azores) who persuaded him to move from Victoria to Salt Spring.

It did not take long before the enterprising Estalno established himself at Vesuvius Bay at the north end of the Island. He built a large house, which became Vesuvius Bay lodge. He operated a store and post office. He operated sandstone quarries, mined coal, farmed and built several fine houses. At one time, the family operated three sloops carrying stone to Victoria and Esquimalt for the dry docks, Empress Hotel causeway and several churches in Victoria. There were 26 East Indians working the quarry by the turn of the century. The quarry’s stone even made its way to the U.S. Federal Mint in San Francisco.

Estalno married Mary Katherine Paul. The 1881 census describes her origin as African. They had five boys and six girls. They were a religious family. Their home included a private chapel, in which pioneer Catholic priest Rev. Fr. Dunkel held monthly services. Dunkel had been rescued, by Estalon, from his capsized dug out canoe. About 1888 he built the “Ark,” a chapel still standing in 1998. In 1885 he helped build St. Paul’s church at Fulford Harbour. His son Joseph, became an oblate father at St. Peter’s college in New Westminster.

Estalno’s brother, Emmanuel Antoine, born in 1845, was also an early settler on Salt Spring but vanishes after the 1881 census in which he is described as an “ordinary seaman.” He married Mary Elen from Ontario. They had five sons. Abraham Reid Bittancourt stayed on the Island. He was a master craftsman who built some of the finest buildings on the island. Today’s museum and archives are located in Bittancourt House. Abraham also operated a store but sold it around 1910 to enter the customs service with his boat under charter to the Federal government. During the thirties he chased many a rum smuggler with his boat, the “Winamac.”
The Bittancourts were one of the most prominent and wealthiest families on the island. Bittancourt Road is named after the family. Norton Road is named after their compatriot John Norton.

Bittancourt family-Saltspring Island Archives

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