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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

JOSEPH GONSALVES, aka as Portuguese Joe (No. 3)

(Adapted from Lusitania,  June 2003, by Manuel Azevedo)

Joseph Gonsalves, also known as Portuguese Joe No. 3, was born in 1859 on the island of Madeira. He stowed away to sea when he was 12 years old. He landed in New Westminster in 1874 and walked to Gastown (he got lost along the way) to work in his uncle’s, Gregory Fernandes, store. He knew Gassy Jack well. His uncle died the following year and Joe took up fishing and moved to Coal Harbour in Stanley Park where he and Susan Crabolt had four girls and one boy. In 1904, his eldest daughter, Matilda, married a handsome Russian, Steve Dames, at the Brockton Point lighthouse. That same year he and Dames purchased 80 acres from Charles Irvine in Pender Harbour, known as the “Venice of the North.”

Pender Harbour came to be known as the “Land of Portuguese Joe.” He built the first hotel and saloon, as well as a deep-sea dock. He and Dames bought large tracts of land including the site of Irvine’s Landing and Madeira Park.

Irvine’s Landing became the hub of Pender Harbour. People from all around flocked to Joe’s facilities, which included a large dining room, a post office, a general store, and a barbershop. The steamers docked there too. There was much socializing, dances, baseball games, and large picnics. It is said that Joe’s daughter, Matilda, presided over the whole affair like a benevolent aunt.

Joe also fished in the seine boat he built, the “Hermosa,” which was skippered by Joe Perry, a black man from the Azores. Perry (Perreira?) is described as a huge man who sat children on his knees and regaled them with stories of far away places. Perry was also Joe’s aide de camp, gardener, and bouncer.

Gonsalves died in 1939 at the age of 82. Madeira Park is named after him.
(Information compiled by Heather Till for

Pender Harbour 

SCMA 861

SCMA Photo#861 - Pender Harbour, circa 1920. The Sechelt village on Skardon Islands at the entrance to Pender Harbour. Photo by A.P.Harrold.

The Pender Harbour area was once the winter capital of the Coast Salish nation, specifically the shishalh tribe, from which the town of Sechelt takes its name. Judging by the wealth of archaeological evidence, the local population in 1800 was greater than it is now. The shishalhpeople were highly industrious during the summer months, fishing for salmon, hunting venison and gathering berries, all of which were dried for winter use. They built large dugout cedar canoes and huge communal longhouses (up to 800 feet in length) with separate family compartments divided by cedar screens. Examples of watertight baskets made from spruce root, aprons made of deerhide or woven cedar bark, blankets of mountain goat wool and fishing line fashioned from stout nettle fibre are further evidence of their creativity and diligence.......

A legend persists that the first non-Native to occupy the Pender Harbour area was a Chinese who began a fish saltery at the mouth of what became Irvines Landing. An Englishman known as Charlie Irvine (for whom the Landing is named) is more commonly recognized as the first settler. Irvine built a log trading post at the Landing, then joined the excitement of the Klondike gold rush. He sold his property in 1904 to an enterprising sailor and fisherman, "Portuguese Joe"Gonsalves, and his North Vancouver Salish Nation wife, Susan Harris. Joe and his son-in-law Theodore (Steve) Dames (a burly Russian seaman married to the Gonsalves' beautiful daughter Matilda) really developed the area. They built a deep-sea dock, general store, post office and hotel/saloon at the head of the wharf. The Union Steamship Company made this a regular stop, the beginning of Pender Harbour's real presence on the map.

Portuguese Joe

In the late 1800’s “Portuguese Joe” Gonsalves, a young sailor and fisherman from the Portuguese Island of Madeira (off the coast of Africa), came to Canada, apparently as a stowaway. He grew up in Vancouver, married an Squamish Indian woman and raised his family as a homesteader at Stanley Park's Brockton Point.
In 1904, his daughter Matilda and the Russian sailor Theodore Dames were married. Later that year, Portuguese Joe and Matilda's husband bought half of John and George West's property in Irvine’s Landing.
The family arrived with Joe Perry, a sailor friend from the Azores, to help with their enterprise. They developed Wests' old supply post to include a hotel and saloon while Gonsalves continued to fish his seiner, Hermosa, with Perry as deckhand.
Gonsalves and Dames expanded their business to include a deep-sea dock, barbershop, general store, post office, and Pender Harbour's first public telephone. It was the business and social hub of Pender Harbour, as locals rowed their little boats over to pick up supplies and meet the steamers that arrived twice a week.
Fire eventually destroyed the wooden buildings, and Garden Bay became the community's business centre. The BC Archives lists the death of Joseph Gonsalves, 82, in 1939 in Vancouver. Theodore Dames died in Irvine's Landing March 2, 1935, at 68.
Portuguese Joe has many descendants living in Pender Harbour, and the Madeira Park Elementary School and Community Hall sit on property that he donated to the community.
Today, his likeness (carved in cedar by local sculptor Jack Crabb) overlooks the harbour from Seafarer's Park and Pender Harbour is still called "Venice of the North," which probably has as much to with its network of bays and coves (and the fact that everyone traveled by boat) as its Mediterranean pioneer.
Also see Irvine’s Landing (History) and Madeira Park (History).

Irvines Landing, 1952

The store and hotel built and operated by Gonsalves and Dames
at Irvines Landing at the northern entrance to Pender Harbour.
Photo by H. H. Winn circa 1952.


On Sept. 1, 1904, Matilda Gonsalves and the Russian sailor Theodore Dames were married in  Vancouver. Later that year, Matilda's father, Joe Gonsalves, and her new husband bought half of John and George West's Irvine's Landing property. Gonsalves  was a sailor and a fisherman from the Madeira Islands off Spain who suposedly left his home as a stowaway at an early age. In Canada, one of Stanley Park's many squatters, he was known as "Portugese Joe". He arrived in  Pender Harbour with Matilda, Theodore, and Joe Perry. Perry, also a sailor, was a large and powerful black man from the Azores who was known in Irvine's Landing as a kind and gentle person.
     Gonsalves and Dames, with Perry as an employee, expanded Wests' supply post to include a hotel and saloon while Gonsalves continued to fish his seine boat, the Hermosa , with Perry as a deckhand. Gonsalves and Dames expanded their enterprise to include a deep-sea dock, barbershop, general store, post office, and Pender Harbour's first public telephone. Fire eventually  destroyed the two old wooden buildings, and Garden Bay became the community's business centre. The BC Archives lists the death of a Joseph Gonsalves, on June 3, 1939. 
 He is survived by many Pender Harbour descendants. Theodore Dames  passed away in Vancouver, at 82 years of age.

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