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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

PETER SMITH, aka as Portuguese Pete and Peter the whaler

(From, 1st edition (June 2003), by Manuel Azevedo)

Peter Smith, also known as Portuguese Pete and “Pete the Whaler” was born in the Azores in 1833. He was in B.C. by 1860, probably having come with Joe Silvey. He was a fisher and perhaps the earliest European whaler in B.C. According to Chief Khahtsahlano, Smith was a “white man, [who] used to live at Brocton Point (Stanley Park), and made a living spearing whales. He used to catch them off Bowen Island, and take them to Swis-pus-tah-kwin-ace (Wholcombe Island), Westminster, and Victoria. When the white man came, he did the same as Indians had done before. Peter Smith got an Indian wife and four children.”

Peter Trower, writing about whaling in B.C. in the Raincoast Chronicles says, “One of the first local white men to practice the trade was a half-legendary character called Peter the Whaler. Little is known about the background of this strange man. He hunted the giant mammals with a wild crew made of Kanakas [Hawaiian aboriginals] and Indians.” Whaling in B.C. ceased in 1967.

After mining in the Cariboo, Smith settled at Brocton oint in Stanley Park with other Portuguese and Scottish men who partnered with Indian women. Alan Morley, in an article in 1940 in the Sun described the settlements at Stanley Park thus, “[n]ear the end of Coal Harbor is the famous Kanaka Rancherie where Captain Raymur’s exiles now have a pretty settlement with cherry and apple trees in fruit and neat gardens. There live the many offspring of the Kanakas and their Indian and half-Indian wives … Just beyond Deadman’s Island lives Tompkins Brew amid a little community of fishermen and beachcombers. The Inlet beachcomber is no down-and-out beachcomber of fiction, but often a respectable citizen…There is Johnny Baker, who lives where a certain Nine O’clock Gun will be in the future and ‘Portuguese’ Joe Silvey, former proprietor of the ‘Hole in the Wall’ who is a prosperous manufacturer of dog-fish oil for the mills and logging camps (it sells for 25 cents a gallon) and Baker and Joe and Peter, the longshoremen, all married to Indian women. There is also Peter Smith, who pursues whales and blackfish in the Inlet and on English bay and tows them to Wholcombe Island where he has his works.”

Peter Smith was unlucky in family matters. Kenick, his wife, bore him four children but died by the time of the 1901 census. His daughter Maria, born December 25, 1888 died during the small pox epidemic and was the last person to be buried in Stanley Park. Peter died of cancer, in 1905 at the age of 74. Some of his children ended up at residential schools in the Fraser Valley. Smith’s Portuguese name may have been “Vardaros.”

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