The Remarkable Adventures of "Portuguese Joe" Silvey: A True Story of British Columbia by Jean Barman
Preface by Manuel Azevedo
There is a Portuguese saying that God is everywhere, but the Portuguese were there first. Accordingly, it should come as no surprise that Portuguese Joe Silvey was one of the earliest pioneers of what is now British Columbia. Joe Silvey was only one of many Portuguese who reached both the east and west coasts of Canada long before 1867, the year of Confederation (British Columbia joined in 1871). In fact, 2004 is the 300th anniversary of Canada’s first letter carrier, Pedro da Silva of New France, an occasion that has been honoured with the issue of a commemorative stamp by Canada Post.
Portuguese Joe Silvey sought his fortune in the gold rush of 1858 at a time when the non-aboriginal population of British Columbia exploded from about 1,000 to 20,000 or more in a matter of months. Victoria, a sleepy town of about 400 people, became a sprawling tent city overnight, filled with gold seekers from every corner of the world.
Although Joe was unlucky in his search for gold, he did find a beautiful wife in the unspoiled paradise that was Vancouver. In the first non-aboriginal marriage in Vancouver, he wed Khaltinaht, the granddaughter of the legendary chief, Kiapilano. The wedding took place at Musqueam, and the newlyweds set off in a canoe piled high with blankets to Point Roberts for their honeymoon. Later Joe returned to Gastown, where he opened a saloon at the corner of Abbott and Water streets, across the street from Gregorio Fernandez’s general store. He lived at Brockton Point, in what later became Stanley Park, with other pioneers: the legendary whaler Portuguese Pete (Peter Smith); Joe Gonsalves, aka Portuguese Joe No. 2; and Vancouver's first police officer, Tomkins Brew. All of them--except Fernandez, who remained a bachelor--married aboriginal women.
After the tragic death of his wife Khaltinaht, Joe Silvey found yet another beautiful wife, Kwahama Kwatleematt (Lucy) from Sechelt, and together they raised a dozen children on Reid Island off the northwest tip of Galiano Island. Joe worked hard to raise his family and protect them from the prejudices of the times. He fished for dogfish and herring, which he sold to loggers and visiting ships, he built boats and houses, he planted orchards, he operated a store, he established a school for his children and he entertained his family with the accordion and Portuguese dances. He never returned to his homeland, the island of Pico in the Azores, aka the Westerly Isles--Portuguese islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, more than 1,000 miles off the coast of Portugal on the same latitude as New York City.
Like his countrymen from the Azores, Madeira and Cape Verde islands, Joe established deep roots in British Columbia. These men, like other pioneers from every corner of the world, contributed to the building of BC. Joe practically founded the fishing industry and obtained the first herring seine licence in the province. His Brockton Point neighbour, the legendary Portuguese Pete, started the whaling industry; Joe Gonsalves of Madeira built the first deep-sea docks on the Sunshine Coast with the help of the “black” Azorean, Joe Perry; John Silva of Cape Verde, later of Gabriola Island, planted what may have been the province's first apple orchard on Mayne Island; John Enos (Ignacio) of the island of Santa Maria in the Azores, the first European settler at Nanoose Bay, helped build the bridges of Nanaimo. In Victoria, Joseph Morais owned and operated a hotel, restaurant and miners’ exchange in 1861. The Bitancourt and Norton brothers, from Sao Miguel and Flores Islands (Azores), respectively, developed dairies, coal mines and quarries on Salt Spring Island.
Now, for the first time, the respected historian and professor Jean Barman gives us a very human glimpse of the life of one of these pioneer builders of British Columbia, Portuguese Joe Silvey. She traces his adventures, his fortunes and misfortunes through the stories told by his children and their descendants. In this very personal, heartwarming monograph, she brings one family to life, thereby providing us with a better understanding of the untold lives of hundreds of other early pioneers, whose contributions and sacrifices made British Columbia what it is today.