Search This Blog

Cyprian Fernandes: Goans of Pakistan, Canada

CELEBRATING 150 YEARS OF CANADA  
60 Years of Goans from Pakistan!

By Menin Rodrigues

TORONTO - July 1, 2017: Within a few years of the founding of a new nation in 1947, Pakistan, there were reasons for a handful of Goans to move on to new territory; and by 1957, the first of a handful of families had pioneered the undertaking. Their first stop was Pierrefonds, off the island of Montreal, Quebec, a predominantly French-speaking city – Goans and French, quais, parle m’en!

Today, about 60 years later, Goans from Pakistan, like diamonds in the rough, look back with gleaming pride and are grateful to a country that welcomed them with open arms. All have settled well, having got the opportunity to assimilate and succeed, and having gained in confidence over the years. Two generations of their Canada-born children and grandchildren, are now steering for a new role!

The nomadic undertakings of this Diaspora are as fascinating as Alexander the Great or St. Francis Xavier, the patron saint of Goans, popularly referred as Goencho Saheb (Goa’s Master) in the Konkani language. ‘Amchea Bhas’ (our language) is a dialect of the Konkan Coast of south-western India, comprising Karnataka and Goa, including Kerala and Maharashtra.

Language apart, even St. Francis Xavier is not from Goa (he was a Jesuit missionary born in Spain) but played an influential part in the evangelization of the Portuguese Empire, mainly India’s Goa, a Portuguese colony until 1961. Intriguingly, Goa’s very own Padre Joseph Vaz (1651 – 1711) who did most of his missionary work in Sri Lanka is known as the ‘Apostle of Ceylon’! He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 21 January 1995 in Colombo; and canonized by Pope Francis on 14 January 2015 in Colombo.

Canada is celebrating 150 years – a sort of birthday but Canada I am sure is many more hundred years old! Being a very large expanse of land but proportionately with a few people, Canada opened its beautiful country to people from all over the world, immigrants who brought with them a myriad of cultures, giving them an opportunity to seek skilled jobs, acquire homes, improve their standard of living and opt for citizenship.It was a great package of benevolence which is now a prized possession for the large number of multi-cultural communities that are settled here.

According to Prof. Oswin Mascarenhas, a former principal of St. Patrick’s College, Karachi;the first migrant from Pakistan to land in Canada in 1953, was a Michael Braganzawho lived in GRE-317 Cincinnatus Town (Garden East/Soldier Bazaar, Karachi). The trickling continued at a steady pace but a larger number of families, in droves, moved here in the 1970s and later again in the 1990s. Canada still remains a ‘hope’ for many others who wish to come here. The Goans from India probably arrived here in the 1950s as well.

One of Canada’s well known developers Fred D’Silva (Bramalea) says “Among the pioneers, Ozzie Todd, Philip D’Silva and Michael Barretto arrived in 1954; I came a few years later in 1958. It so happened that Ozzie, Philip and Michael chanced upon a signage in the Canadian Immigration office in Metropole Hotel, Karachi which simply said, welcome to Canada, they took up that invitation, applied for and the next day got their visas! With no more than $20 in their pockets, they sailed to England and then to the port city of Montreal; the rest is history of how Goans from Pakistan found a new home in Canada.”

Known as ‘Portuguese Subjects’ Goans first moved territory from Goa somewhere in the 1830s in search of economic sustenance, their destination being Africa. On the way they stooped upon Karachi, and explored the deserted and upcoming port-city (then known as Kolachi, a fisherman’s village) being developed by the British. Many found administrative, teaching and domestic employment here and stayed on. Their magnanimous contributions to this city, and later to Pakistan (1947) are in chronology atwww.goansofpakistan.org

Why Canada? I put this question to some senior Goans from Pakistan who were among the first to come to Canada. Patrick and Ann D’Cruz also came here in the late 1950s and have lived a life of valuable contribution and contentment; Pat says of their early days here, “My wife and I came to Canada in 1957 with our two children to seek a better life, there were numerous challenges but the Canadians were kind, so while maintaining our heritage we integrated well. We became a part of several activities, music, dance and song; Ann founded the Girl Guides of Canada in Pincourt, Quebec. She was the District Commissioner. Looking back, we have no regrets.”

Today, roughly there are about 15,000 Goans from Pakistan in Canada, those who arrived from Karachi; this figure does not include the two generations who were born later in Canada. That in itself is another story, of another Diaspora who, when coming of age would like to know their antecedents. Being ‘Goans’, will they, the new generation, akin to their ancestors, would want to know about their roots or move to yet another territory/country?

Goans have a tradition of getting themselves organized. When they arrived in Karachi (then India) in the mid-1850s, they first settled themselves economically, and then established the Goa-Portuguese Association in 1886; later to be re-named the Karachi Goan Association (KGA) in 1936. Another group of like-minded folks formed the Goan Union in 1908; they too have a beautiful heritage building in Saddar, formerly known to old-timers as ‘Little Goa’.

By the time Goans started to settle in Montreal in the most difficult of conditions, not knowing the language, unaccustomed to harsh winters, and very few with the required education and the proverbial Canadian-experience; they struggled. Many came with loads of experience in banking, aviation, education and administrative professions, having dedicated years of their early lives in these sectors in Pakistan; and with hard work and resolve, managed to scrape through, successfully. For some it was a good start, others as tedious as shoveling the snow but in hindsight, they never looked back and focused on their future.

In the mid-fifties, the greatest achievement of these "first" generation Canadians was the formation of a community based Club - The Indo-Pakistani Association. It was the brainchild of Edwin W. Martyres from Pakistan and Phyllis Athaide from India. The launching of this Club was a landmark which gave the immigrants a sense of belonging. From 1958, Montreal saw the biggest concentration of Christians from India and Pakistan settle in the West Island, Pierrefonds, the South Shore, La Salle and St. Laurent.

The Can-Orient Christian Association was formed in Montreal on December 31st, 1971, when it received its Charter from the Federal Government to establish a social organization for the community with power to establish Chapters elsewhere in Canada – they have chapters in Toronto, Calgary, Ottawa and Vancouver. It was important for our Christian community from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka & Burma (now Myanmar) to have an organization of its own.

Can-Orient found a home at Hanlan Road in Woodbridge and it has been a splendid venue for most activities since 1984. On August 23rd 1989, in order to establish an independent entity and safeguard its assets, the Toronto Chapter applied for and received Letters Patent from the Government of Ontario under its new name The Can-Orient Christian Association of Metropolitan Toronto.

Pioneering Goans (from India, Africa and Pakistan) in general have a concern for the preservation of our heritage and thus the Goan Archives Canada Inc. (GAC) was founded and established on August 7, 2009 by Messrs. Cecil D’Cruz, Mr. John D’Souza, Claude Gomes, Uvy Lopes and Lazarus Pereira.

The mission of the GAC is to assemble, preserve, organize and store publications and documents generated and authored by the Goan community and groups in Canada. The intent is to facilitate the study and understanding of our unique community by scholars and researchers in the future. The Peel Art-Gallery Museum Archives (PAMA) in a letter to GAC notes, “The donation of these records to PAMA Archives will facilitate greater understanding and appreciation of the contributions made by Goans that shape our region, our province, and Canada today.”

The origin of Goan-Catholics in Canada is from India, Pakistan, Africa and the Middle East. Their contribution to Canadian Catholic life is immense, including the founding and building of the St. Francis Xavier Church in Mississauga by Monsignor Terence D’Souza, formerly a priest of Karachi.

On another note, as times change in a new and knotty world order, and a global awakening of civilizations and socio-political influences come into effect, Canada too in all its exuberance to welcome people from everywhere, must be conscious to the signs of the times.