“We opened at 6:00 a.m. and closed at midnight. I had to go out to work at a bakery till 3:00 p.m. in order to have enough money to pay my debts. I had spent seven thousand dollars to renovate the building I had bought to serve as a restaurant, so I owed money to a great many people, to carpenters, to stone-masons and to friends. People who were all alone in the city could meet each other there and talk and laugh and cry. They came to find friendship, and they did. So my restaurant became a kind of family home for the Portuguese.”– António Sousa, 1958 Toronto
This personal account from Domingos Marques’ Portuguese Immigrants: 25 Years in Canada depicts the life of an everyday immigrant in Toronto seeking a new life while maintaining their cultural identity. It is Mr. Sousa and the sacrifices he made that have shaped the Little Portugal we see today.
Fast forward almost 60 years and we see a very different Little Portugal. One where a typical house now sells for over half a million dollars (often more) where it once sat at the price of $22,000. This community that previously offered Portuguese immigrants a sense of belonging has been culturally watered down into a region in which gentrification (See definition below) has led housing prices and property taxes to skyrocket.
“Not only are displacees forced to find alternative housing, but they also face the emotional impact of removal from social networks and familiar community structures. Gentrification also affects low-income residents, especially recent immigrants” states Robert Murdie and Carlos Teixeira in their study on gentrification in Little Portugal.
It is places like Little Portugal that offer a sense of community, however, gentrification is limiting their access to such communities. These changes the community must face completely neglects the hardships Portuguese immigrants had to face to create Little Portugal in the 1950s.
It’s been more than two years since an article from the Toronto Star titled “Reports of Little Portugal's death have been greatly exaggerated”, classified Little Portugal as the one ethnic enclave which hasn’t seen a decline in cultural identity. It argues that elderly residents contribute to the cultural vibrancy and are content to live in their houses which are now real estate gold mines.
According to Andrew-Gee who wrote the article, through the implementation of a municipal policy (see definition below) that ‘eliminates property tax increases for low-income seniors’ the elderly Portuguese residents find it easy to stay where they are situated and therefore contribute to the cultural scene of Little Portugal. However, in the years when these elderly residents are no longer able to live on their own, who is going to be moving in to these half million dollar homes? Here’s a hint… it probably won’t be a family with Portuguese origins.
Where Little Portugal may have a larger cultural significance than communities such as Greek Town where only 6% of the population speaks Greek or Little Italy where the Italian speaking population is also at 6%, the article’s optimism for the future of this enclave is incorrect. Through the continuous tide of gentrification, Little Portugal will fall into the large culturally diluted city of Toronto.
[ 1 ] Gentrification: The process by which a neighborhood or district is reconstructed and developed so that it is more suitable for the middle or upper class, often forcing lower class citizens to move.
[ 2 ] Municipal Policy: Principles, regulations, or agreements that are adopted and enacted by a specific city or county. This can include property taxes, zoning, education policies, etc.
 Portuguese immigrants: 25 Years in Canada – Domingos Marques (1980)
 The Impact of Gentrification on Ethnic Neighbourhoods in Toronto: A Case Study of Little Portugal - Robert Murdie and Carlos Teixeira
Jack McCrossin is an intern at the Canadian Urban Institute and studies Urban Studies and Forest Conservation at the University of Toronto. Jack is passionate about many topics such as housing and neighborhood change, food security, and urban ecology.