May 27, 1955
One of the highlights of the 100th Anniversary celebrations of the Basilica – Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in St. John’s in 1955 was a parade of four – five thousand Portuguese fishermen from the “White Fleet” who marched through the city of St. John’s on May 27, 1955.
The fishermen walked in procession from the waterfront to the Basilica –Cathedral and presented a gift in the form of Our Lady of Fatima, comprising a group of nine statues, of poly chromed and gilt plaster.
The statues were presented to Archbishop Patrick J. Skinner of St. John’s, by Reverend Father J. A. Rosa, chaplain of the Portuguese fleet, on behalf of the officers and crews of the fleet, and the people of Portugal. The grotto where the statues were placed is located under the west gallery in the Basilica Cathedral.
Only two other pieces of public art celebrate the presence of the Portuguese in Newfoundlandand and Labrador.
The statue of Gaspar Corte-Real Portuguese navigator – he reached Terra Nova (Newfoundland) in the 15th century. This statue was unveiled on May 1965 in front of Confederation Building in St. John’s. It was a gift from from the Portuguese Fisheries Organization as an expression of gratitude on behalf of the Portuguese Grand Banks fishermen for the friendly hospitality always extended to them by the people of Terra Nova.
Another installation of public art to celebrate the history of the Portuguese in Newfoundlandare the series of murals located on Duckworth Street. (near the site of the Sheraton Hotel) The murals depict scenes from towns in Portugal.
The most recent memorial to the Portuguese fishermen is the unmarked grave of White Fleet Fisherman, Dionisio Esteves. He died during the 1966 fishing campaign while unloading his daily catch of codfish. He was crushed between his swamped dory and the steel hull of the fishing vessel. His grave site has come to symbolize all those Portuguese fishermen who lost their lives fishing in Newfoundland waters.
Recommended Archival Collection: What do we have in the ‘Rooms Archives’ on the Portuguese in Newfoundland. Type Portuguese in the search bar here: http://gencat1.eloquent-systems.com/webcat/request/DoMenuRequest?SystemName=The+Rooms+Public&UserName=wa+public&Password=&TemplateProcessID=6000_3355&bCachable=1&MenuName=The+Rooms+Archives
Recommended Reading: Port O’ Call, Memories of the Portuguese White Fleet in St. John’s, Newfoundland, by Priscilla Doel (Institute of Social and Economic Research, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, 1992).
Recommended Website: Watch and listen as the Portuguese carry the Fatima Statues to the Basilica Cathedral, on May 27, 1955. http://www.museevirtuel-virtualmuseum.ca/sgc-cms/expositions-exhibitions/basilique-basilica/assets/year_of_joy.html