In May 2016, John F. Santos donated his personal records to the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, with Ilda Januário’s and the PCHP’s assistance. Santos’ personal papers are an important addition to the other eight archival collections pertaining to the history of Portuguese-Canadians previously transferred by the PCHP. These records are currently being processed and will be available for consultation soon.
Born in Lisbon, on April 7, 1934, Santos grew up in a poor family. Having lost his father at an early age, John would be raised by his mother, who had three other children. With only basic education, Santos started working in his adolescence as an apprentice butcher to support the family with his late older brother. In his early 20s, he enrolled in night school and in sports; first in basketball and later in competition rowing, having participated in several regional and national level competitions. Santos later realized that he could not achieve his dreams in Portugal and decided to move to Canada in 1960, at age 26. Like so many other fellow countrymen, he soon moved to Delhi and later to Simcoe, in southwestern Ontario, where worked as tobacco, vegetable and fruit picker. In 1965 Santos moved to Toronto, where he became a factory work: as machine operator with Canada Cable & Wire; as rectifier floater, driver, assembler and spot welder with Massey Ferguson; as rotter operator at De Havilland-Douglas Aircraft; and as painter at Ford Motor Co. John continued to attend night-school, taking language and technical courses. In 1969, he obtained a real estate license and changed careers. First he worked for himself (John F. Santos Real Estate Ltd, Predial United Realty Inc., and X. De Lima Realty Inc.), then in 1984 he started working for RE/Max HomeCentre Inc., as a real estate broker.
Santos understood the importance of the electoral process early on and became involved in politics before moving to Toronto. He was involved in citizenship drives and encouraged other Portuguese immigrants to exercise their right to vote. Santos was also active in various Liberal Party’s riding associations across Ontario, including in Etobicoke-Centre, Kingston, Cambridge, and Kitchener.
Santos became heavily involved with Portuguese-Canadian community civil society, especially with the First Portuguese Canadian Club, where he built a strong sports program, including a very successful football team. This led him to become the vice-president of the National Soccer League in 1979-1982. John was also responsible for unveiling the bust of Luis Vaz de Camões on College and Crawford streets. Santos was also involved in the founding and administration of other community organizations, including the Federation of Portuguese Canadian Business and professionals, the Portuguese Canadian Credit Union, the Vila Gaspar Corte-Real senior residence, and the Orpheon Stella Maris.
Having come to the attention of Canadian and Portuguese officials, Santos was nominated to several boards and committees, including the Canadian Consultative Council of Multiculturalism (1973-1977), the Metropolitan Police Complaints Board (1982-1989), Refugee Status Advisory Committee (1985-1986), Criminal Injuries Compensation Board (1985-1989), and the Assessment Review Board (1989-1995). He also became an emigration delegate to the Portuguese Government in Toronto (1982-1983). In 2013, the Portuguese government awarded John with the medal of Commander of the National Order of Merit medal, given to him by President Cavaco e Silva.
John is the husband of Maria Santos and the father of two children, Peter and Nadine, and the dedicated grandfather of six grand-children. He self-published his memoirs in 2012 titled Portugal is My Motherland, Canada My Country.
(Adapted from original text by Ilda Januário)