By Gilberto Fernandes & Nicole Couture.
Juliet Lopes and her seven-year old daughter Annabelle arrived in Canada as “visitors” from Guyana in 1966, looking for treatment for the latter’s severe bilateral hearing loss. After being told by their doctor in Georgetown that Annabelle’s rehabilitation would depend on extensive research and therapy not available in Guyana, the Lopes family sold “all they [had]” to raise money for the trip to Canada and to pay for an operation that they hoped would improve her hearing loss. The mother and daughter stayed with Juliet’s brother who lived in Toronto, while Annabelle’s father and her five-year-old brother stayed behind. Two years later, the Department of Manpower and Immigration sent Juliet a letter informing her that she could not remain in Canada because her daughter was not “healthy enough.” By then, Juliet had received two job offers but was unable to accept them due to her undocumented status. Meanwhile, she was able to enrol Annabelle in the Toronto School For The Deaf, with help from the Canadian Red Cross.
A Toronto Telegram reporter learned about the Lopes’ story at this point and began covering it. As Juliet explained to that newspaper, her initial goal was to stay in Toronto only long enough for Annabelle to undergo her operation. Eventually, she decided to apply for landed status – along with her husband and son still in Guyana – moved by the prospect of her daughter receiving special education, then unavailable in Guyana. As part of the immigration application process, Juliet and her daughter had to do a medical examination at the Hospital for Sick Children. It was then that the doctor found that Annabelle had a heart murmur, which, together with her hearing loss, disqualified her from obtaining permanent residency. Following this assessment, the government gave Juliet until December 2, 1968 to leave the country; which she refused to do. In this, she was supported by the lawyer Allan Mintz, “a veteran of hundreds of immigration cases,” who pleaded with government officials.
On December 3, the Telegram reported that the Department of Immigration had allowed the Lopes to stay, calling it a “Christmas present from Canada,” including “for all the Canadians who have followed the story of Annabelle.” Also mentioned was the fact that the Minister of Immigration Allan MacEachen had personally reviewed Annabelle’s case and granted her family’s wishes on humanitarian grounds. In turn, the reporter wished only that Annabelle would “some day probably learn to say ‘thank you Canada and Mr. MacEachen, for a merry Christmas.'” That day came rather quickly, as the minister’s staff arranged for the mother and daughter to meet MacEachen three days later in the lobby of the Park Plaza Hotel, which turned into a photo opportunity for the Telegram.
After two years apart, the Lopes family was reunited at the Toronto International Airport on December 11. Lawrence, a hardware salesman in Guyana, also reencountered his three brothers who lived in the city, one of which found him a job at a hardware store in the village of Weston, neighbouring Toronto.
The Lopes were one of many families (exact numbers unknown) of Portuguese background to move to Canada from the former British Guyana, where mass immigration from the Madeiran island had begun in the 1830s. After working initially as labourers in sugar plantations, the Portuguese later moved to cities like Georgetown where they became predominantly shopkeepers. Their “in-between” status in Guyanese society, which derived largely from their racial ambiguity in the eyes of British colonialists and Indo- and Afro-Guyanese, resulted at times in tense relations with other groups vying for power over the South American nation. This was especially the case during its struggle for independence from the British, which was achieved on May 26, 1966. At this time, Portuguese-Guyanese began moving to Canada and other destinations. Some of the most prominent Portuguese-Guyanese-Canadians include the former Mayor of Sudbury and Member of Parliament John Rodriguez; the founding president of Unifor Jerry Dias; the retired soccer player Dwayne de Rosario; and the squash player Nicolette Fernandes.
See our “Hora dos Portugueses” interview with Jerry Dias here.
- Allan Dickie, “A little girl and the Just Society,” Toronto Telegram, November 29, 1968: 1-2.
- “Annabelle’s Christmas gift – she can stay,” Toronto Telegram, December 3, 1968: 1.
- “Big night for a little girl,” Toronto Telegram, December 5, 1968: 31.
- “Anabelle waits for daddy,” Toronto Telegram, December 9, 1968: 31.
- Gary Ralph, “Annabelle gets her daddy – at last,” Toronto Telegram, December 12, 1968: 37.