The cool, wet weather did not put a damper on the warmth of a welcome ceremony for a contingent of visitors from Portugal, conducted by the City of St. John’s this afternoon.
The event was moved from the waterfront to the inside city hall. Despite the last minute change of location, it went ahead not long after the originally scheduled start time of 2 p.m.
The greetings centered around the Portuguese ambassador to Canada, Pedro Moitinho de Almeida and the owner, captain and crew of the tall ship Santa Maria Manuela.
A member of the famed Portuguese White Fleet, the vessel will be in port in St. John’s and welcoming visitors for the rest of the long weekend.
Making a special effort to come out following his heart surgery, mayor Dennis O’Keefe provided his welcome to ambassador Almeida, Capt. Antonia Sao Marcos and an owner of the Santa Maria Manuela, Anibal Paiao. O’Keefe made reference to time he spent in Portugal and a “human connection” that has emerged between Newfoundland and Portugal as a result of over 400 years of trans-Atlantic visits and cultural exchange.
Deputy mayor Shannie Duff also welcomed the Portuguese visitors, offering memories from her youth of streets full of Portuguese sailors.
Called upon to address the gathering, Almeida, the Portuguese ambassador to Canada, revealed it is his first visit to the province.
“I had heard a lot about Newfoundland and Labrador,” he said, mentioning meeting Newfoundlanders and Labradorians while attending functions in other parts of Canada and hearing from them about the historic ties between this province and Portugal. “But I am overwhelmed by what I’ve found here.”
“I am always proud to be Portuguese, but I am particularly proud to be Portuguese in St. John’s.”
Almeida said he had a chance to speak with Premier Kathy Dunderdale on Friday and said they are both interested in encouraging a revival in local Portuguese-Canadian associations and similar groups that might encourage a rediscovery of roots for some, but also a general celebration of the elements of Portuguese culture that have been brought here.
The official welcome was combined with an unveiling of the “Cultural Connection” sculpture — a piece by artist Luben Boykov celebrating the ties between Newfoundland and Portugal. The piece can be seen on the waterfront in St. John’s, where Water Street meets Job’s Cove.
In closing the welcome event, it was announced the visiting dignitaries, as well as the crew of the Santa Maria Manuela, were to receive a hand-bound copy of a collection of poems from former St. John’s poet laureate Agnes Walsh. Walsh went to live in Portugal for over a year and wrote the poems about her experiences. They were translated to Portuguese for the special printing.