Early Portuguese Immigrants in British Columbia - Estalon Jose Bittancourt

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Estalon Jose Bittencourt

Bittencourt was probably one of the first 40 settlers that arrived in Salt Springs or he may have arrived shortly after the first wave . The Victoria Gazette, on the 22nd of November 1859 reported: “ We are informed that the number of actual settlers now on Salt Spring is 40, a majority whom are putting up buildings and making other preparations towards permanently establishing themselves as agriculturists upon their claims.” There are sources mentioning the Bittencourt presence on the island as early as 1861.

Charles Khan in the “Story of an Island, puts the arrival of the Portuguese around 1860. “The Vesuvius-Central area was settled mainly by two groups: Blacks mostly from California, and Portuguese. Thirteen Black settlers arrived in 1859, and several others joined them the next year. The Portuguese—John Norton, Delarvo Norton, Estalon Jose Bittencourt, and Manoel Bittencourt—also arrived around 1860. “

Jose Estalon from Salt Spring Islands was one of the first Bittencourt to arrive in Canada (his brother Manuel Antoine may have come with him). He was born in the Azores on the 9 of September 1839. One of his ancestors said he was born in Ponta Delgado in Sao Miguel . Source: http://www.jenforum.org/bettencourt/messages/80.html

Jean Barman in “The Remarkable Adventures of Portuguese Joe Silvey” mentions: Estalon and Manuel Bittancourt came from the Azores via the Australian gold rush of the early1850s. Sometime thereafter they persuaded their fellow Azorean John Norton to join them on Salt Spring Island…”

The Bittencourts seemed that had a serious influence in bringing some Portuguese to the island. Although, Charles Khan, Pretends in his book that John Norton was the one who influenced in settling in the island. (Khan mentions on the advice of another Portuguese, John Norton, he moved to Salt Spring and became a successful entrepreneur).

If we had a doubt who influenced who, we know where E.J settled. “On Salt Spring, the intrepid Portuguese brothers, Manoel Antoine (Antonio?) and Estalon Jose Bittencourt, held prosperous sections in the vicinity of Vesuvius Bay.” Source Salt Spring Saga

Later on he may have acquired more land. We know that the Bittencourt family settled on the land of an Afro-American called William Robinson from New-Jersey who was murdered in 1868. We can assume that they took possession of the land after that year. We have to remember that they were already living in the island way before the murder we may assume they may just have expanded their land assets from their previous holdings. The land of both parties were near each other close to Vesuvius Bay. Source: http://www.albany.edu/jmmh/vol3/robinson/robinson.html

Charles Khan mentions that “Vesuvius Bay, in the north end of the Island, was largely dominated by Estalon Jose Bittancourt, a Portuguese born in the Azores in 1845.”

After many years it is hard to separate some facts from legend. Charles Khan writes; “ in some ways Bittencourt was a romantic figure. According to one story, he went to sea at about fifteen by swimming to a sailing ship. Whem he reached Vancouver Island, he was refused shore leave but swam ashore at Royal Roads.”

There is no denying all the influence that Bittencourt in the early development of the Island.

E.J Bittencourt played a major role in transporting people to the area “settlers brought sailing vessels with them, and some, such as E.J Bittancourt, provided transport service for their fellow Islanders. Most people, however, relied on the traditional Salish canoe… source “Story of an Island” It may be possible that E.J came to the island on his own schooner. How he was able to buy a big boat after only a few years in Canada shows his truly amazing entrepreunial spirit.

In the book of Salt Spring Saga we also learned that Bittencourt used his schooner also to transport arms to defend the island. The author mentions the numerous skirmishes between the settlers and the natives. The Bittencourt Schooner played a major role to defend the island from the antagonistic natives. “In 1861 the Bittencourt Schooner made the perilous run to Victoria, from Vesuvius Bay, It will include in the return cargo revolvers, rifles and ammunition.”

He also contributed to the building of the St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church. According to Bea Hamilton author of the book Salt Spring Island there were 4 catholic families in the island which seem to be a low number but there is five names who were mentioned as contributors to the building of this beautiful St. Paul’s rock church still standing today on Fulford Harbor, it was built between 1880-1885. “E.J Bittencourt, who had the first store in Vesuvius: John pappenburger, first mail carrier from Beaver Point: John King: Dick Purser and Michael Gyves Sr., of Burgogne Valley.”

He also had a stone quarry. Khan talks on his book about the Caldwell brothers working on the sandstone quarry of Estalon Bittancourt in Vesuvius. He also mentions about the quarry of Bittencourt which opened in 1886. He said the “sandstone going into the Esquimalt graving dock, the seawall of Victoria’s inner harbour, and the San Francisco mint. “ Bittencourt split his sandstone from the bedrock with wedges , placed it on six-wheeled carts, and winched it down a ramp onto scows. In 1913 the quarry still employed twenty-five East Indians…”

In the 1891 census E.J Bittencourt was listed as the only General Store of the island.

According to Khan the store opened in 1873 on the site of the today’s Vesuvius Inn parking lot. Thirteen years later he added a post office. He also notes, “During his life on the island, Bittancourt operated sandstone quarries, farmed, mined coal, and built several fine houses. In 1878, Father Gustave Donckele from Saanich Mission said the first mass on Salt Spring in a private chapel on the second floor of Bittancourt’s house. About ten years later, Bittancourt built a chapel in a separate building, which he called the “Ark.” This building was still standing in 1998. His zeal for his religion seems characteristic of the people from the Azores.

He was married to Catherine in 1901 who was born in Ontario. He was a dry good merchant. He died in Vesuvius Bay on May 1 1917. He had many sons and daughters. They were: Lawrence, Francis, Frederick, George, Rosalia, Elizebeth, Agnes, Laureta, Source and more detailed info: http://www.rootsweb.com/~canbc/1901vic_cen/divh1/divh1p01.htm (Victoria Census 1901)

The author Eric A. Roberts talks about the giants of Salt Springs and he mentions the special contribution to the settling of the island by the Portuguese pioneers: “… it is easy to do less than justice to the many groups of which the pioneer community was composed. One such group deserving of special mention were the Portuguese brothers Manoel Antoine and Estalon Jose Bittencourt and Joao and Del’Arvo or Delarvo Norton. In View of the contribution they made to the progress of the island by hard work, personal industry, initiative and enterprise, a brief reference to the Portugal they left may not be out of place.” The author goes on to explain the poor economic and political state of Portugal left behind by the pioneers.

The author goes on and he said: “The Bittancourts and the Nortons made excellent settlers. In the initial phases, the Bittancourt schooner was the one link between Salt Spring and Victoria. The will and the resolution of the two families never weakened during the dark times of the Indian troubles and they won esteem and respect of the community, which their successors have retained most worthily.” Source Salt Spring Saga

In the back of the book cover the author also says: the Portuguese, the Kanakas (Hawaians) and the rich, warm story of the coloured people from strife-torn U.S.A, who carried the torch of learning on the island when times were perilious,”

According to Khan “ Until the thirties , only about 4 families lived in Vesuvius village. Some of Estalon Bittencourt’s children stayed in the Bittencourt homes near today’s Vesuvius Ferry terminal site. In 1918, Arthur and Nancy Inglis bought ten acres, put up cottages and tents, and took up tourists.”

One map drawn by a teacher in 1912 shows 4 houses owned by the Bittencourts three are listed as A. R. Bittencourt. One can ask himself if any of the Bittencourt kids had houses on the Island besides his nephew Abraham. There is also a Museum called the Bittencourt Museum on the island. I assume it is related to the same family.