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A Comparative Study of Portuguese Homebuyers’ Suburbanization in the Toronto and Montreal Areas

Étude comparée de la suburbanisation des nouveaux propriétaires portugais à Montréal et Toronto
Carlos Teixeira
p. 121-135


Cet article examine l’accès à la propriété, la suburbanisation et la reségrégation des immigrants portugais dans les aires métropolitaines de Toronto et Montréal (villes de banlieue Mississauga et Laval). Les Portugais ont un groupe solidement installé à Toronto et Montréal depuis les années 1950, avec des niveaux élevés d’accès a la propriété et une forte tendance à la suburbanisation. Les Portugais présentent aussi un degré remarquablement élevé de ségrégation au sein des villes de Montréal et Toronto. Reposant sur des questionnaires collectés auprès d’immigrants portugais à Montréal en 1984 et Toronto en 1990, et re-interviewés en 2003, cet article semble indiquer que ce sont plus des facteurs d’attraction de la banlieue que des facteurs répulsifs du centre qui conduisent à la suburbanisation. Les Portugais de Mississauga et Laval sont également caractérisés par une forme d’auto-ségrégation volontaire, qui est entre autres la conséquence de leur recours a des intermédiaires ethniques portugais, en particulier des agents immobiliers, qui jouent un rôle essentiel dans ce processus de reségrégation.

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1Toronto and Montreal – two of Canada’s largest “gateway” cities for immigrants – have over the last few decades experienced a significant transformation in their physical and social/cultural landscapes. In fact, since the early 1950s both Toronto and, to a lesser degree, Montreal and their suburbs have become extraordinarily culturally and racially diverse. According to the 2001 Census, slightly more than 2 million of Toronto’s population (44%) were born outside Canada, while in Montreal almost 622,000 of the population (18%) were born outside Canada [Justus, 2004]. Moreover, the increased “internationalization” of immigration to Canada since the 1960s with shifts in the source countries of immigrants – from European countries to countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Middle East – have meant a dramatic change in the ethnocultural mosaics of Toronto and Montreal. This new wave of recent immigrants also represents a wide spectrum of economic groups including immigrants joining family members already in Canada and business entrepreneurs with money to invest in Canada, to refugees. In considering the economic impacts of immigration upon Toronto and Montreal, it is particularly important to note the effect these immigrants have had in creating demand for a variety of types of housing in both cities and their suburbs.

2There has been a growing awareness among Canadian scholars of the cultural importance some immigrant groups attach to homeownership and their high levels of residential mobility and suburbanization, together with the tendency of some groups to concentrate geographically in certain neighbourhoods and to form ethnic enclaves [Qadeer, 2004; Hiebert, 2000]. In the context of immigrant presence in our major urban areas, the relocation decision-making process – including the move to the suburbs – is regarded as a complex and multifaceted process occurring within heterogeneous housing markets [Clark and Dieleman, 1996; Teixeira and Murdie, 1997]. Immigrants homebuyers’ lack of knowledge about the intricacies of the real estate market, the housing barriers (e.g., discrimination) they may encounter in looking for housing, and their frequent lack of fluency in the “official” languages of Canada (English and French), are all key “forces” in maintaining racial and ethnic segregation in housing [Ozuekren and Van Kempen 2003; Massey and Lundy 2001]. It must be acknowledged that segregation is also often motivated by preferences. A “preference” can include not only the choices by groups – including the dominant group – to spatially avoid other groups but also the preferences of the minority group itself. “Preferences” can also comprise a range of motivations, from fear of hostility to the desire to preserve community. Thus, it is clear that the determination of “preferences” is difficult given that one group’s preference can be seen as another group’s constraint [Kaplan and Woodhouse, 2004].

3Within this context, despite the marked propensity of some immigrant groups to homeownership and towards high levels of residential mobility, the relative importance of the ethnocultural dimension in immigrants’ relocation process has been largely overlooked by Canadian scholars. The little literature that exists in Canada on this subject [e.g., Barrett, 1973; Michelson, 1977; Bordessa, 1978; Teixeira, 1995; Teixeira and Murdie, 1997; Owusu, 1999; Friedman 2000; Miraftab, 2000; Murdie, 2003] has remained, for the most part, exploratory and has lacked intra-and-inter comparative studies both within and between ethnic groups, as well as between cities. In addition, the suburbanization of immigrant and minority groups as well as their impact in shaping the social and cultural geography of our suburbs needs to be studied in a more in-depth way. Finally, more needs to be learned about immigrant residential experiences over a longer period of time [Ozuekren and Van Kempen, 2003; South and Crowder, 1997]. In this context, this paper addresses a major gap in the Canadian literature with regard to analyzing and comparing immigrants’ residential experiences in two of the most multicultural cites in Canada – Montreal and Toronto - over a long period of time (1984/1990-2003).

4This study focuses on the Portuguese who have been an established immigrant group in Toronto and Montreal since the early 1950s. This group shows both high levels of homeownership and a high tendency towards suburbanization. The Portuguese group is also remarkable for their high levels of segregation within the boundaries of the cities of Toronto and Montreal, as well as a marked propensity to resegregate in the suburbs (e.g., Mississauga, a western suburb of Toronto and Laval, north of Montreal). The purpose of this study is to compare the relocation process and the suburbanization of Portuguese homebuyers in the Toronto and Montreal areas. Attention will be focused on their settlement patterns and housing choices, as well as the housing search strategies used when looking for and locating their present residence.

5This longitudinal study relies on data that were first obtained from questionnaire surveys administered in 1984 to Portuguese residents living in the City of Montreal, and in 1990 to residents who left the city of Toronto and moved to Mississauga, a western suburb of Toronto. A total of 36 Portuguese homebuyers in Montreal and 110 in Mississauga participated in the survey. This data was collected in the context of the author’s Masters and Ph.D. research in Geography. Further details on the selection of the samples is given in Teixeira (1986, 1993, pp. 54-56 and pp. 97-112). In 2003 a plan was developed to re-interview the Portuguese homebuyers from both cities: Summer 2003 (Mississauga) Fall 2003 (Montreal). A total of 146 letters (110 in Mississauga and 36 in Montreal) were sent by mail explaining the objectives of the study to potential respondents. After some of those potential respondents were eliminated from the final sample for different reasons (e.g., no listing/unlisted number; moved/new address not found), the final sample of potential respondents was 61 in Mississauga and 30 in Montreal. Of those, thirty-nine (39) in Mississauga and twenty-six (26) in Montreal participated in the telephone survey (Figures 1 and 2), with all interviews being conducted in Portuguese. Supplementary data was collected from informal interviews with “key” members of Portuguese communities in the Toronto and Montreal areas.

Figure 1. Portuguese respondents (Previous and present residence) in Toronto and Mississauga

Figure 1. Portuguese respondents (Previous and present residence) in Toronto and Mississauga

Figure 2. Portuguese respondents (Previous and present residence) in Montreal and Laval

Figure 2. Portuguese respondents (Previous and present residence) in Montreal and Laval

1. The Portuguese in Toronto and Montreal

6While Portuguese historical contacts with Canada date back five centuries when Portuguese navigators charted the Atlantic coast of Canada, Portuguese immigration to this country is relatively recent, beginning in the early 1950s. The first wave of Portuguese immigration to Canada (mainly men) came to fill a demand for agricultural and construction work. However, the main goal of these men was to reconstitute their families in Canada. Thus, from the 1960s to the early 1980s sponsorship and family reunification were largely responsible for a “chain migration” process that formed the bulk of the Portuguese immigration to Canada. However, in the last decade or so immigration from Portugal has decreased gradually due to changes in the Canadian immigration policies as well as to the entry of Portugal into the European Community. Upon arrival in Canada, and despite the fact that most Portuguese immigrants to Canada came from rural areas of Portugal (particularly from the Azores Islands), their final destination were the urban areas of Canada. Within this context Toronto and Montreal became by far the two most important “ports of entry” for Portuguese immigrants arriving on Canadian soil.

1.1 Initial Settlement: “Kensington” and “St. Louis” Neighbourhoods

7Toronto’s and Montreal’s Portuguese communities came into being only at the end of the 1950s. The initial residential experiences of the Portuguese pioneers occurred mainly in well-known “immigrant reception areas” in Toronto (e.g., Kensington Market) and Montreal (e.g., St. Louis) (Figures 3 and 4). These two culturally diverse ethnic neighbourhoods, both located in close proximity to the “Central Business Districts” (C.B.D.) of their respective cities, had already acquired the reputation of being welcoming to new immigrants. Moreover, factors such as location (being close to jobs in factories, construction) and public transportation were important “pull” forces attracting immigrants to these neighbourhoods. In addition, in the 1950s and 1960s these two working class neighbourhoods had also affordable housing – to buy and/or rent – which made them attractive to new immigrants arriving in the city without significant financial resources.( figures 3 and 4.)

8It was in these two neighbourhoods – Kensington and St. Louis – that the seeds for the formation of the Portuguese communities in both cities took root. At the end of the 1950s the first Portuguese entrepreneurial initiatives took place in them, and homeownership levels in the surrounding area increased steadily. In Toronto, by the mid-1960s, the Portuguese had transformed Kensington, known until then as a “Jewish market”, into a “Portuguese market”. In Montreal similar changes took place in the core of the St. Louis neighbourhood, and gradually the Portuguese presence brought new “life” and “colour” to that part of the City of Montreal. In both neighbourhoods the Portuguese placed their own cultural “imprint” upon the landscape with new businesses, institutions and houses painted in the colourfully distinctive Portuguese style. Another important identifier of the Portuguese presence in the area were the numerous statues and religious figures of popular saints from Portugal that were placed in their new front yards. In this way, in both neighbourhoods the Portuguese were able to recreate the rural atmosphere of their “home”! Moreover, home improvements through renovations and upgrades in both areas largely contributed to the rejuvenation of these two previously run-down neighbourhoods. With their ideas about housing construction originating in the rural areas of Portugal, these housing renovations – both in Kensington Market and in the St. Louis – reflected the rural aesthetics and cultural values of their homeland.

1.2 Portuguese “Colonies”: “Little Portugal”/“Petit Portugal”

9During the 1960s important changes occurred in the settlement patterns, as well as in the residential location, of the Portuguese in the cities of Toronto and Montreal. In Toronto, a shift away from the Kensington area to the south-west (along College and Dundas Streets) of the city took place, while in Montreal the community extended north to Mont-Royal Avenue (Figure 3 et 4)During the 1960s the majority of the Portuguese in Toronto and Montreal were “sponsored” by a member of their nuclear or extended family. In fact, friends and relatives already established in both cities played a crucial role in helping new Portuguese immigrants get established in their new environment. For example, friends and relatives were very important in helping our respondents finding a job and housing as well as in the selection of the neighbourhood of settlement after arrival [Teixeira, 1986, 1993]. Given the arrival and settlement of entire families in this process of “chain migration,” with a strong reliance on “ethnic” networks of contacts, this “chain migration” became a key factor that ultimately led to the formation of distinctive residential streets and neighbourhoods (e.g., “Little Portugal”/”Petit Portugal”) in downtown Toronto and, to a lesser degree, Montreal. In these areas, the Portuguese constructed ethnic neighbourhoods and economic enclaves with a high degree of “institutional completeness”. This has been evident since the mid 1960s given the appreciable number of social, cultural, and religious institutions that have been established, as well as the wide range of businesses which serve a highly specialize co-ethnic market by providing the group with ethnic products and services in their own language. In these two ethnic areas the Portuguese were able to reproduce many of the characteristics and traditions of the society they left behind. In fact, the high concentration of the Portuguese group in these two areas has effectively transformed the ethno-cultural landscape of parts of the cities of Toronto and Montreal.

10An important rural-cultural trait transplanted from Portugal was the preoccupation with homeownership. The Portuguese in general take great pride in owning a “piece of land”. In consequence, homeownership in Toronto and Montreal was a high priority for members of this immigrant group. Thanks to hard work, thrift and stringent households saving, and extended family cooperation, most Portuguese by the 1960s and early 1970s had acquired old but inexpensive real estate in Toronto (e.g., Kensington and surrounding neighbourhoods) and Montreal (e.g., St. Louis and Mile-End). Private sources of finance (e.g., second mortgages) largely facilitated undercapitalized purchases [Lavigne, 1987; Murdie and Teixeira, 2003]. In fact, quite often the loan purchases were also financed by realtors (often Portuguese themselves). In this way, the problem of financing homeownership was frequently solved within the Portuguese immigrant community without the involvement of mortgage lending institutions.

11This close cooperation between members of the Portuguese community in facilitating homeownership has been a defining characteristic of the group. For example, in many cases families would occupy part of the house while renting another part to fellow Portuguese for extra income. Extensive renovations were often made by the new owners with the assistance of friends and family. Thus, with help and co-operation of friends and relatives, Portuguese immigrants were able to “rejuvenate” older working-class neighbourhoods in Toronto and Montreal. Given this context, it was not surprising that results from both Toronto and Montreal reveal that for Portuguese homebuyers, housing and home ownership are synonymous with security. They are symbols of security for the immigrant and his family in the New World [Teixeira 1986, 1996]. Moreover, for first generation Portuguese immigrants in Canada, homeownership also became a vehicle for economic mobility by providing capital through the resale of the house to finance a move to a larger and more modern house in the suburbs. Thus, for members of the Portuguese group, the process of suburbanization was seen as a sign of success, and of social and economic mobility, in their immigrant experience.

Figure 3. Portuguese respondents by mother tongue in Toronto and Mississauga

Figure 3. Portuguese respondents by mother tongue in Toronto and Mississauga

Figure 4. Portuguese respondents by mother tongue in Montreal and Laval

Figure 4. Portuguese respondents by mother tongue in Montreal and Laval

1.3 Suburbanization

12During the first three decades of Portuguese settlement in Toronto and Montreal, the Portuguese group showed distinct spatial patterns, which translated into spatial and social isolation from the host society. In fact, in both cities the Portuguese showed particularly high levels of residential concentration [Qadeer, 2003; Lavigne and Teixeira, 2000]. For first generation immigrants this segregation was a major barrier to their blending into Toronto’s and Montreal’s mainstream societies. Many factors – such as language barriers, cultural values, way of life, socio-economic status and a heavy reliance on “ethnic” (group) sources of information in looking for and locating housing – serve to explain the high concentration that characterizes the Portuguese group in both cities.

13However, it is important to note that the Portuguese communities of Toronto and Montreal have expanded since their original settlement. The slow dispersion of the Portuguese in Toronto and Montreal is a fairly recent phenomenon. Since the mid-1970s, the group’s residential patterns have changed as the Portuguese have become more dispersed residentially over a larger area than ever before. Two patterns have emerged in this process – first, a northward movement (in both cities) along the traditional “immigrant corridors”; and second, a movement to the suburbs, especially Mississauga and Laval, in an intra-city migration that usually involves some form of segregated resettlement (self-segregation) (Figures 3 and 4). However, while the Portuguese group is “on the move” they have shown no sign of relinquishing attachment to the original “Little Portugals” of Toronto and Montreal. Members of the group who live in the suburbs often do their shopping and continue to engage in the live of the core of the community in the downtowns of Toronto and Montreal. This being said, however, there are already signs that other Portuguese “colonies” are growing in the suburbs of Toronto (e.g., Mississauga) and Montreal (e.g., Laval), thus contributing to a new stage in the “life-cycle” of the Portuguese communities in Canada.

2. Survey results

2.1 Moving: “Push” and “Pull” Factors

14Portuguese in the Toronto and Montreal areas are characterized by high of homeownership and residential mobility. Within this context the key questions are: Where do they move to, and why? To determine the answers to these questions, Portuguese homebuyers were asked for the main reasons (“push” factors) why they left their previous residence, usually in the cities of Toronto and Montreal, and moved to the suburbs. Respondents from both cities mentioned the wish to live in a modern/larger house, with a backyard and front garden, as the most important reason for moving from previous residence (48.7% in Toronto versus 69.2% in Montreal). Housing prices (30.8% in Toronto versus 23.1% in Montreal) and neighbourhood safety/quality (25.6% in Toronto and 19.2% in Montreal) also ranked high among Portuguese movers from both cities. Classic factors such as proximity to transportation, schools, shopping centres and services actually seemed to have played a minor role. Since most of this first generation of Portuguese homebuyers came from rural areas of Portugal, particularly the Azores Islands, it is not surprising that their cultural preferences manifested in the common desire for larger houses/lots and “green spaces”. In addition, with regard to the reasons for selecting their present residence (“pull” factors), Portuguese respondents emphasized in particular the area/neighbourhood (61.5% in Toronto versus 73.1% in Montreal) and the type (single family dwelling)/lot size of house (59.0% versus 76.9%)

Table 1. Most important reason for selecting present residence

Percentage of homebuyers mentioning (1)







Size/Type of House/Lot






Housing Prices



Proximity to Relatives/Friends



Proximity to Work-Suburbs



Proximity to Highways/




Proximity to Church



Proximity to Shopping/Hospitals






(1) Percentages do not add up to 100% because households indicated more than one reason for selecting residence.

Source: Questionnaire Survey (2003)

15These responses can be seen reflected in the words of some of the respondents:

16“We wanted a quieter environment. When we moved here [Mississauga] this area was farmland...a better environment to raise a family...” (Table 1)

17“Parts of Laval remind me of Portugal...fresh air, a lot of green spaces around and new houses with huge backyards....”

18In general, a large majority of Portuguese homeowners think they made the right move. Overall, respondents are highly satisfied with their new residence and neighbourhood (94.9% in Mississauga versus 88.5% in Montreal/suburbs). Not surprisingly, when asked if they would recommend the areas where they are living now to their friend/relatives as a place to live, all respondents (100%) from Mississauga, and almost all respondents (92.3%) from Montreal/suburbs, answered in the affirmative.

19The fact that these two groups of respondents are highly satisfied with their housing conditions does not mean that they did not try to upgrade their new dwellings. Indeed, as their original settlement experiences indicate, the passion of Portuguese immigrants for homeownership does not stop with the purchase of a new house. Housing renovations/upgrading – whether they are urgent or not – become an integral element in their lives. The employment of many Portuguese in the construction business and reliance on their construction skills, as well as help from co-ethnic friends and relatives, assists in the renovation process. As one respondent noted:

20“I was a carpenter in Portugal so it’s rare the weekend that I don’t work at somebody’s else house doing something...people appreciate a lot what I do and we become friends forever....”

21Interestingly, the percentage of Portuguese homeowners who made housing renovations since they moved to their present residence is quite high (82.1% in Mississauga versus 92.3% in Montreal/suburbs). Results indicate that the most important and popular type of renovation for Portuguese homeowners is the finishing of the basement (43.8% in Mississauga versus 62.5% in Montreal/suburbs) (Table 2). This choice is important given the fact that many Portuguese families spend most of their recreation time in the basement recreation rooms, and many even have their daily meals there. Other additions made by the homeowners to their basements include a wine cellar, a bar, a new kitchen and bathroom. Thus, most Portuguese respondents agreed that “finishing” a basement is always a good investment. As one respondent noted:

22“You never lose money ...some immigrant groups like houses with finished basements...if you do good work it pays off later on well you sell your house...”

23In this way, housing renovations are seen within the community not only as a way of improving housing conditions but also of accumulating capital in terms of future resale

Table 2. Type of housing renovations in the present residence

Percentage of homebuyers mentioning (1)

Type of renovations



Finish Basement



Repairs/New Roof



Interior Renovations



Hard Wood Floors



New Tiles-Kitchen/Bathroom



Backyard –New Deck/Fences



New Bathrooms






(1) Percentages do not add up to 100% because households indicated more than one type of renovations.

Source: Questionnaire Survey (2003)

2.2 Searching for Housing and the Role of “Ethnic” Real Estate Agents

24Searching for housing in the complex heterogeneous housing markets of North America cities and their suburbs is not an easy task. In fact, the task of gathering information can be even more difficult for new immigrant groups, including those whose knowledge of the official languages is limited. When searching for housing Portuguese respondents relied on a wide variety of information sources (e.g., real estate agents, relatives/friends, newspapers, driving around, signs on property/open houses). However, when respondents were asked to identify the most important source of information used to find the present residence, results point to the considerable importance Portuguese homebuyers attach to “ethnic” sources of information

Table 3. Most important information sources used to find present residence

Information sources



Ethnic Real Estate Agents



Friends and Relatives



Non-Ethnic Agents



Signs on Property/Open House/

Driving Around









(1) Percentages do not add up to 100% because households indicated more than one type of renovations.

Source: Questionnaire Survey (2003)

25Respondents from both Toronto and Montreal relied extensively on Portuguese real estate agents (46.2% versus 61.5%) and Portuguese friends and relatives (20.5% versus 23.1%). Portuguese real estate agents were by far the most important key housing intermediaries in the Portuguese homebuyers’ relocation process in helping them finding their present residence. This heavy reliance by first generation Portuguese homebuyers can be explained, at least in part, as a function of trust and ethnic solidarity. Beyond a common language, ethnic background, region/island of origin, and ethnic ties, there is a sense of solidarity and co-operation among respondents toward those who share common values – “insiders of the group” [Teixeira and Murdie, 1997]. As some respondents noted:

26“I already bought a house with him [Portuguese agent]....he is honest and very professional. I like the services he change to another agent that I don’t know?”

27“Portuguese agents know our [housing] ‘tastes’...we just told her where we would like to buy [Mississauga] was easy to find the house we wanted....”

28“I lived all my life in Montreal but I didn’t know too much about Laval. Everybody talks about it and are moving there. One day I called a Portuguese friend who was already living there [Chomeday, Laval] and I asked for his opinion...I finished by buying close to my friend and I used the Portuguese agent he suggested....”  

29Overall, both groups of Portuguese homebuyers share the same “cultural” preference/orientation towards “ethnic” sources of information. This preference for Portuguese real estate agents may help to consolidate a distinctive ethnic real estate business as a part of a Portuguese ethnic economy in both Toronto and Montreal. However, the main difference between the two groups of homebuyers lies on the degree to which they rely on their group/ethnic sources of information rather than on the type of sources used. Within this context, Portuguese homebuyers from the Montreal area are much more dependent on real estate agents from the same ethnic background than homebuyers from the Toronto area. These results are surprising since the Portuguese community of Montreal has a more limited number of Portuguese real estate agents and agencies owned by Portuguese brokers than the Portuguese community of Toronto. We can speculate at this stage that one possible explanation for this behaviour (selection of a Portuguese agent) may be due to a stronger attachment and loyalty/cultural affinity by the Portuguese homebuyers from Montreal towards agents from the same cultural background given the smaller size of the community. Despite the lack of research on the Canadian ethnic real estate industry, we can speculate that this tendency of Portuguese homebuyers – namely their heavy reliance on real estate agents of the same cultural background – may not be unique to the Portuguese group. Anecdotal evidence suggests that other groups, such as the Italians in Toronto and Montreal, may also be relying heavily on co-ethnic information sources, including ethnic real estate agents, in searching for housing in the cities and the suburbs.

2.3 Suburban Resegregation (self-segregation): Good or Bad?

30While Portuguese agents have been identified as major cultural intermediaries in the relocation process, within this context we can speculate that their importance as sources of spatial bias and their impact on the behaviour of Portuguese homebuyers is also important. Evidence from Toronto shows that the resettlement of the Portuguese in Mississauga is, in large part, the result of successful marketing strategies/campaigns (e.g., homeownership as a secure investment and Mississauga as the city to buy the Portuguese “dream” home) by Portuguese real estate agents [Teixeira 2002]. In the case of Portuguese real estate agents from Montreal it seems that they also played a very important role in selling the idea of buying in the suburbs of Montreal, particularly Laval, where the “rural” aspects of some areas would be attractive to an immigrant Portuguese population mainly from rural areas of Portugal, and particularly the Azores islands. Thus, in a relatively short period of time, both Mississauga and Laval became the most important relocation areas for Toronto’s and Montreal’s Portuguese. According to “key” informants the number of Portuguese in these suburbs increased exponentially - Mississauga grew rapidly from 1,500 in 1971 to approximately 50,000 today. With regard to Laval it in turn grew from less than one thousand people in 1971 to approximately 10,000-15,000 today.

31In this context, the question of to what extent are Portuguese real estate agents responsible for this “exodus” of Portuguese from Toronto and Montreal to Mississauga and Laval becomes particularly important? Already evidence from Toronto suggests that Portuguese real estate agents have played a key role on this move to the suburbs, through their use of the Portuguese media, as well as their active participation in Portuguese social-cultural events and/or providing services outside the field of the real estate to their clients [Teixeira, 1995, 2002]. As some “key” informants noted:

32“Real estate agents survival depends on selling houses...They know well the Portuguese and know that buying housing [real estate] is very important for us... We came to stay in housing is everything for us and what a better place to live then in Laval...They [agents] know that...”

33“They [real estate agents] may know that you are happy with your house....but they insist and if they see you they will ask – ‘don’t you want to move...and buy a better house? I just sold a house to one of your friends.... Now is the right time to buy...’...they want your business”

34However, the extent to which Portuguese real estate agents – through their behaviour and marketing strategies – have helped reproduce the patterns of Portuguese settlement in the suburbs remains an open question. Portuguese agents know how important Portuguese clients are for the success of their businesses. For example, respondents were asked: “Since you moved to [present residence] have you ever been contacted by real estate agents about the possibility of selling your present residence?” Almost all respondents from both cities (97.4 in Mississauga versus 96.2% in Montreal/suburbs) answered in the affirmative. It is particularly important to note that approximately 58.0% (Mississauga) and 88.5% (Montreal/suburbs) of those real estate agents who contacted them were Portuguese. Evidence indicates that Portuguese agents from Montreal seem to canvassing more regularly in Portuguese areas than Portuguese agents from Toronto. This may, in part, explain the heavier reliance by Portuguese homebuyers from Montreal on Portuguese agents in the search and purchase process (see Table 3).

  • 1 The Portuguese respondents from both Toronto and Montreal areas form a homogeneous cultural group – (...)

35In general, the Portuguese group in Mississauga and in Laval are characterized by a form of suburban (self-segregation) resegregation which seems to be partially a result of their heavy reliance on “ethnic” sources of information. They have not “desegregated” with suburbanization but, rather, “resegregated” or moved from the inner city to the suburbs while retaining their compact, ethnically-concentrated settlement pattern. Clearly these respondents continue to choose to live in close proximity to existing pockets or nuclei of Portuguese concentration (e.g., close to the Portuguese churches and/or near Portuguese friends and relatives). These results are not surprising, given that the Portuguese group in both Mississauga and Laval are first-generation immigrants who continue to exhibit a relatively high degree of cultural identification and language retention; a fact which explains the similar resegregation patterns in the two cities at approximately the same stage in the life-cycle of the ethnic communities. This group also reveals levels of high residential concentration in some specific areas/neighbourhoods of the city (e.g., in and around the Portuguese churches in Mississauga and Laval1. Thus, the most important explanation for Portuguese resegregation may therefore be found in “cultural” forces shaping the community from within, rather than on “external” structural forces such as “economic” or “discriminatory” forces in the housing market. One of the major consequences of this resegregation in the suburbs has been the limited number of social contacts with members of other ethnic communities settled in suburban Mississauga and Laval/South River. In regard to the question of how often Portuguese interact with people of outside their ethnic community, respondents were asked about the ethnic background of their friends in their new neighbourhoods. Not surprisingly, less than one third of the respondents in both Mississauga and Laval/South River mentioned that their friends were “Canadians” (non-Portuguese).

36We can speculate that the lack of contacts with non-Portuguese friends is due to several cultural factors, including the language barrier and/or a cultural preference to live among and socialize with people of the same ethnic background. In contrast, when respondents were asked about contacts they may have with the Portuguese community in Toronto and Montreal – Little Portugal – these group of suburbanites still maintain close contacts with the “core” of these Portuguese communities by returning regularly to visit relatives and friends or to shop on weekends (Table 4). For some of those respondents, and despite their suburbanization, their cultural attachment to Toronto and Montreal is still very strong. Within this context, both Mississauga and Laval/South River play the role of “dormitory” (“bedroom”) suburb for many Portuguese homebuyers, with members of both suburban communities continuing to patronize businesses and organizations in the “institutionally complete” cores of the communities in the nearby larger cities. In this sense, Mississauga and Laval represent “bedroom communities” for many Portuguese respondents who work in Toronto and Montreal. The modest development and growth of Portuguese organizations – except for the building of three new churches – and businesses in Mississauga and Laval over the last two decades may thus reflect the proximity of Mississauga’s and Laval’s Portuguese communities to Little Portugal/Petit Portugal in the urban cores of Toronto and Montreal respectively.

Table 4. Contacts with the Portuguese community in Toronto/Montreal

Percentage of homebuyers mentioning (1)

Type of contacts



Family Visits



Visits to Portuguese Friends



Shopping on Weekends



Participation in Social/

Cultural or Religious Events






Social Services



Visits to Non-Portuguese




(1) Percentage of respondents who indicated “more than once a week” or “once a week” for the indicated type of contacts.

Source: Questionnaire Survey (2003)


37The main purpose of this longitudinal study has been to compare the relocation process and the suburbanization of Portuguese homebuyers in the Toronto and Montreal areas. The Portuguese group is a relatively new one in Canada. However, in a short period of time they have been able to build in Toronto, and to a lesser degree in Montreal, important ethnic neighbourhoods and economic enclaves (“Little Portugal”/”Petit Portugal”) with a high degree of “institutional completeness”. However, the Portuguese communities in both cities have expanded since their original settlement with a move to the suburbs since the early 1970s, in which Portuguese left the inner city and surrounding neighbourhoods in search of their “dream” home. In fact, with respect to the “pull” versus “push” factors leading to their suburbanization, empirical evidence indicates that the majority of the Portuguese homebuyers were “pulled” into relocating to Mississauga and Laval/South Shore because these “new” suburbs of Toronto and Montreal offered what the Portuguese wanted in terms of housing: preferably a single family dwelling, in large lots, and with large backyards, as well as quality neighbourhood that safe to raise kids, with lots of green space around.

38Given that searching for housing in Toronto’s and Montreal’s complex housing markets, including their suburbs, is not an easy task, in their housing search process Portuguese homebuyers relied extensively on “ethnic” (community) sources of information. In particular, Portuguese agents and friends/relatives played a very important role in assisting these homebuyers in looking for and locating their present residence. These “ethnic” sources played a key role as cultural intermediaries in the suburbanization of the Portuguese in both Toronto and Montreal areas. The fact that the Portuguese group’s residential patterns in Mississauga and Laval are characterized by a form of suburban self-segregation seems to be, at least partly, the result of their heavy reliance on “ethnic” sources of information. The self-segregation (or resegregation) of the Portuguese in the suburbs of Toronto and Montreal can therefore be said to be motivated, in part, by cultural preferences. Thus, we can conclude that cultural “forces” are shaping these communities from within rather than “structural forces (e.g., discrimination, economic reasons) defining them from without, in terms of their residential patterns in the suburbs. Given this, the move to the suburbs for these first-generation Portuguese homebuyers cannot be seen as a radical step to their residential assimilation. Empirical evidence also indicates that despite the move to the suburbs and a tendency to self-segregation there, most Portuguese respondents are still highly attached via regular/frequent contacts to the “cores” of their communities in Toronto and Montreal where they lived before moving to the suburbs. From this perspective, both Mississauga and Laval/South Shore may be playing more a role of “dormitory” (bedroom) suburbs for many Portuguese families than an independent community. It may therefore be said that the Portuguese got the best of both “worlds” by moving to the suburbs – a comfortable single detached family dwellings in a neighbourhood with green space, but yet close to the cores of the Portuguese communities in Toronto (“Little Portugal”) and Montreal (“Petit Portugal”).

39These results are not surprising given that the respondents were all first-generation immigrants (born in Portugal), who tend to manifest high levels of cultural identification, language retention, and residential segregation. However, it is noteworthy that these results also contradict a number of existing studies of immigrant groups in the United States and Canada. These studies – reflecting the “spatial assimilation model” –contend that:

40a) the socio-economic status and degree of acculturation of immigrants directly impacts their residential mobility;

41b) spatial segregation will be reduced in the course of residential dispersal to the suburbs [Allen and Turner, 1996; Fong and Wilkes, 1999].

42In the case of the Portuguese group, the move to the suburbs has not increased their levels of residential integration to levels predicted by the “spatial assimilation model” [Massey, 1985]. This being said, at this point there is clearly a need for further research into the causes of the continuing separation of ethnic groups, not only in our multiethnic cities but also in their suburbs. In particular, more work needs to be done on the continuing debate regarding the complex forces contributing to the suburbanization of immigrant groups [Clark and Blue, 2004; Kaplan and Woodhouse, 2004; Fong and Wilkes, 1999]. These new studies will allow not only scholars but also policymakers and civil society organizations to better understand and address the new, and increasingly complex, settlement patterns of the immigrant groups who are playing an ever-greater role in defining the economic, cultural and physical landscapes of our major urban and suburban areas.

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1 The Portuguese respondents from both Toronto and Montreal areas form a homogeneous cultural group – first generation born in Portugal. Almost half of them arrived in Canada during the period 1965-1975 and emigrated for economic reasons and/or to join family members already established in Canada (82.1% in Toronto versus 88.5% in Montreal). The educational level attained by the respondents before emigrating to Canada was generally low. The majority (56.4% in Toronto versus 69.2% in Montreal) reported attaining primary levels of education (four years of education). With regard to occupational status, the Portuguese as a group are currently concentrated in construction, services and processing occupations. Thus, Portuguese respondents can best be defined as working class (“blue collar”). On arrival in Canada all respondents first settled in the cities of Toronto or Montreal before they moved to the suburbs – Mississauga or Laval/South Rive

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Portuguese respondents (Previous and present residence) in Toronto and Mississauga
Fichier image/png, 85k
Titre Figure 2. Portuguese respondents (Previous and present residence) in Montreal and Laval
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Titre Figure 3. Portuguese respondents by mother tongue in Toronto and Mississauga
Fichier image/png, 174k
Titre Figure 4. Portuguese respondents by mother tongue in Montreal and Laval
Fichier image/png, 172k
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Carlos Teixeira, « A Comparative Study of Portuguese Homebuyers’ Suburbanization in the Toronto and Montreal Areas »Espace populations sociétés, 2006/1 | 2006, 121-135.

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Carlos Teixeira, « A Comparative Study of Portuguese Homebuyers’ Suburbanization in the Toronto and Montreal Areas »Espace populations sociétés [En ligne], 2006/1 | 2006, mis en ligne le 01 avril 2008, consulté le 26 mars 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Carlos Teixeira

Department of Geography
University of British Columbia Okanagan
3333 University Way
Kelowna, British Columbia
Canada VIV 1V7

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