Saturday, July 13, 2013

Pedro Da Silva

Vista-Global Productions from Toronto and the Pedro da Sylva [sic?] Heritage Group Inc. are apparently teaming up to produce an hour-long documentary on Pedro Da Silva alias Pierre Da Sylva dit Le Portuguais (Lisbon, c.1647-Quebec, 1717). 

Making his way from Portugal to New France sometime before 1673, Da Silva married a local and settled at Beauport, near Quebec.  Over the last decade and a bit, our friend Pedro/Pierre has acquired some notoriety owing mainly, it seems, to Portuguese-Canadians' lobbying.  His claim to fame is that he was the first commissioned postal courier in New France.  He was cited in Ontario's Celebration of Portuguese Heritage Act (2001).  In 2003, Canada Post issued a stamp commemorating him specifically.  In 2008, An Act to recognize Pedro da Silva as Canada’s first officially commissioned letter carrier was introduced in the Canadian Parliament by Liberal MP, Mario Silva (in the end, though, it never got past first reading and did not become law). 

But how accurate are these commemorative claims?  In 1705, Da Silva famously received a commission from Intendant Jacques Raudot.  To quote from it at length: "Étant nécessaire pour le service du roi et le bien public d’établir en cette colonie un messager pour porter les ordres en tous lieux de ce pays où besoin sera, et étant informé de la diligence et fidélité de Pierre Dasilva dit le Portugais, Nous, sous le bon plaisir de Sa Majesté, avons commis et établi ledit Portugais messager ordinaire pour porter les lettres de M. le gouverneur général et les nôtres pour le service du Roi dans toute l’étendue de cette colonie lui permettant de se charger de celles des particuliers pour les rendre a leur adresse et en rapporter les réponses.

I know of no earlier commission of this sort.  Da Silva, then, indeed appears to have the first individual to be designated as official messenger to the governor and intendant.  But any claims beyond this reflect an overly generous reading of the evidence.  The1705 commission's provision by which Da Silva was allowed to carry letters "from private persons to their address and to bring back the replies", which has been interpreted as an official recognition of his role as a postal carrier for the colony, is more accurately understood as permission for a practice that might otherwise have been perceived as a representing a conflict of interest : here you have a messenger of the state who is expressly allowed to supplement his income by carrying letters for private individuals.  I might be wrong, but this strikes me as something rather different from the modern mail carrier.  Anyways, a digitized version of the original document can be viewed via the Archives Canada-France database... on a good day, at least, as this database is notoriously malfunctioning.

In light of the 1705 commission, researchers have worked back and found that as early July of 1693 Da Silva was paid 20 sols to carry a package between Montreal and Quebec.  And some have seen in this the first postal distribution in Canada.  Not so.  A variety of individuals had carried letters and packages along this axis for a good half century on an ad hoc basis, and had sometimes been paid for it.  How else do you think that mail circulated?

Da Silva's absence in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography gives us a sense of how recent -- and unfounded in scholarship -- the commemorative emphasis has been.  His son, the mason Nicolas Dasilva, did receive an entry, though.

Sorry, Pedro/Pierre...

Filming of the documentary will take place in the vicinity of Trois-Pistoles.  Historical "adventurer" Billy Rioux is set to consult with the scenario and play the main character.  Rather little information is available at this point, beyond an article in the weekly Info Dimanche.



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  2. Il s'agit d'un documentaire tournée par la collaboration de Pedro Da Sylva Heritage et Vista-Global production de Toronto. Le producteur M. Moniz est un portugais d'origine et cherche à faire connaître les Portugais qui ont construit le Canada.
    Billy Rioux, moi-même, a été engagé à titre de consultant, coordonnateur et comme personnage principal au tournage. Le bateau plat de la Nouvelle-France de 20 pieds (batteau) a été construit par moi-même selon les techniques traditionnelles. Même chose pour le canot d'écorce d'épinette, l'un des 4 exemplaires au Canada.
    La population de la région des Basques ont démontré beaucoup d'enthousiastes au projet. Grâce à eux nous avons réalisé un documentaire qui méritera, je l'espère, une reconnaissance du public pour M. Moniz. Pour plus d'informations, je vous invite à m'écrire personnellement à ou visiter mon site web

  3. Merci pour ces precisions, Billy.