Jesus, Abílio Maria de

Date of birth: August 1, 1950
Place of birth: Outeiro da Venda, Caldas da Rainha, Portugal
Arrival in Canada: 1929
Occupations: Labourer (carpenter helper; concrete forming), foreman
Sectors: Residential, commercial, and industrial
Landmark projects: First Canadian Place

Abílio de Jesus was born on August 1, 1950, in the rural village of Outeiro da Venda, Caldas da Rainha district, in central mainland Portugal. His parents were poor farmers with no formal education. Abílio himself attended attended school until grade four, at which point he left to help his parents raise his siblings. At age fifteen, Abílio’s father signed him to the merchant navy, where he worked as a kitchen helper. During the next five years he cooked first for the soldiers being transported to and between Angola and Mozambique to fight in the Portuguese fought its Colonial Wars (1961-74), and later in a Caribbean cruise ship. In October 1970, Abílio enlisted in the army and trained as a chef before being shipped to Mozambique the following year. He was sent to the African “bush” where soldiers lived in terrible conditions and isolation, except for when they were battling. In October 1973, after two years of military service, Abílio returned to Portugal, which was still under the asphyxiating rule of the Estado Novo right-wing dictatorship. While things had improved slightly under dictator Marcello Caetano, Abílio decided to do like so many thousands of his countrymen before him and emigrate. Less than a month after Revolution of the Carnations that toppled the dictatorship and put an end to the Colonial Wars in Africa, Abílio boarded a airplane to Canada, where he arrived on May 23, 1974 with a “tourist” visa. His cousins, who lived Toronto, took him to work as a labourer in residential construction shortly after arriving in the city. He built houses for the next six months until his uncle found him another job at the First Canadian Place’s construction site downtown.

That year, Abílio suffered a work accident and had to be operated on his spine. He would stay in that industry for the thirty years, working as a carpenter in residential, commercial, and bridge building. For his first five years in Toronto, where he settled and lived ever since (in Etobicoke), Abílio worked “under the table,” before obtaining his landed immigrant status. He never learned how to speak English fluently. But soon after he arrived he joined LIUNA Local 506, and then Local 183 in 1979; he was also a member of Local 27(?). Abílio suffered another work accident in 2004, which forced him to stop working at age 54 and receive workers compensation.

Abílio got married the year after he arrived in Canada. His wife worked most her life as a homemaker. The couple had two children, one born in Canada, and three grandchildren. Both children have a university degree, and one became a manager at a Bay store. They both learned Portuguese at home and still speak it.

In 1985, Abílio’s parents joined him in Toronto, where Abilio’s father would also become a member of Local 183. His four siblings also moved to Canada with Abilio’s help.