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History Post-confederation (1867-)

The Remarkable Adventures of Portuguese Joe Silvey

by (author) Jean Barman

Harbour Publishing Co. Ltd.
Initial publish date
Apr 2004
Post-Confederation (1867-)
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2004
    List Price

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British Columbia is known for the colourful pioneers who helped build and shape the character of this weird but wonderful province. And few were as colourful as Portuguese Joe Silvey - a saloon keeper, whaler and pioneer of seine fishing in British Columbia.

Born on Pico Island, of Portugal's Azores Islands, sometime between 1830 and 1840, Joseph Silvey began whaling when he was just 12 years old. In 1860, when Silvey came to the BC coast on a whaling schooner, he decided to jump ship to try his hand at gold-mining.

From harpooning whales in small open rowboats, to serving up liquor to rambunctious millworkers, to being the first man to have a seine license in BC, Silvey was the Renaissance man of his generation. His friends were many, and included saloon keeper Gassy Jack Deighton for whom Vancouver's Gastown is named, his prestigious grandfather-in-law Chief Kiapilano (of the Capilano Nation) and a remittance man who liked to wear either his wife's clothes or none at all.

Although Portuguese Joe and his family prospered - he had 11 children with two wives and his many descendants still populate the BC coast - they also had their share of grief. Joe's first wife Khaltinaht died after a few short years of marriage; his eldest child Elizabeth was later kidnapped and forced to marry against her will; and his sixth child John was murdered in a rowboat while on his way to buy clams.

Historian Jean Barman brings to life the story of Portuguese Joe - the romance, the tragedy, and the adventure - with skill, piecing together interviews with Silvey's descendants, archival records and historical photographs to build an intriguing and entertaining portrait of Joseph Silvey, his family, and the time and place in which he lived.

About the author

Jean Barman, professor emeritus, has published more than twenty books, including On the Cusp of Contact: Gender, Space and Race in the Colonization of British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, 2020) and the winner of the 2006 City of Vancouver Book Award, Stanley Park’s Secret (Harbour Publishing, 2005). Her lifelong pursuit to enrich the history of BC has earned her such honours as a Governor General’s Award, a George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award, a Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Historical Writing and a position as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. She lives in Vancouver, BC.

Jean Barman's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"My excitement about Portuguese Joe is heightened by its 'holistic' history, and by the kind of reverse snobbery that focuses our attention upon hitherto unknown individuals and families, showing how they fit as one complete tile into the larger mosaic...We seldom hear about these ordinary, non-political people in 'history' yet there would be little hisory without them. In this monograph Barman reminds us that history is the story of individuals, how they come into this world, what they learn, what they do, where they go, how they feed themselves and their families, and their impact upon generations that follow."
-J.M. Bridgeman, Rain Review

The Rain Review of Books

"...Jean Barman has illuminated the history of B.C. in all its violence, racism, diversity and unbridled glory."
-Stephen eaton Hume, Vancouver Sun

Vanvouver Sun

"The Remarkable Adventures of Portuguese Joe Silvey concerns a free spirit who, in best 19th-century fashion, invented sequential careers for himself but was often buffeted by larger forces that were at work in the world...Barman's skilled use of hard-come-by facts, anecdotes, and images to restore stories we didn't even know were lost."
-George Fetherling, Georgia Straight

Georgia Straight

Other titles by Jean Barman