History of the Goan Overseas Association, Vancouver
(Formerly the Canadian Goan Association - Inc. 1976)
By Cleto Dos Remedios
Long before the Portuguese arrived on the shores of Goa, the local inhabitants were living in small farming communities. This way of communal living was enhanced when the Portuguese converted the native people to Christianity. Perhaps the new religion bonded them together. Having lived in this manner, for hundreds of years, it is not surprising to note that wherever Goans traveled abroad, they formed small clubs or societies, so that, they could provide fellowship and mutual support to one another. Today there are clubs or associations wherever Goans have made their home around the world. These clubs foster social, welfare, cultural, educational, musical and sports activities for the benefit of Goans of all ages. Many Goans also get together to celebrate their own village church feasts on an annual basis, a tradition taken with them from their homeland.
THE FORMATION YEARS 1973 TO 1976
It is not known exactly when Goans first began to arrive in Canada. There is some indication that a few Goans in Montreal, may have arrived soon after India and Pakistan attained independence from Britain in 1947. When President Idi Amin took control of Uganda in 1971, one of his first dictatorial decrees was to expel all Asians from that country. With nowhere to go in such a short time, many countries accepted the displaced Ugandans as refugees. Canada was one of them. Among the new arrivals here in Vancouver in late 1972 were many Goans. As strangers here, they looked for companionship, comfort and some sort of forum where they could socialize and meet to offer each other help and fellowship and maintain their friendship.
In the winter of 1972, Mrs. Edith Da Cunha together with Lydia and Benny Fernandes provided the catalyst for just such a dream. They organized two or three social gatherings including a Christmas party for the newly arrived Goans. The idea was to welcome them, make them feel at home and meet other resident Goans of Vancouver in a familiar and friendly atmosphere. It was during one of these parties that the idea of establishing a club or Association was first brought up by Donald D'Mello, now a resident of Toronto. The idea of a club received enthusiastic support by many. So in the spring of 1973 an Ad Hoc Committee was struck and the first meeting was held at Peter Paul de Souza's residence in Vancouver. The events that were organized during the early years were on a small scale and consisted of picnics, Easter Dance, Carol singing at Christmas and New Year's Eve dance. The first three Presidents of this Ad Hoc Committee were VilaNova Carvalho, Cleto Dos Remedios and Eileen D'Souza. All of the events were held in Richmond, since most of the new immigrants lived here.
FORMATION OF THE ASSOCIATION - 1976
Because of the success of the events and the enthusiasm they generated together with the congenial environment created for socializing, it was decided that a serious effort should be made to formalize a club. In early 1976,VilaNova Carvalho was commissioned to draft a constitution. With the constitution approved by the general body of the Goan community, it was sent to Victoria for registration as a Society.
The signatories to the original Constitution were, in alphabetical order:
1. ANTAO, Vinolt
2. CARVALHO, VilaNova
3. DA SILVA, Julius
4. DA SILVA, Evelyn
5. DA SILVA, Cris
6. de SOUZA, Rita
7. de SOUZA, Peter Paul
8. DE SOUZA, Stephen
9. DE SOUZA, Alvaro
10. DE QUADROS, Navarro
11. D'COSTA, Malaquias
12. D'MELLO, Peter
13. DOS REMEDIOS, Cleto
14. FERNANDES, Benny
15. PINTO, Joseph Liban
16. VAZ, Mark
The Canadian Goan Association was finally approved as a Society on December 15, 1976. Its first President was Benny Fernandes.
THE GROWING UP YEARS - 1976 TO 2000
From a modest start of 51 members at formation, the Association reached a peak of about 180 members in the nineteen eighties and early nineties. Due to the constant change in the socio-economic structure and the spread of the Goan community throughout the Greater Vancouver area, in recent years the membership has averaged about 125 over the past decade. Even though in the early years most of the members were from Africa, today the membership encompasses Goans formerly resident in India, Pakistan, the Gulf States and other countries.
The Association has provided it's Membership a variety of programs since its inception such as, cultural talks, talent contests, career-planning talks, scholarships to students, financial planning advice, Christmas plays and parties for children, sports venues for both children and adults, ethnic Goan dances in addition to, special theme dances and summer picnics. Badminton, darts, table tennis, carom and billiard tournaments were regularly held for men and women for trophies donated by various Members.
The Association has always celebrated the feast of St. Francis Xavier, which is open to all Goans in the community. In the early years this feast of St. Francis Xavier was set aside as special day for all the seniors. The Association has endeavored to preserve its heritage as much as possible. It regularly participated in multi-cultural festivals organized by the city of Richmond. In 1989 Violet Viegas the president at the time sent a delegation to the International Goan Convention, which was held in Toronto.
Throughout its existence all Members have always been kept well informed through a Newsletter and a phoning committee. The Newsletters provided news, both local and from abroad, pertaining to Goans. In 1990 the Association went electronic in its news dissemination when Mike Sequeira produced the first newsletter on his computer.
As years passed by and members found their way into the Canadian mainstream of life one could soon see the results. Overall the community seemed focused on getting on in the new country and on the task of bringing up their children. Thanks to the determination and support of parents, many children have been successful in various professional careers such as Medicine, Law, Accounting, Teaching, Nursing and others. For a small community, the Association is proud that two of its young Members represented Canada in its national field hockey team and that one of its young Members was the first Goan to be an RCMP officer in British Columbia.
Many Members actively participate in their own parishes and in other civic and charitable organizations. As a community we can all be proud of what has been achieved when one considers the uncertainty and trepidation of the early years. One might look back and point to the fact that the comradeship and support that Members provided each other in the early days of the Association might have inspired them and their children to use the opportunities available to them in their adopted country.
In 1980, Mrs. Zelia Carvalho presented a Statue of Our Lady of Fatima in memory of her late husband Mr. Ireneu Carvalho. The statue was made available to Members to take to their homes for a limited time in keeping with the widespread custom of Goa to foster devotion to Our Lady. The statue is still in circulation to this day and is always in demand.
In 1984 an Advisory and Welfare Committee was started with VilaNova Carvalho as chairperson. Its mandate was to advise and help any Goan in areas such as employment, assistance in settling and in times of distress either due to illness or death or any other cause. The Committee is reactive in nature rather than proactive and meets and handles requests of families. Even though its resources were always limited, the Committee has provided many of its Members with assistance including many non-Members within the Goan community at large. In 2005 in keeping with our Mission Statement, this Committee has expanded. We now try to actively seek out those that require assistance in any area, specially the new immigrant.
In 1994 Mike Sequeira donated a Community Service Award in memory of his late father Mr. Crispin Sequeira who was a life long volunteer both in Toronto and in Africa. The award is given annually to a Member who volunteers his/her time and talent most significantly for the benefit of the Community and the Association.
There have been 15 Presidents in the Association to date, some of whom have served more than one term.
Listed in alphabetical order are the 15 Presidents.
1. ANTAO Vinolt
2. ATHAIDE, Dilip
3. DA SILVA, Cris
4. de SOUZA, Peter Paul
5. DOS REMEDIOS, Cleto
6. FERNANDES, Benny
7. FERNANDES, Ernie
8. LOBO, Shona
9. LOBO, Willie
10. PACHECO, Jose
11. PINTO, Vilasini
12. SEQUEIRA, Mike
13. VAZ, Mark
14. VIEGAS, Violet
15. VIEGAS, Ligorio
TWENTY FIFTH ANNIVERSARY- 2001
Just as the 25th anniversary was approaching, the Association suffered its worst low point in its history. There seemed to be neither enthusiasm nor a desire on the part of the Members to form an Executive Committee at the annual general meeting of February 2000. And so the Association lay dormant for a few months, before VilaNova Carvalho was able to get together an Executive Committee. Its primary purpose was to get the Association back in business in order to celebrate the 25th anniversary.
And so in October 2001, the Canadian Goan Association celebrated its 25th anniversary. The event started on Friday with a Thanksgiving Mass in Konkani celebrated by Fr. Wilfred Gomes, field hockey and soccer matches on Saturday between Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, a banquet and a Grand Ball in the evening and closed with a golf tournament on Sunday. Over 300 people including the Archbishop of Vancouver Adam Axner attended the Grand Ball. The whole event was a tremendous success, thanks to the Special Organizing Committee chaired by Terry Francis and to our visitors from across the Rockies.
The Association is proud to have fulfilled its objectives over the last twenty-five years, even though; there have been some minor roadblocks along the way. What many Members enjoy today is due in part to the unselfish dedication of a few individuals who have literally kept the Association alive over the past twenty-five years. They know who they are and they deserve the Association's gratitude. The Association is also grateful to its Members for their constant support, encouragement and constructive criticism when called for to keep the dream of the founding Members alive and to the various Sponsors and benefactors over the past 25 years.
THE NEW BEGINNING - 2005
The celebration of the 25th anniversary may have put a much needed spark of life into the community, but the fact of generating enough energy to sustain a prolonged growth within the Association to reach out to all still appeared to be elusive. The arrival of many new immigrants with new ideas provided the Association the impetus it was looking for to reorganize and revamp the Association and make it more attractive and diversified and open up new avenues of reaching out to the community.
Under the leadership and hard work of Willie Lobo and his tireless Executive Committees, it was decided to introduce critical changes through which the Association could reach out to the whole community at large. These changes have brought vital new energy, enthusiasm and an increase of new members and there are signs of great things to come. Among the changes introduced were:
- Reduced the annual fees to $15.00 per member to bring us in line with our sister institutions across Canada.
- Changed the name from the Canadian Goan Association to the GOAN OVERSEAS ASSOCIATION or GOA for short. It was felt that this name is easily recognizable by new immigrants and more approachable for help or assistance. Also, in keeping with other Associations around the world, the name Goan Overseas Association or GOA is a word that binds us together as a community, since all Associations have similar goals.
- Adopted a Mission Statement stating our goals and commitment to the Community, that is, to promote our Goan heritage and foster a caring society within our community.
- Structured various sub-committees to provide for community networking, helping new immigrants, assisting young people to organize a youth group and implementing programs for the continued well being of members, specially the seniors. This has got many within the community involved thus making each of these a small community project - working for the betterment of the community.
- Planned programs for all Members from children, young adults and seniors using resources available within the community, such as catering, music and other services.
- Introduced a plan to collect funds for the purchase or lease of a building wherein the Association can conduct its own business and activities.
The Association will face challenges in the years to come. With Goans now part of the mainstream Canadian society, and their children being born here it will be necessary for extra effort to be made to inculcate in them an awareness of their roots and of their heritage. It will be the task of the Senior Members to educate them about their heritage - spanning more than five centuries. Our children are our resource for keeping the future of the Goan heritage alive.
However the future is bright because of the incredible talents, resiliency, resourcefulness and the pursuit of excellence of Goans. No matter where Goans have settled, out of the Goan community have come some world-renowned men and women in all walks of life. Canada is one country, which has many opportunities available for our young people, and with the talents in our community the future appears bright.