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[Report] Archives show that Canada’s first Filipino immigrant arrived in 1861

Boats in Snug Cove, Bowen Island, near where Ben Flores lived, November 23,
2022
PHOTO: RCI/RODGE CULTURA

Boats in Snug Cove, Bowen Island, near where Ben Flores lived, November 23, 2022 PHOTO: RCI/RODGE CULTURA

Photo: RCI/Rodge Cultura

Rodge Cultura

Ben Flores was in Canada six years before Canada formally became a constitutional monarchy.

A Filipino-Canadian in Vancouver, B.C. was digging through the archives whenhe learned the story of Benjamin Flores, better known as Ben or Benson, afterhis name turned up as someone who had lived in Canada back in the 1860s.The unmarked resting place of Ben Flores, who died in 1929, can be found in acemetery in Vancouver, B.C.

His grave was discovered following an investigation by Joseph Lopez, a radiohost and journalist in Vancouver, who is convinced that Ben Flores was Canada’s first Filipino immigrant, according to records.

Joseph Lopez

Joseph Lopez is a host of the radio program, “The Filipino Edition,” in Vancouver, B.C. PHOTO:JOSEPH LOPEZ

Photo: Joseph Lopez

Nobody thought about him for a long time. He died alone, said Lopez.Flores’s grave is in the Horne section of Mountain View Cemetery between 31stand 33rd Avenue in Vancouver. His interment is confirmed by the records at theoffice of the cemetery manager.

 There is no headstone at Ben Flores’s grave at Mountain View
Cemetery, Vancouver, November 23, 2022.
PHOTO:RCI/RODGE CULTURA

There is no headstone at Ben Flores’s grave at Mountain View Cemetery, Vancouver, November 23, 2022. PHOTO:RCI/RODGE CULTURA

Photo: RCI/Rodge Cultura

Flores was buried in the Vancouver cemetery several miles from Bowen Island,where he had lived for a long time. The island is about 30 km from where he wasburied.

A hand-drawn map discovered by archivist Catherine Bayly from Bowen IslandMuseum and Archives shows Flores’s name and indicates that he had lived onthe island in Snug Cove.

Watch:

Ben Flores’s former home is just a few metres from a row of berthedyachts.

Ben Flores had the reputation of being friendly.In an audio recording, George Dorman, a [former] neighbour of Flores, describedthe Filipino fisherman as a close friend.

“Ben Flores was a coloured man and he was my best friend. I don’t know anyonequite like him. He was a really good friend. He was a true friend—he wasgenerous, giving—all the time that we worked together. He was a really goodperson, according to Bayly’s transcription of the audio recording.

[Photo caption] Ben Flores standing outside his house in Snug Cove, Bowen
Island, British Columbia
PHOTO:BOWEN ISLAND MUSEUM AND ARCHIVES

[Photo caption] Ben Flores standing outside his house in Snug Cove, Bowen Island, British Columbia PHOTO:BOWEN ISLAND MUSEUM AND ARCHIVES

Photo: Bowen Island Museum and Archive

“From what I know, he was a Filipino—from the Philippine Islands. He was afisherman. They often sailed on old windjammers and came down here to seeour beautiful city, and they would go fishing. I still have a photo of old Ben’s boatfilled with 25 passengers,” according to the transcript of the audio recording thatBayly sent.

In June 2022, Bowen Island Museum and Archives posted on their social mediapage that David Collings, a summer archival assistant, had found the exact spotwhere the photo from 1914 had been taken, which even showed Flores’sdwelling by the shore.

The photo showing the location is a recent picture taken by Collings in SnugCove.From the location, the dock of the ferry that crosses daily between the island andHorseshoe Bay can be seen.

Finding the first immigrantLopez’s intention in visiting Bowen Island back in 2010 was to climb MountGardner, and it was then that he learned about Flores by accident.

“I heard [a conversation] on the bus that it was great to climb the highest peak ofMount Gardner on Bowen Island. I said, ‘What’s on Bowen Island anyway?’ Iwent that weekend,” Lopez said.

He dropped in at the public library while he was on the island. “I borrowed a bookfrom the library to learn about the history of the island that I was exploring. Theytold me, ‘Here’s the book, Bowen Island.’” Then on one page, it mentioned[someone] from the Philippines and there was a name … so I was surprised.[Because] I had read before that the first Filipinos had arrived in the 1930s,” hesaid.

Lopez’s journey of discovering the identity of Canada’s first Filipino immigrant toCanada had begun.Irene Howard’s book, Bowen Island: 1872-1972, mentions the name of Ben Flores,along with two others said to have come from the Philippines who were residingon the island.“Ben Flores had a float house in Snug Cove, Bowen Island., and liked to play theconcertina and sing. He was a fisherman, a beachcomber, a trapper andoperated the first boat rentals, as Bowen Island was increasingly becoming atourist destination from folks in Vancouver (called Gastown or Granville before1886),” the book states.

[Photo caption] Photo of the float house of Ben Flores on the shores of Snug
Cove, Bowen Island, British Columbia
PHOTO:BOWEN ISLAND MUSEUM AND ARCHIVES

[Photo caption] Photo of the float house of Ben Flores on the shores of Snug Cove, Bowen Island, British Columbia PHOTO:BOWEN ISLAND MUSEUM AND ARCHIVES

Photo: Bowen Island Museum and Archive

Apart from the float house, it was said that Flores also owned land in a section ofDistrict Lot 1426, located at the foot of Mount Gardner on the island.What Lopez read pushed him to gather more information from the sources.Lopez scoured the Canada’s census records from 1825, checked the archivesand researched records about the first groups of Filipinos who lived in Canada.See: Record of Ben Flores from Library and Archives Canada

According to notes in the 1911 Census of Canada from the archives, Floresarrived in Canada in 1861. However, there is no specific date of his arrival.The census states that Flores was born in May 1846, was Catholic and was abachelor. This means that he was only 15 years old when he arrived in Canadain 1861.

He was 65 years old and was living on Bowen Island when this census wastaken.

 On the left is Ben Flores, beside a young girl. From the Bowen
Island archives.
PHOTO: CATHY BAYLY / BOWEN ISLAND MUSEUM AND ARCHIVESEnlarge image (new window)

On the left is Ben Flores, beside a young girl. From the Bowen Island archives. PHOTO: CATHY BAYLY / BOWEN ISLAND MUSEUM AND ARCHIVES

Photo: Cathy Bayly/Bowen Island Museum and Archive

The record for the year of Flores’s immigration states that he was living in theBritish Columbia even before the British North American Act, also known as theConstitution Act, was passed and came into effect in 1867, which established aconstitutional monarchy.

It appears that Ben (Benjamin/Benson Flores) was the first Filipino immigrantwho arrived and lived in British Columbia and the first immigrant in Canada withFilipino ancestry.The recorded year of Flores’s immigration is the earliest record of anyone withFilipino ancestry living in Canada, according to Lopez’s research.As a journalist, I want to set the record straight. The encyclopedia is wrong,says Lopez with conviction. “It took a while because there were many whoarrived in those days. And I had to look at the records. Sometimes, they weren’tavailable online and I had to rely on paper [documents].”

Many studies state that Filipino immigration to Canada started in the 1960s.However, this was changed thanks to the documents Lopez found in theCanada’s archives.

Related report

They'd drive hours in a storm to meet every new arrival: Stories from Alberta's first Filipino immigrants (new window)

Filipino immigration to Canada in the 1800s began even earlier than many hadassumed. This was despite strict Canadian immigration policies and restrictionson the entry of Asians at that time.

The story of Ben Flores and of the Filipinos who lived on the West Coast ofCanada are mentioned in Filipinos in Canada, by Jon Malek, which was publishedrecently as booklet 38 in the Immigration and Ethnicity in Canada Series by theCanadian Historical Association.In particular, documents and photographs showing the life of Flores on BowenIsland are included.

[photo caption] Map showing the estimated location and names of residents on
Bowen Island. Ben Flores’s name can be seen near Snug Cove (Jean Jamieson
/ Marion Moore).
PHOTO: BOWEN ISLAND MUSEUM AND ARCHIVESEnlarge image (new window)

[photo caption] Map showing the estimated location and names of residents on Bowen Island. Ben Flores’s name can be seen near Snug Cove (Jean Jamieson / Marion Moore). PHOTO: BOWEN ISLAND MUSEUM AND ARCHIVES

Photo: Bowen Island Museum and Archive

Lopez is convinced that he has found the first Filipino immigrant in Canada onrecord. However, he says it’s still possible that new names will be found deep inthe archival records.

“Who knows, someone may find another name. There are 90,000 names in thecensus. Someone may find an even earlier [year of immigration].”There is no record of Flores leaving Canada.He died of chronic inflammation of the bladder and kidney. The death certificatelists his year of birth as 1848 and his date of death at age 81 as April 11, 1929, atVancouver General Hospital.

Lopez suggests that it would be more justifiable to recognize 1846 rather than1848 as his year of birth based on the 1911 Census of Canada, contrary to whatis stated on the death certificate.

Lopez believes that Flores died at the age of 82. He had no children. He nevermarried and had no relatives in B.C., a fact known to those who knew him whenhe died.

Posted: November 30, 2022 15:59

This report is translated from Tagalog

Rodge Cultura

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