Running with the bulls: Canadian style

Thousands of Portuguese turn out at a dusty ranch in Ontario in a centuries-old tradition to run with bulls the size of a small car.

The traditional running of the bulls has been taking place again this weekend – not in Spain or Portugal – but Canada.

Thousands of Portuguese who live in the province of Ontario gathered near the small town of Arthur, as they do regularly during the summer months, to witness young men pitting their wits and agility against live bulls that weigh almost as much as a small car.

I went along to see for myself and was delighted to discover one of the happiest family events I’ve encountered in a very long time.

And before you say it – I know bull running is controversial – but the organisers of this event, Anna and Fernando, have worked diligently with Canadian authorities and animal rights activists over the years to minimise the risks and keep everyone – especially the bulls – safe.

An official was present to make sure rules were played by. After a free buffet of home cooked meat, vegetables and Portuguese wine the crowd moved to seats that lines a mock street complete with painted buildings.

There were prayers and the national anthems of Canada and Portugal … then the first of five bulls was released from a wooden red cage into which he’d been temporarily placed.

Once out – and momentarily blinded by the bright sunlight – the bull goes after the first thing it sees. In this case that’s Joe and Maceo, a couple of professional bull teasers – dressed in red – from the Azores.

Hundreds of thousands of Portuguese from the mid-Atlantic islands live in Ontario … and Ole Toiro – Go bull! – reminds them of home.

Organiser Anna Marques, of Ole Toiro Inc told me: “A lot of people can’t afford to go back home … so they come here to Ole Toiro and they tell me it smells like the Azores … it smells like Terceiro.”

Anna’s been putting on bull runs for over ten years. Her husband, Fernando, says it’s all about proving you’re a man … and impressing the girls.

“If the man does a good show everybody claps – you did a good job! If the bull did a better job and then everybody say you know what you’re a loser.”

The bull is tethered to a one hundred metre rope held by ten to twelve men in white for extra safety. Occasionally there’s a heart stopping moment.

I met Miguel Mediros, who told me he was showing off in front of his aunts and uncles a couple of weeks ago when the bull caught him on the leg.

“They told me if I ever fight the bull again I can forgot the family.” Miguel hangs back a little these days leaving serious bull teasing to braver souls like Silvino Sousa who is one of those holding the rope to control the bull.

“You feel like you gotta run for your life … coz if he catches you … he’s gonna damage you.”

Thankfully no one has been seriously hurt so when the bull is back in his cage the Portuguese Canadians take tradition “by the horns” and party hard ’til the early hours.

The bulls go back to their enclosure for a lie down.