Benson Flores, Canada’s first Filipino immigrant, finally receives gravestone

Benson Flores, Canada’s first Filipino immigrant, finally receives gravestoneBenson Flores, Canada’s first Filipino immigrant, finally receives gravestone
via CBC Vancouver
Bryan Ke
April 16, 2024
Benjamin “Benson” Flores, the first documented Filipino immigrant to Canada, is finally receiving a gravestone after years of being buried in an unmarked grave.
Key points:
  • The United Filipino Canadian Associations in British Columbia held a commemoration for Flores on April 11, 95 years after his passing, with many from the Filipino community attending.
  • A celebration of life and the unveiling of his tombstone were held at his grave on April 13, funded through a GoFundMe campaign. The campaign managed to raise 5,200 Canadian dollars ($3,770) out of its 10,000 Canadian dollar ($7,250) goal.
The details:
  • Flores was discovered to be the first Filipino immigrant in Canada through extensive research conducted by freelance Filipino Canadian journalist Joseph Lopez. Lopez stumbled upon Flores’ story by chance after overhearing bus passengers talk about Bowen Island in 2011, according to New Canadian Media.
  • Lopez decided to visit the island that year and explore its history while on vacation. Curious about Bowen Island’s past, he visited a library located by the ferry dock, where he stumbled upon Irene Howard’s book, “Bowen Island 1872 – 1972,” which mentions early immigrants to the island, including Flores.
  • Flores arrived in British Columbia in 1861, predating Canada’s formal establishment. Canada became a constitutional monarchy with the passage of the British North American Act, also known as the Constitution Act, in 1867.
  • Flores’ arrival was also documented in the 1911 Census of Canada, published by the Library and Archives Canada. He was recorded as being around 65 years old at the time of the census.
  • Flores lived in Snug Cove, a floating house community on Bowen Island, where he worked various jobs such as beachcomber, fisherman and trapper. Lopez noted that Flores was likely the first person to operate the island’s boat rental service.
  • While Flores may currently hold the title of the first Filipino immigrant in Canada, Lopez pointed out that there could be earlier immigrants yet to be discovered, given the vast number of names in the census. Previous reports suggested that the first documented Filipino immigrants arrived in Canada in 1931.
About Benson Flores:
  • Born in May 1846 in the Philippines, Flores immigrated to Canada when he was around 15 years old. Lopez believed that Flores worked as a “young seaman for a foreign vessel” when their ship docked in Vancouver.
  • Flores’ neighbor, George Dorman, described him as his “greatest friend” and a “really good person,” according to an audio recording preserved by the Bowen Island Community Museum and Archives.
  • Flores died at the Vancouver General Hospital on April 11, 1929, from chronic inflammation of the bladder and kidney. He was either 81 or 82 years old at the time of his death. Flores was buried in an unmarked grave in Mountain View Cemetery.
  • Flores remained a bachelor throughout his life in British Columbia and had no next of kin.
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