Although some Newfoundland place-names bear witness to early visits and Spanish-Portuguese traditions have survived in a Montreal synagogue, the Portuguese community in Canada did not begin to grow until 1953 when immigrants, largely from Madeira, were sponsored by the Canadian government as agricultural workers in Ontario. Immigration followed from the Azores and the Portuguese mainland. According to the 1986 census, over 200,000 people of Portuguese descent lived in Canada, some 140,000 of them in Ontario. Communities existed also in Manitoba and Quebec, the majority in Montreal.

The Portuguese have tended to maintain their cultural traditions and the first generation has not been assimilated readily in Canada. Musical traditions include regional folkdances, often accompanied by an ensemble of piccolo, castanets, bass drum, triangle, accordion, and clay jug (bica); brass bands; and the urban songs known as fado, usually accompanied by the mandolin and the Portuguese 12-string guitar. In Canada the brass bands often have been affiliated with local Portuguese Catholic churches, their rehearsals and weekly dances held in the church halls. The larger communities have supported clubs which offer language training, folkdancing, and entertainment by local and Portuguese performers. The Toronto and Montreal communities have supported several clubs and folkdance groups, Portuguese TV programs, and daily radio broadcasts.

Among Portuguese musicians who have taken up residence in Canada are Armando Santiago, director of the CMQ 1978-85, and Germano Rocha, the singer and guitarist, who settled in Montreal. Michael Miller was born in Portugal. Portuguese musicians who have performed in Canada include the guitarist Jose Duarte Costa, who toured 1966-7 for the JMC (YMC); the popular fado singer Amalia Rodriguez, who has appeared in several Canadian cities; the singers Rui Mascareñas, Antonio Rios, Faly Molina, Anita Guerreira, and Lino Teixeira; and the accordionist Joao Benevides.

The Gulbenkian Foundation of Lisbon assisted with the cost of Kenneth Gilbert's research for his edition of the Scarlatti sonatas.