I had the privilege of spending almost a week with the Lebanese community in Halifax, Canada. I was originally going to be there for a few days to attend the Maronite Youth Convention of Canada. However, I extended my stay following an invitation to attend the Lebanese Chamber of Commerce's gala by Mr. Norman Nahas, Chair of the Chamber.
So when they announced that the next Maronite Youth Convention would be held in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I joked wondering whether "all 5 Lebanese people there were able to host the convention." I debated whether or not to even go. And when I finally decided to go, I was under the impression that it will be my first and last time visiting Halifax - and, generally, that side of Canada. So before I continue, I'd like to extend my apologies to the Lebanese in Halifax because I was absolutely mind-blown by how strong your community is and all that it has achieved.
Lebanese in Halifax - Cedar & Maple Gala
Halifax was one of the main points of entries for the early Lebanese who left Lebanon for Canada. Most of whom took their first steps in Canada coming off the boat on Pier 21 - where the Lebanese Chamber of Commerce held their 10th annual Cedar & Maple Gala. There are records of Lebanese arriving as early as the late 1800's. A good portion of whom arrived from the Diman village and Aakar region of Northern Lebanon.
I assumed it was just going to be another one of those events where Lebanese people can show off - it was anything but that. Again, I apologize. I got to witness a strong, very successful but modest, well-respected community, supporting one another. Something like I've never seen before throughout Canada or any of the countries where I've visited Lebanese communities (including the States and France).
What intrigued me was the fact that it's not the Lebanese who immigrated to Halifax that are the ones making an effort to grow the community and preserve the culture and tradition - it's their children and grandchildren, most of whom were born in Canada. But they are as Lebanese as it gets - speaking perfect Lebanese without an accent, holding onto and sharing our culture and traditions.
The only thing that surprised me is that many of them don't look like your "typical Lebanese". I'm pretty sure I've insulted a few people thinking they were the significant other of a Lebanese person hence why there were in attendance of the Maronite Youth Convention. (Again, sorry). Pale skin, blonde hair and blue or green coloured eyes... could you blame me? After 'investigating' this, I found out that they are all 100% ethnically Lebanese - as they claimed "pure-bred Lebanese". Both their parents and their grandparents are Lebanese.
Something else that impressed me was the success of the Lebanese businesses in Halifax. Walking through the streets, I was pointed towards countless large developments, buildings, and restaurant chains that were owned by Lebanese people. Take note that Halifax is a small city with a small skyline, so when a large building or community centre is built, it changes how the city looks.
The city has a population of just over 400,000. 15,000 of which are Lebanese. Lebanese make up 3.75% of the Halifax population. This is bigger than the national average where Lebanese make up 2% of the Canadian population. I'm sure you're starting to feel a little sense of "we're taking over". However, the people in Halifax love Lebanese people. We have an absolutely incredible reputation in the city and it's not just for our good food. All the non-Lebanese people I've spoken to only had good things to say about Lebanese people and the community in general.
Lebanese businesses create an average of almost 3000 jobs a year and are responsible for 75% of the rental properties.
The gala featured many Lebanese business people, companies and community leaders. On top that, the Lebanese Chamber of Commerce gives out $10,000 a year in scholarships to students as well as matching Lebanese graduates with potential employers through their Connector Program.
Norman Nahas spoke about the achievements of the Lebanese businesses as well as the importance of maintaining business-friendly regulations (in regards to the minimum wage increase) to ensure that small businesses can create jobs and stay competitive.
We heard from RCMP (Canada's equivalent to FBI) officer, Constable Robert Daniel, who received the 'Lebanese Professional of The Year' award. He shared his experience serving his country, especially after 9/11, and the role his Lebanese parents had in his success.
Although Kevin O'Leary was meant to attend, he pulled out a few days before. Instead, David Chilton took his place as the keynote speaker. David is a very successful entrepreneur who is one of the investors on the TV show Dragon's Den. The show features several big Canadian self-made entrepreneurs and investors, including Kevin O'Leary.
Nicole Bou Karam and Elsy Makhlouf performed the Canadian and Lebanese National Anthems at both the Cedar & Maple Gala as well as the opening ceremony of the Maronite Youth Convention. Elsy also performed at the Maronite Youth Convention's gala that following Sunday. The Lebanese Cedar Festival Dancers performed at both the Cedar & Maple Gala as well as the opening ceremony of the Maronite Youth Convention.
The Honourary Consul of Lebanon
During the Cedar & Maple Gala, the Honourary Consul of Lebanon in the Maritimes, Wadih M. Fares, was given the 'Businessperson of the Year' award. They didn't tell him that he was nominated since they knew he would refuse it. So he was quite surprised and speechless when he found out.
Mr. Fares is quite the entrepreneur and businessman. With an incredible track record of community service. A successful and modest businessman who continues to give back to the community.
Other than being the Honourary Consul of Lebanon for 3 provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Islands), he is the President & CEO of WMFares Group.
Mr. Fares left Lebanon during the civil war and settled in Halifax. He learned English, graduated with an Engineering degree from Dalhousie University, and straight away, started his company - which transformed Halifax's landscape and boosted the local economy. He holds the following positions:
- Honourary Consul of Lebanon, Maritime Provinces
- Halifax International Airport Authority, Board of Directors, Chair
- Founder and Honorary Member, Canadian-Lebanese Chamber of Commerce & Industry
- Dalhousie University, Board of Governors
- Nova Scotia Minister’s Immigration Advisory Council
On top of that, he received many honours, including the Red Cross Humanitarian Award, Order of Canada, Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, The Golden Jubilee Medal Award by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and several awards from the Lebanese Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
You can find his full profile, the list of honours and awards here.
The Canadian Diaspora House in Batroun
We covered a story recently of an Ancient 2,800-year-old Phoenician castle that is being transformed into a Diaspora house in Batroun. Ten Lebanese communities in the diaspora will each have their own "house" in the castle - including Canada.
He informed me that the Canada house will have lots of learning material about Canada, it's provinces and the Lebanese communities. He also said there's a plan to open a Tim Horton's, Canada's largest coffee chain, on the ground floor.
Lebanese Cedar Festival
Only 2 weeks after hosting hundreds of Lebanese Canadians for the Cedar & Maple Gala and the Maronite Youth Convention, the Lebanese community in Halifax are organizing the 11th annual Lebanese festival in Halifax.
The Lebanese festival is free to attend and takes place over 4 days. With lots of Lebanese music, shows, food and dabke, the festival does a great job promoting the Lebanese culture. The festival takes place from June 1st to the 4th at the Our Lady Of Lebanon Church at 3844 Joseph Hower Drive in Halifax. Find the full schedule and all the details on their website.
Following this trip, I can easily say that the Lebanese community in Halifax is among the strongest, if not THE strongest, one in the entire diaspora. Something for Lebanese communities around the world to look up to.
The Lebanese in Halifax have all the necessary 'ingredients' for a strong community: A vibrant community, a people willing to thrive, strong private and public leadership, businesses and entrepreneurs that are supported and in turn give back to the community, and most importantly, the love for Lebanon and the will to preserve its identity, culture, and traditions.
Follow Anthony on Instagram @anthonykantara