By Abdelkader Bouaziz : I was talking to an Arab friend from New-Brunswick, who volunteered with me in an association to help Syrian families, and after our nice conversation mostly about all Syrian families that we helped, and how the rise of Arabic language in the city. I kept asking myself who was the first Arab who immigrate to Canada? After some digging and searching a large resources of information, I was amazed to know that he is a Syrian like all those Syrian refugee who settled in Canada those last couple of years, putting his first steps in Montreal in 1882.
In the introduction of one of the resources ‘’Global Research, October 11, 2015’’, written by Dr. Ibrahim Hayani, we can read “Introduction: The Beginning; Exactly a century and a quarter ago, amid the numerous immigrants then pouring into Canada, a 19-year-old youth landed in Montreal. It was 1882, just 6 years after the establishment of Canada as a federal state, and Abraham Bounader from Zahle, a small town in The Lebanon (then part of Syria) overlooking the fertile Beka’ valley, had become Canada’s first Arab immigrant. By 1901, there were 2,000 others of Arab origin in Canada, by 1941 this number had grown to about 12,000
ARABS IN CANADA “1
persons, and today it is estimated that there are about 600,000 Canadians of Arab origin (i.e., about 1.8% of Canada’s total population)”
My researches lead me to the last census of Statistic Canada 2016. There are exactly 523235 person of Arab origin living in Canada. The population is the second fastest-growing racialized group in the country -just behind Filipinos- and it nearly doubled in the past decade, due essentially to the recents number of refugees arrived in the country (from Iraq, Syria,…). The vast majority live in Québec 213 740, followed by Ontario 210 435.
The Arabic language is also the second fastest growing languages since 2011, it grew by 30 per cent, (Tagalog is first by 35%) followed by Persian/Farsi (26.7 per cent), Hindi (26.1 per cent), and Urdu (25 per cent). It’s the most spoken language among the five most spoken in Montréal (18%), and in the region of Ottawa-Gatineau (18,6 %).
In addition of those statistics, I kept looking for stories about Arabs, then I remembered while I was in Fredericton (New-Brunswick), I heard about one of the nominee of the Top 50 CEO, according to Atlantic Business Magazine. He is Egyptian and the University of Prince Edward Island president: Dr. Alaa Abd-El-Aziz. He received his undergraduate and masters degrees in Cairo, his PhD from the University of Saskatchewan, and did a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Toronto. He also worked at UBC and the University of Winnipeg. He has been president since 2011 and was reappointed for a second five-year term.
His dynamism, prompt responses to various managerial challenges and implication in the community allowed him be one of the Atlantic Canada’s 50 most accomplished business leaders.
“I love to pull together people with different skillsets to create a great team to accomplish a goal —whether it’s a fundraising target, constructing a new building, or creating a new program,” said Abd-El-Aziz to the The Guardian ( May 18, 2017) “It is immensely rewarding to see your collective vision become a reality and see the people you work with do well and feel good about their contributions and achievements.”
ARABS IN CANADA “2
Another name of an Arab in Nova-Scotia, come up. He was named, as well, in the Top 50 CEO Hall of Fame of Atlantic Business Magazine in 2012. His name is Wadih Fares : he came to Canada 30 years ago to flee civil war in his native Lebanon. He exemplifies entrepreneurial spirit and community service. Robert Zed, a Halifax entrepreneur who knows Fares well said about him “ His commitment is unbelievable. He simply does not say no and he steps up every time. He lives in a world of ‘pay it forward’ and gives of his time, money and resources just because it feels right.”
In Ontario and Québec there are so many successful Arabs that it would need more than a chronicles to talk about them. Generally (not as cliché, but we can say that the big majority) Lebanese are well known with their business spirits, Maghrebans with their great academic profiles (Professor, Analysts), some Khaleej’s (Golf) Arabs with their medicinal profile (doctors, nurses…).
In Manitoba, the community became bigger to the point that last year they decided to create The Canadian Arab Association of Manitoba CAAM, gathering people from more than 24 Arabic countries, to promote the Arab culture. One name erupted in this province and is the president of the association, Faïçal Zellama. A professor and director of the School of Business Administration at the University of St. Boniface (USB) an active person, participating in many projects of researches related to the challenges immigrants are facing in Canada. His recent projects was leading a team of researchers to study recent refugee movements at the Canadian border with the goal of to make an inventory to enlighten local decision-makers.
The best story of hard working Arab in Canada that I found was the one of this vibrant woman Hilwie Johma Hamdon. The Edmonton journal was talking about her recently, honouring stronger muslim women : she was an even earlier feminist Muslim pioneer. Born in 1905 in Lebanon, Hamdon moved to northern Alberta as a teenage bride with her husband, Ali Hamdon, a fur trader. They spent their early married life in Fort Chipewyan. Hilwie wanted a better education for her children and insisted they move to Edmonton.
In the 1930s, she led efforts to build Edmonton’s first mosque. She convinced Mayor John Fry to donate land. Then she convinced Muslims across Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as
ARABS IN CANADA “3
Edmontonians of all faiths and backgrounds, to donate to the mosque, raising the necessary $5,000. The Al-Rashid Mosque, the first in Canada, opened in 1938.
Hilwie Johma Hamdon died in 1988. In 2016, the Edmonton Public School district honoured her by naming a Kindergarten to Grade 9 school with her name, in the Hudson neighbourhood of northwest Edmonton. A great example of a strong Arab woman!
The more I immerse myself in the research, the more I am amazed with these fabulous stories that I found out about the success of the Arabs in Canada. For exemples I just knew (and I bet very few people knew it) that Joseph Atallah “Joe” Ghiz, was the 27th Premier of Prince Edward Island from 1986 to 1993, an educator of law and a justice of the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island. He was the father of Robert Ghiz, the 31st Premier of Prince Edward Island. He was the first premier of a Canadian province to be of non-European descent. He is a Lebanese.
While not everyone achieves success, we must make known to the entire Arab community, (and all Canadian as well) that there are successful stories of these Arabs who work hard and who are capable of great achievement not just for themselves, their families, their communities but also…. for their country Canada.
ARABS IN CANADA “4