Lively conversations, where Arabic was seamlessly combined with English, filled the third floor of the Discovery Centre on Thursday evening as November was designated Lebanese Heritage Month in Nova Scotia.
“It’s an honour, honestly, to have our heritage and culture represented, ” said Samira Thomeh, a second-generation immigrant whose parents came to Canada in the 1970s.
“I think we come here with the intent to work hard and succeed and create the best life we can for our families,” said Thomeh, who works with the Nova Scotia Health Authority.
“I saw my parents do that from the start and I am adopting those same traits.”
Abraham Salloum has been in Halifax for 50 years. He said when Lebanese people first arrived in the area, they settled in the west end, near Oxford and Cunard streets. But now they’re spread around HRM, with Fairmount having its own “little Beirut.”
“This moment is a very proud moment for the Lebanese,” said Salloum. “I’m proud to be Lebanese as much as I’m proud to be Canadian.”
Many of the earliest Lebanese immigrants came to Nova Scotia through Pier 21. Most of them came from the Bsharri and Aakar regions of North Lebanon, according to Joseph Daniel, the first vice-president of the Canadian Lebanon Society of Halifax. He said Lebanese immigrants first came to the province as early as the late 1800s.
According to 2016 data from Statistics Canada, an estimated 1,370 Lebanese immigrants lived in Halifax. The Honorary Consul of Lebanon to the Maritime provinces, Wadih Fares, said the size of the Halifax Lebanese community could be closer to 7,000, according to a report prepared by the Halifax Partnership and the Canadian Lebanese Chamber of Commerce in 2015.
Three cabinet ministers in the Nova Scotia government are of Lebanese descent: Patricia Arab, Zach Churchill, and Lena Diab. Many Lebanese-Canadians work in the business and development fields. Real estate projects, like the Nova Centre, Kings Wharf and the Trillium, have been developed by companies owned by members of the Lebanese community.
At Thursday’s event, Premier Stephen McNeil said the Lebanese Chamber of Commerce in Nova Scotia is driving the economic well-being of the province.
“Continue to take risks every day,” he said in a speech. “Continue to invest. Continue to hire our sons and daughters and give them a chance to work and live in this great province.”
McNeil congratulated the Lebanese community on their contributions and success.
“The Lebanese community is showing us how to do immigration,” said McNeil. “When someone from Lebanese heritage comes, they stay in Nova Scotia and don’t go elsewhere, that is the kind of model we need to do for other immigrant communities in Nova Scotia.”
Diab, the minister of immigration, said she had been working on the proclamation since 2013.
“I’m happy to say that it has been realized,” she said.
For Fares, Lebanese Heritage Month is a reminder for the Lebanese community to do more for Nova Scotia.
“This is an honour and an added responsibility not only to maintain what we do, but also to do and be engaged more in order to help this province to grow to the possibility we want for us, and for the next generation,” he said.
November was chosen to celebrate the Lebanese community because it marks the 75th anniversary of Lebanese Independence Day and the 80th anniversary of the Canadian Lebanon Society of Halifax.
The only other province with a Lebanese Heritage Month is Ontario, which was announced in December 2017.