BEIRUT: Nearly a century and a half after the first Lebanese person stepped foot in Canada, the city of Ottawa declared November “Lebanese Heritage Month” in recognition of the Lebanese community’s contribution to the North American country. “I was informed this summer from my local provincial representative, Mr. John Fraser, that his [Bill 60] was going to make November Lebanese Heritage Month [in Toronto]. I told him we should do the same thing in the City of Ottawa,” City Councilor Riley Brockington, author of the motion, told The Daily Star.
“In my city ward ... [there are] many residents of Lebanese heritage and so it was only fitting for me to write the motion and celebrate great Lebanese heritage,” he added.
The official decision was made on Oct. 25 after 24 members of the Ottawa City Council and Mayor Jim Watson unanimously voted in favor of the proposal.
“Ottawa’s Lebanese community has contributed significantly to the City’s cultural, religious, economic and political landscape ... therefore be it resolved that the month of November be declared Lebanese Heritage Month in the City of Ottawa,” the motion read.
Canadian Ambassador to Lebanon Emmanuelle Lamoureux expressed her support for the move in a tweet Monday evening.
“The month of November will be Lebanese Heritage month in the Canadian Capital #Ottcity #diversityisourstrength,” she wrote.
In 1880, the first Lebanese national arrived in Canada, according to Dr. Ibrahim Hayani, professor of economics at Ryerson University in Toronto.
Seventeen-year-old Said Eid Attieh left his Bekaa Valley hometown of Ain Horsheh, journeying halfway around the world to arrive in Vancouver. In Canada, he began a new chapter as the country’s first Lebanese immigrant.
“At that time, Lebanon was considered a part of Syria, but we could call him the first Lebanese immigrant to Canada,” Hayani said. “It was mostly the Christians coming at first and then, of course, many more came after the [Lebanese] Civil War.”
According to the professor, who has done extensive research on Canada’s Arab community, the Canadian government did not distinguish between Lebanese and Syrians until 1945.
Attieh’s arrival would open the door for thousands of other Arabs, particularly Lebanese and Syrians, who built strong roots in North America. Ottawa is now home to 25,970 individuals of Lebanese “ethnic origin” according to Statistics Canada, the country’s central statistical office.
“The Lebanese in particular were very good at integrating. They were, and continue to be, heavily involved in businesses, especially the restaurant business. The running joke is that if the Lebanese restaurants were to close down in Ottawa, Ottawa would starve,” he laughed.
In addition to the business sector, he said many Lebanese have taken posts in government and academia.
“In our democratic and multicultural system, people who may otherwise never even dream of reaching high political status are able to do so in a country like Canada,” He said.
Recently, Beirut-born Mona Nemer was appointed Canada’s chief science adviser working as a representative of the scientific community with the government.
“I am pleased the city is recognizing this contribution, and extend my best wishes to everyone celebrating Lebanese Heritage Month,” Nemer told The Daily Star. “On Oct. 26, I was in Toronto to attend this year’s Gairdner Awards gala. I had a wonderful time chatting with one of this year’s winners, Dr. Huda Zoghbi, who, like me, is also a former student of the American University of Beirut. We were both very proud to see the Lebanese flag at this very prestigious international awards ceremony.”