How the Lebanese Built Halifax

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Halifax has had a unique bond with the people of Lebanon since the late 1800s. Without our vibrant Lebanese community, Halifax would be unrecognizable. Their many contributions to our city and province show that a community rooted in faith and family can truly make a difference, and prosper.

Not all of the Lebanese people in Halifax came under favourable circumstances. The Lebanese Civil War caused hundreds of thousands to die and millions to flee their homeland. Unspeakable violence occurred, but out of that violence, the Lebanese Diaspora grew. 

Lebanon, like Canada, is a country of great diversity. Unlike Canada, Lebanon has struggled with keeping the peace between the large Muslim and Maronite Catholic communities within its borders. Like many countries in the Middle East, Lebanon still deals with sectarianism, but things are improving. Before the civil war, Lebanon was known as the “Switzerland” of the Middle East, and published close to half of all works of literature in the Arabic language, quite an accomplishment for a country of only 5 million at the time. The civil war, ignited by foreign actors and religious fundamentalists, took its toll on the country, but Lebanon is beginning to once again beginning to lead the Middle East in terms of economic growth and quality of life. 

Lebanese GDP (1970-2015) | Notice the 300% increase between 1990 and today.
Lebanese GDP (1970-2015) | Notice the 300% increase between 1990 and today.

Many people make the false assumption that Halifax is the only place in Nova Scotia with a connection to Lebanon. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Our current Minister of Education, Zach Churchill, belongs to a prominent Yarmouth Lebanese family that has called the tri-county area home for more than a century.

So far, PEI has had 2 Lebanese premiers, and I would be surprised if Nova Scotia didn’t have a Lebanese premier sometime soon. There are currently 3 Lebanese members of the House of Assembly, all of whom happen to be high-ranking government ministers. Lena Diab is the current Minister of Immigration and former Minister of Justice and Attorney General, the aforementioned Zach Churchill is the current Minister of Education, and Patricia Arab serves as the Minister of Communications, Internal Services and Service Nova Scotia.

In the world of business, the Lebanese have also made their mark. Some of Halifax’s most prominent developers trace their roots to Lebanon, including the official consul of Lebanon in Halifax, Wadih Fares. 

Source: WMFares (Wadih Fares' company)
Source: WMFares (Wadih Fares’ company)

Lebanese dishes have influenced the cuisine of Halifax. Lebanese owned restaurants serve thousands daily, including franchises like King of Donair and Mezza.

Donair
Donair

The success of the Lebanese community in Halifax goes to show the diverse and inclusive nature of our city. The two major Lebanese festivals serve as a celebration of Lebanese culture, with the 2019 Cedar Festival just wrapping up, well attended and successful as always. The upcoming Halifax Lebanese Festival will be another chance to celebrate Lebanese culture, and will most defiantly be a fun experience for all who attend. We may differ in terms of our beliefs and our heritage, but in the end, we all bleed the same blood, and we’ll all need to get along if we want to build a better city.

Correction: Originally, it was stated that the donair originated as a fusion of Lebanese and Maritime cuisine. The donair may have been influenced by Lebanese cuisine, but it was also influenced by Turkish and Greek cuisine. In fact, it was invented by someone of Greek heritage.

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