The Syrian Family That Rebuilt a Chocolate Empire in Nova Scotia

Seven years since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed many touching stories Syrian refugees arrive by plane in Toronto. But few have captured the public’s attention like Tareq Hadhad, who was on board the third plane carrying Syrians to land in Canada and his family.

In addition to receiving widespread media attention, Mr. Hadhad’s story has been make a movie and also was said in a book.

For those of you who don’t remember their stories well, a quick recap. Back in Syria, Hadhad’s father, Isam, set up a confectionery company in Damascus, which eventually employed hundreds of people and shipped chocolates across the Middle East. Bombing during the Civil War leveled it.

Hadhads become privately funded refugees in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Although the town is home to the University of St. Francis Xavier, but it is generally known for having an older population than it is economically vibrant.

Hadhad was in the middle of medical school when he fled Syria. But once he arrived in Canada, and with considerable help from the Antigonish people, he vowed to re-establish his father’s business as Peace by Chocolate.

Mr. Hadhad agreed to meet me in Halifax for business updates and to talk about the role of immigrants in Canadian society.

Our meeting point, the brightly lit Peace by Chocolate flagship store in the heart of the Halifax waterfront resort, is a clear symbol of the company’s fortunes, with a design that includes the symbol of harmony. The vases and motifs are painted from Syria, including the tiled archway.

It opens in the spring of 2021 during the pandemic as an act of faith. But Mr. Hadhad told me that the return of cruise ships to Halifax this year often entails long lines of customers outside the store. And even on a windy and dark weekend afternoon, it attracts a steady stream of chocolate aficionados.

This month, Mr. Hadhad opened a new, larger store and expanded the company’s chocolate factory. In total, Mr Hadhad told me, Peace by Chocolate currently employs about 75 people and could hire 30 to 40 more workers – if they are available in Antigonish. About 1,000 stores across Canada now sell chocolate, thanks in part to a deal with Empire Company, the Nova Scotia-based grocer that owns the Sobeys supermarket chain and Canada Safeway.

It’s much easier to build a business in Canada than it is in Syria, he said.

“It took my father 10 years to set up the business in Damascus,” Mr. Hadad said. “You did it here within a month.”

While Mr. Hadad said factors like easier access to investment money in Canada make it possible for immigrants to set up successful businesses, community support for immigrants is just as important. Equally.

Mr. Hadhad is clearly proud of his family’s success and is happy to talk about it. But he is also keen to discuss his personal mission: remove barriers to newcomers and show Canadians the economic value of immigrants.

A former medical student, Mr. Hadhad wondered that many immigrants were not able to use their skills immediately upon arrival in Canada; instead, they often have to take extra lessons, and face slow and expensive certification processes.

Hadhad was told that if he wanted to pursue medicine, he would have to go back to high school, get a Canadian university degree and then take the medical school entrance exam.

“It’s ridiculous,” he said, adding that regulations had forced him to shift his focus to the chocolate business.

Mr. Hadhad regularly speaks throughout Canada, meets with governments and testifies before immigration legislative committees. Based on that, he says he sees some movement eventually when it comes to the recognition of healthcare professional certifications obtained abroad.

“The change is happening not because of politicians’ willingness to tackle the problem, but because of a shortage in the healthcare sector” due to the pandemic, he said. “We are discriminating against all of those people and leaving them living in depression, anxiety and fear for the future of their families.”

Mr. Hadhad Guaranteed Peace with Chocolate has a social component to it. He said there are currently about 200 Syrians living in Antigonish, a population of 5,000, most of whom work for the chocolate company, and they have recently been joined by dozens of Ukrainian refugees. Peace by Chocolate donates approximately 5 percent of its profits to various causes and charities.

Although Mr Hadhad has occasionally encountered anti-immigrant hostility (he says one man once accused him of coming to Antigonish to take his job), his experience has been such sentiments. very likely to happen.

“Everybody sees that this country is based on many values,” he said. “The most important values ​​that Canada has are compassion, empathy.”

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    A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has covered Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.

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