by: Craig Carter-Edwards from WelcomeHomeTO
One of the best parts of the work we do at WHTO is the people we get to meet – Canadians, new and old, who are starting lives, joining and establishing communities, sharing their talents in support of others, and working together to strengthen our very special cultural mosaic.
Last summer, I had a chance to meet one of our newest Canadian citizens – Tareq Hadhad, founder of Peace by Chocolate, public speaker, community leader and all-around inspirational guy. We met at the Peace by Chocolate (PBC) factory, a nondescript blue building tucked away on the outskirts of Antigonish, a town in northern Nova Scotia. Tareq took me on a tour of the factory floor where every single piece of delicious PBC chocolate gets made, and proudly introduced me to his team of confectioners. Then we sat down in his office for an amazing and wide-ranging chat.
This will be the first of a few posts that share the highlights of that conversation.
I was immediately impressed with how genuine Tareq was. I’ve worked with and around a lot of people who spend much of their time being interviewed; often enough, they fall into a state of messaging ‘auto-pilot’ that gets developed when you’re answering similar questions time and again.
Despite having been interviewed over 500 times by his estimation, Tareq was fully present for our conversation, engaged and interested – not to mention funny and, above all, optimistic. Tareq is definitely a glass half-full kind of guy, and had some great wisdom to share not only with other newcomers, but with every Canadian.
Even when talking about winter, he had only positive things to say.
“Canadians are very sweet, they don’t show you winter in their booklets and documentaries when they promote the country. They show you only camping, kayaking, you know, lovely summer activities. It was -30°C last winter.
“Really, it’s nothing to complain about though. I have my coat on me, I have my toque, I am fully prepared, I have a warm house – it’s really nothing to complain about when you compare yourself to people who are not finding water to drink, right?”
Another thing that stood out for me was how grateful Tareq was that his family had ended up in small-town Nova Scotia, and how proud he was of the Antigonish community.
Generally, newcomers want to move to one of the Big Three communities – Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver. Tareq was no different, at first. His hometown of Damascus is a big, metropolitan city, so he thought his family would feel more comfortable settling down somewhere similar.
It was the Canadian Consul who convinced him otherwise. Canada’s big cities are so diverse already, suggested the Consul, that if Tareq were dropped onto Bay Street in Toronto, nobody would know he was new to the country and needed support. No one would know he could use some help.
Instead, the Consul told Tareq “I’m going to put you and your family in a town, wherever it is, on the east or west or in the middle, but that will be decided later on.”
That town, of course, ended up being in Nova Scotia, a province Tareq had never even heard of.
“When I arrived in Toronto, I thought that I would stay in Ontario. Then they told me that I had a flight the next day to Nova Scotia. I said ‘Nova Scotia? I want to stay in Canada!’ And then I arrived in Halifax, and realized there is a sweetheart town called Antigonish that has fundaised, and done everything they can to bring my family over.
“Ending up in Antigonish was absolutely random, but I think this is the loveliest thing that has happened in my life; I would not rather be anywhere else in the world right now. Even though you feel it’s a small town of 5,000, these 5,000 are so powerful and open minded and willing to help so many people from around the world. That’s why you start to see now that more diversity has started to come to the town.”