February 3, 2023

Money News PH

The Premier Blog Where Money Talks

The Syrian family who rebuilt a chocolate empire in Nova Scotia

Many heartwarming stories have unfolded in the seven years since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed Syrian refugees arriving by plane in Toronto. But few caught the public eye like that of Tareq Hadhad, who was on board the third planeload of Syrians to land in Canada, and his family.

Mr. Hadhad’s story not only attracted widespread media attention, but was also made into a film and told in a book.

For those of you who can’t quite remember her story, a quick synopsis. Back in Syria, Hadhad’s father Isam had started a confectionery shop in Damascus, which eventually employed hundreds of people and shipped their chocolate to the Middle East. Bombing raids during the Civil War leveled it to the ground.

The Hadhads became privately sponsored refugees in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. In general, although the city is home to St. Francis Xavier University, it is better known for having an aging population than for being economically dynamic.

Mr. Hadhad was in the middle of medical school when he fled Syria. But when he arrived in Canada, with considerable help from the people of Antigonish, he vowed to rebuild his father’s business under the Peace by Chocolate name.

Mr. Hadhad agreed to meet me in Halifax to brief me on the business and to discuss the role of immigrants in Canadian society.

Our meeting point, the brightly lit Peace by Chocolate flagship store in the heart of Halifax’s waterfront tourist zone, was an obvious symbol of the company’s fortunes, with a design that incorporated both peace symbols and motifs from Syria, including a tiled archway .

Its spring 2021 opening during the pandemic was something of a testament to faith. But Mr. Hadhad told me that the return of cruise ships to Halifax this year has often resulted in long lines of customers outside the store. And even on a bitterly windy and dark late weekday afternoon, it drew a steady stream of chocolate lovers.

That month, Mr. Hadhad opened a new, larger store and expanded the factory that produces the company’s chocolate. Overall, Mr. Hadhad told me, Peace by Chocolate now employs around 75 people and could hire 30 to 40 more workers – if they were available in Antigonish. About 1,000 stores across Canada are now selling their chocolates, thanks in part to a deal with Empire Company, the Nova Scotia-based grocer that owns supermarket chains Sobeys and Canada Safeway.

Building a business in Canada is much easier than in Syria, he said.

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

While Mr. Hadad said that factors such as easier access to investment funds in Canada enable immigrants to start successful businesses, community support for immigrants is just as important.

Mr. Hadhad is obviously proud of his family’s success and delighted to speak about it. But he was also keen to talk about what has become something of a personal mission for him: removing barriers for newcomers and showing Canadians the economic value of immigrants.

A former medical student, Mr. Hadhad, is concerned that many immigrants cannot apply their skills as soon as they come to Canada; Instead, they often have to undergo additional schooling and face slow and costly certification processes.

Mr. Hadhad was told that if he wanted to continue his medical studies, he would have to return to high school, earn a Canadian bachelor’s degree and then take the medical school entrance exams.

“It was absolutely ridiculous,” he said, adding that regulations forced him to turn his mind to the chocolate business.

Mr. Hadhad speaks regularly across Canada, meeting with governments and testifying before legislative committees on immigration. Based on that, he said he noticed that there might finally be some movement when it comes to the recognition of foreign healthcare professional qualifications.

“The change is not happening because of politicians’ willingness to solve the problem, but because of the shortages in the healthcare sector” because of the pandemic, he said. “We discriminate against all these people and make them live in depression and anxiety and fear for the future of their families.”

Mr. Hadhad has ensured that Peace by Chocolate has a social component. He said Antigonish, a population of 5,000, is now home to about 200 Syrians, most of whom work for the chocolate company, and has recently been joined by several dozen Ukrainian refugees. Peace by Chocolate donates approximately 5 percent of its profits to various causes and charities.

While Mr Hadhad has occasionally encountered animosity toward immigrants (he said a man once accused him of coming to Antigonish to take his job), his experience has been that such feelings are very marginal.

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

Dan Bilefsky writes that Celine Dion’s emotional announcement that she suffers from a rare neurological condition called stiff person syndrome came as she finds herself in the midst of a career renaissance in Quebec, where the province’s younger generations are loving her and her music accept.

The Toronto area was hit by two shocking murders this week, reports Vjosa Isai. In the heart of downtown, police have charged eight girls, ages 13 to 16, with second-degree murder after a shelter resident was fatally stabbed in what police described as a crush. The girls may have first met shortly before the murder. And on Sunday, a gunman killed five people at his high-rise building in the suburb of Vaughan. The 73-year-old man, who injured a sixth person and was shot dead by police, had been ordered to appear in court the next day, where housing officials tried to force him to sell his home.

The week began with Vancouver buried in snow and an exceptional cold blanketed much of the West. Now a freak storm has further disrupted travel and threatened power outages during the holiday. The Times has reported on the events in a live briefing over the past few days. For the latest, see the Times home page at the top.

At a meeting hosted by Canada in Montreal, about 190 countries agreed to a far-reaching United Nations deal to protect 30 percent of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030. The Pact includes a host of other measures to limit the loss of biodiversity, threatens food and water supplies, and the existence of countless species.

Matthewfutterman examined a $199 silicone collar whose maker claims it will help protect athletes’ brains. But the collar, which was developed based on discussions with a University of Toronto physiologist and cerebral perfusion experts, may not live up to its promise, Matthew found in discussions with experts.

Ian Austen is from Windsor, Ontario, educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has been covering Canada for the New York Times for 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.

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