Nurali Mohamedali: Entrepreneur. Innovator. Husband. Father. Born Jan. 13, 1934, in Zanzibar, Tanzania; died June 2, 2021, in Toronto, of a traumatic head injury due to a fall; aged 87.
Nurali Mohamedali was born in Zanzibar, the fifth in a family of 10. He had hoped to continue his education after high school, but his father wanted the star student to learn the family business. His father had arrived in Zanzibar, a pauper from India at 13 and become a successful businessman. By the time Nurali was a teenager, he was negotiating deals with Japanese fabric suppliers.
After his family moved to Dar es Salaam on the mainland, Nurali still made frequent trips to Zanzibar. It was on one of these trips that he spotted Rozina and fell for her instantly. Nurali approached her father himself for her hand in marriage, which was not the custom. A year later, in 1958, they were married. The young couple moved to Nairobi to run a family-owned hotel and Nurali planned weekly dates dining and dancing out on the town, even after they had children. Their marriage was arranged, but over the years, they fell in love and became inseparable.
In the 1970s, the political insecurity of Uganda’s Idi Amin crisis inspired Nurali to look for a safer place to raise his four young daughters. He turned his gaze to Canada inspired by Pierre Trudeau’s open and inclusive vision. They arrived in 1975 and settled first in Calgary and later Red Deer, Alta. He arrived on the heels of a worldwide recession, which saw interest rates skyrocket to 22 per cent, and culminated in his motel, located in the outskirts of Red Deer, being forced into receivership.
Proud and independent, he refused to take a job or go on government assistance. Instead, he pooled what little money he had to buy a small toy warehouse in Calgary. His big break came during the 1988 Winter Olympics. He designed T-shirts and sold them on the streets by cart. One of his most successful designs was of Eddie the Eagle, the British ski jumper, who became a fan favourite. Nurali went on to build his company to be the second-largest sportswear wholesaler in the country.
The T-shirt designs harked back to Nurali’s creative roots. As a younger man, he designed fabrics for his father’s kanga (cloth) shop. Later he worked with architects to design Momela Park Lodge, where the 1962 film Hatari! was filmed and where he shared an evening of drinks with its stars John Wayne and Hardy Kruger.
Nurali brought the same creativity and care into his family’s home. The first Atari tennis game occupied the family during their first long winter in Canada. As a golfer, he designed and patented a better putter and taught his daughters the game. As a new grandfather, he consulted with the fire chief to design a pouch that could carry a baby out of a second-floor window to safety.
He worried for his family, too. Nurali mailed his daughters newspaper articles with headlines like, “Family of four dies from carbon monoxide.” A week later, each received a carbon monoxide detector in the mail. Eventually, e-mails replaced letters, increasing the frequency of his health and safety advice. His daughters teased him that they needed a separate e-mail to manage all his correspondence.
In his last months, Nurali had lost weight and his wedding ring became loose, but he refused to take it off. Rozina now wears his wedding ring as hers. The day after he died, his youngest daughter found herself lying under a canopy of trees, which were close to 100 years old. Like her father. Nurali wanted more than anything else to establish deep roots for his family in Canada. He is now buried in the soil of the country that he loved. And his family, including his six grandchildren and great-grandson, Jayden, are firmly rooted and blooming because of him. He was a pioneer.
Anar Ali is Nurali’s daughter.
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