Four years after arriving in Canada as a Syrian refugee, the founder of Peace by Chocolate, Tareq Hadhad, says it is “the biggest honour” of his life that he will become a Canadian citizen in January.
Mr. Hadhad was the first of his family to arrive in Antigonish, N.S., in December of 2015. He and his family fled their home in Damascus and sought refuge in neighbouring Lebanon after their chocolate factory was bombed and as the war intensified.
Not long after the Hadhads settled in Nova Scotia, they founded Peace by Chocolate, a family-run chocolate company that started in a shed beside their home. It has now grown into a business that employs 55 people. Their success has been praised by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who told the Hadhads’ tale at the United Nations in 2016, marking a major shift in the profile of their business.
The Hadhads’ story is about to become even sweeter.
Mr. Hadhad said he passed his Canadian citizenship test recently and that he hopes the swearing-in ceremony will be held at a large venue because he has received at least 1,000 requests from friends who want to attend.
“The citizenship for me is something deep in my heart. … I will be now going everywhere around the world proudly saying that I am Canadian and this is something that I’ve been dreaming about,” Mr. Hadhad said.
“I was born in Syria; I have my Syrian citizenship and I’m very proud to be Syrian as well. But after losing our sense of identity and belonging, and becoming refugees, and losing everything that we have worked so hard in our country to the war … we were always trying to get that sense of belonging back,” he said.
Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said Mr. Hadhad “exemplifies" the positive contributions refugees bring to Canada.
“The citizenship ceremony will be the last step in making official what has been clear for the last four years: that Canada is Tareq’s home,” he said.
Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, more than five million Syrians have fled the country and six million are internally displaced, according to the United Nations.
After living across Lebanon – from the Beqaa Valley to Beirut and the southern part of the country – Mr. Hadhad and his family applied for resettlement in Canada.
“It was absolutely one of the most joyful moments in our life when we got accepted to come to Canada,” he said. There are nine members of the family in the country: his father, Isameddin, and mother, Shahnaz; sisters, Alaa, Batoul and Taghrid; brother, Ahmad; nephew, Omar AlKadri, and niece, Sana AlKadri. They all intend to get their Canadian citizenship as well, Mr. Hadhad said.
Just a few weeks after arriving in Canada, Mr. Hadhad said he and his family wanted to show their appreciation and so they began sending homemade chocolates to people in the community, to thank them for their hospitality.
“They came back to us and they said, ‘How can we help build the business back for you’ and then we built a small shed beside our house in 2016; that was international news, and then we got the shout-out from the Prime Minister at the United Nations. That’s actually when the whole business shifted to another level,” he said.
Peace by Chocolate is “more than a business,” he said, adding that it’s a message from newcomers to the country. Mr. Hadhad said since starting the company, they have opened a factory and a new store front, and have shipped products across the country and even to the International Space Station.
“I’ve been waiting to get my Canadian citizenship since I came to Canada and I’m honestly really proud, like, eternally proud, that I passed my citizenship test and now we are in the final steps,” he said.
Mr. Hadhad said his father is particularly proud of the family’s achievement, saying his dad built the business from the ground in Syria and imagined it taking much longer in Canada.
“Our factory in Syria was pretty massive: He built something from scratch that turned into an empire of chocolate in Damascus and then, when he came to Canada, he said that it might take him 20 years as it did in Syria to take the business off the ground. … But now things have turned out really quickly,” he said.
“He’s seeing that what he started in Syria is continuing here in Canada and honestly I couldn’t see him happier. He is really proud.”