The Lebanese community in Quebec – First immigrants of the White Mountain (part 1). By Sami Aoun and Sari Madi

First immigrants of the White Mountain

In 1882 Ibrahim Abou Nader leaves his small village, Zahleh, for America. At the age of 19 Ibrahim (or Abraham Bounader) becomes the first Lebanese and Arab immigrant in Montreal. At first he lived in a single room on the corner of De la Gauchetière street and Saint André street. During the months following his arrival he met the other newcomers: Peter Tady and Joseph Jebawy and his father. These young Syrians worked as peddlers.

Abraham then married a girl from Montreal and had 10 children. Later on, in 1947, he remarried a woman from Joliette. After having spent some time in Montreal, Abou Nader settled in the Lanaudière region. On the banks of the lake “Noir”, little known at the time, he built the Bounader “castle”. In 1901 he sent for his brothers and mother to joine him. His oldest brother, Michel, followed the road up to Sainte-Emilie-de-l’Energie to do business and became the owner of a department store. It was Michel who later bought 500 acres of land on which he built the Cedars of Lebanon, a residential area still inhabited by members of the Bounadère family.

“A Lebanese widow measures up to the Hudson Bay Company”. That is how Annie Midlige was described in an article published in The Beaver. The life of a business woman that Mrs Midlige will lead began in Lebanon at the death of her husband, who was the director of a factory. After rejecting the company’s offer to stay home and receive her deceased husband’s salry, Annie Midlige took a boat for New York, probably in 1894. A year later the 30 years old woman moved to Ottawa.

In the beginning she worked as a cleaning lady and a cook for a Lebanese family, and did door-to-door trading. Starting with a little business Mrs Midlige later expanded her activities and went up the river Gatineau to Maniwaki to exchange her goods for the furs produced by Native Americans. The expansion of the Midlige family business knows no limit: first they bought a rest area, then they established, in 1907, the first trading post in a region where the Hudson Bay Company used to have a monopoly. Soon “the Midlige group” occupied the Candian National line between Sanmaur and Doucet, about 250 km, and acted as pioneers in trading with First Nations. Everybody knew the “Midlige family”, says John, Mrs Midlige’s eldest son.

Annie Midlige spoke no English nor French, she only learned the language of her Native American clients. This was a limitation in her communication with her grand-children, who didn’t speak Arabic. She used to sign with a simple “X”. However, Mrs Midlige never went back to her home country and her grand-children say that, unlike the majority of Syro-Lebanese immigrants, she never expressed any desire to go back.

The Lawand family, of Lebanese origin, played a leading role in the movie theatre business in Montreal for many decades. It all started in 1909, when the brothers Eli, Joseph, Najeeb, Abraham and Ameen Lawand, along with their sister Katbe, opened a movie theatre, the King Edward, on the Boulevard Saint Laurent. Over the years, they managed many other theatres in Montreal (Dominion, Laurier Palace, Cinema Maisonneuve), and built new ones during the 1920’s (Empress, Cartier, Outremont, which was the first Art-Déco theatre in Montreal, le Château). The adventure of the Lawand family comes to an end in 1938 when their rivals, The United Amusement Corporation chain, ultimately takes control of the theatres.

When Salim Rossy arrived in Canada in 1902, he certainly didn’t know that his business would become one of the greatest department stores in the country. In 1910 Mr Rossy opened his first store, S. Rossy Inc., on Craig Street in Montreal. With the involvement of his 10 children, the business gradually expanded. In 1937 Salim’s son, George, succeeded his father and transformed the business into a detail department store. In 1992 the Rossy stores changed into Dollarama, which is now a chain of 700 stores in Canada.

Abalan Leon arrived in Canada in 1906 and worked in door-to-door trading. Starting with a simple suitcase full of clothes and shoes, Mr. Leon was able to make enough money to start a business in 1909. He opened his store, A. Leon, in Welland, Ontario. It was a general store selling pants, blankets, shoes, sheets and other items. In order to increase his revenues, Abalan Leon provided credit to newcomers who, as such, had difficulties getting it. Thus, Leon benefited from his clients’ affection and a good reputation.

It was an unexpected buyer who pointed out to Mr. Leon the gain he could make by selling large objects. Abalan had bought a mattress as a wedding gift for his son, but a client entered the store and asked to buy it. Abalan sold it to him for a profit. This discovery encouraged him to start selling furniture. Today, Meubles Leon is among the biggest furniture retailers in Canada.


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