The Lebanese community in Quebec – First immigrants of the White Mountain (part 2). By Sami Aoun and Sari Madi

The Lebanese community in Quebec – First immigrants of the White Mountain (part 2). By Sami Aoun and Sari Madi

Interaction, assimilation and integration

According to Canada Statistics data, a great majority (89%) of citizens of Lebanese origin claim a strong sense of belonging to Canada. Half of this group simultaneously declare being strongly attached to their original culture or ethnicity. Scientific research shows that the stronger a person’s Lebanese identity is, the easier this person’s daily interactions with other groups gets, and the process of adjusting to the host country’s culture is successful. Around 25% Lebanese-Canadians suffer discrimination or unfair treatment on the basis of ethnicity, race, religion, language or accent.

The Lebanese Canadians seem to develop a hybrid ethno-cultural identity. Indeed, the community and the family greatly influence youth during adolescence, when they learn to be Lebanese. However, the hybrid ethno-cultural identity of young Lebanese-Canadians surfaces when they move to a higher level of education and when they enter the labor market.

Immigrants of Lebanese origin face impediments that hinder their economic integration; as is the case with other groups if immigrants. The requirement of a Canadian work experience and the undervaluation of foreign degrees almost systematically disqualify immigrants. However, the Lebanese seem to be able to find a first job relatively fast in comparison with other immigrants from developing countries: on average, a Lebanese immigrant finds a job within 13 weeks, in comparison with 19 weeks for an immigrant from another Middle-Eastern country or from North Africa, for example.

A support network in the host country plays an important role in the integration of newcomers. Studies on the Lebanese community in Canada show that its large number does not constitute a favorable asset for the establishment of new immigrants. It seems that the socioeconomic and religious heterogeneity in the community limit the effectiveness of a Lebanese support network. In Montreal, the most influential Lebanese organizations are churches and their leaders, family networks, business groups or ideological networks.

In 1910 Syro-Lebanese immigrants were already established all over Quebec, in Mont-Joli, La Pocatière, Saint-Michel-des-Saints, Rouyn, Trois-Rivières and Sherbrooke among other places. Around 1921, 1500 people of Syrian origin lived on the island of Montreal. According to Canada Statistics there were 75 000 immigrants born in Lebanon in 2006; 46% of whom live in Quebec and 42% in the metropolitan region of Montreal. The number of Quebec citizens born in Lebanon increased considerably, from 28 000 in 1996 to 35 000 today. However, the share of Lebanese born immigrants among the whole immigrant population in Quebec decreased slightly, from 4.3% to 4.1%.

Among the 21 550 Lebanese immigrants in Montreal in 2006, 5815 lived in Saint-Laurent, which became synonymous of “Saint-Liban” according to Quebec former Prime Minister, Bernard Landry. This Lebanese neighborhood was created in the late 1970’s. Lebanese born immigrants are also present in other districts: Ahuntsic-Cartierville, Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Montreal-Nord, Ville-Marie, Dollard-Des-Ormeaux, St. Leonard, Pierrefonds-Roxboro and Villeray-Saint-Michel-Parc-Extension. The Town of Mount Royal had the lowest Lebanese across the metropolitan area in 2006, 685 people.

In Canada, the choice of the host community by Lebanese immigrants is greatly affected by religion. Some Christian communities, such as Maronites and Greek Catholics, maintain a special relationship with French dating back to the protectorate implemented in the Middle East by France at the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Other communities (Greek Orthodox, Druze, etc.) often prefer that their children attend English schools.

Other factors determine the choice of residence. In the case of Montreal, for example, the middle class is established in districts like Montreal North, while the wealthiest live in the upscale city of Mount Royal. The length of time since the arrival in Canada is also of considerable importance in this regard. Indeed, when immigrants find some financial stability, it often leads them to move to Laval or Dollard-des-Ormeaux.

According to the 2001 census, the Lebanese community is relatively young: 45% of its members are under 25. These Lebanese Canadians can easily hold a conversation in English or French. In terms of civil status, 54% were married in 2001, while a small percentage (4%) were in common-law unions. Lebanese in Quebec often work in management, services and sales. They are also very present in engineering, mathematics and sciences.

The richness of the Lebanese society with its great religious diversity (18 communities in all) can also be observed in the Lebanese community in Canada. In 2001, according to Statistics Canada, 42% of Lebanese were Catholic, 30% Muslim, 11% Christian Orthodox, 10% Protestant Christian or another group, and 6% declared no religious affiliation.

Places of worship, associations and Lebanese presence in public life

The first Maronite immigrants settled in Montreal then scattered in other Canadian cities: Ottawa, Toronto, Quebec City, Newcastle, Charlottetown, Picton, etc. St. Maron Cathedral of Montreal was founded towards the end of the 1960s, following the massive influx of Maronite immigrants from Lebanon and Egypt. In Canada, there are currently about 75,000 Maronites.

The first two Lebanese churches were founded by Antiochian Syrian Orthodox between 1905 and 1910. At the turn of the twentieth century they were the largest Christian group in Montreal. Initially, these places of worship were a factory in Vitre Street and offices in the new cathedral of Notre Dame. Today, the Orthodox Church of St. Nicolas of Antioch is located on Castelnau East Street and the other, the Antiochian Orthodox Church of St. George, on Jean-Talon Street. In 1939, the third Orthodox church, St George of Antioch, was established at 555 Jean-Talon Street.

As for the first mosque of Quebec, it opened in 1965 as the Islamic Center of Quebec (also known as Masjid Al-Islam or “Mosque of St. Lawrence”). It is still located at 2520 Chemin Laval, Saint-Laurent. In 1970, a second center, the Lebanese Islamic Centre in Montreal, was opened.

In addition to places of worship, Lebanese immigrants founded associations that reflect their political and religious differences. The Maronite Union of Canada, Foyer Druze (Druze House), the World Lebanese Cultural Union, the Lebanese-Syrian Canadian Association of Quebec, the Mutual Bois-de-Boulogne, Christians in the Middle East and Al Siraj are associations that represent different subgroups of the Lebanese community in Quebec.

During their long presence in Canada, Lebanese immigrants founded associations reaching out to the whole community. Founded in 1905 the Syrian Ladies Benevolent Society was the first association intended for a particular social group. Then, Syrian businessmen formed the Syrian National Society in 1919, currently known under the name of the Lebanese Association of Canadian heritage.

Among the active cultural centers in Quebec are the Coalition of Quebec Lebanon Professionals, founded in 2006, the Federation of Lebanese students (Tollab), which unites the forces of all Lebanese student associations in Montreal under one committee, the Cultural Cenacle Lebanon Quebec, founded in 2006 by dozens of people interested in Montreal’s cultural life, and  Andalusia Cultural Show. The Lebanese community participates in Montreal life with a strong presence in all cultural activities. Since 2000, the Arab World Festival influences Montreal’s cultural scene through innovative themes. Also, year after year, the Lebanese Festival of Montreal announces summer since 2005.

Many Lebanese newspapers are distributed in Montreal and reach out to both the Arabic and Francophone communities. For example, in Arabic: Al-Akhbar, Al-Mustakbal, Phoenicia and Sada Al-Mashreq, and in French: Yalla and Notre Nouvelle. There is also a radio station, Radio Moyen-Orient, in Montreal. Lebanese artists and writers also enriched the Quebec scene through their achievements. Among the best known are Abla Farhoud (playwright), Wajdi Mouawad (playwright, director and filmmaker), John Asfour (poet and former literature professor) and Rawi Hage (writer and photographer).

Lebanese singers have had national and international success: Paul Anka (singer-songwriter), K. Maro (or Cyril Kamar, artist and producer), Massari (or Sari Abboud, R & B singer, of pop and hip-hop), Karl Wolf (Carl Abou Samah or musician) and Chafiik (or Mathieu Farhoud-Dionne, rapper and member of the Loco Locass band).

The integration of Lebanese immigrants in their host countries is also manifested by their presence on the political and professional scene. Among the members elected to the National Assembly are Mark Assad (Liberal MP for Papineau in 1970), Peter JJ Georges Adelard Gimaïel (member of the Liberal Party of Canada in Lac-Saint-Jean 1980), Pierre de Bané (Canadian Senator), Sam Elkas (former minister and Liberal representative in Robert-Baldwin in 1989), Albert Malouf (Quebec lawyer and judge who presided over public investigations of Montreal police and the 1976 Olympics, among other things) and Paul Zed (Liberal MP in the House of Commons for Saint John, New Brunswick). Today, a Canadian MP of Lebanese origin, Maria Mourani, has a seat in the Canadian Parliament.

Similarly, many physicians are among the big names in Quebec, such as doctors Pierre Ghosn (cardiothoracic surgeon at the University of Montreal Hospital) who operated Lucien Bouchard, then Priem Minister, Issam Sawaya (University Hospital Sainte-Justine), and Dr. Antoine Joseph Ayoub (Egyptian-Lebanese and Quebec citizen).

Many Lebanese businessmen have also distinguished themselves in Quebec, particularly in the food industry. Jamil and Elijah Cheaib, two brothers from Damour, arrived penniless in Montreal in 1976. The food empire they manage today (they are owners of Adonis markets and of Cedar and Phoenicia brands) began with a small grocery store open seven days a week. The Group’s sales come up to 150 million dollars today. Adonis Group has now six branches in the Montreal area and attracts Quebecers, Lebanese, Egyptians, Tunisians and Algerians.

Assaad Abdelnour arrived in Montreal in 1978; a year later he founded the company CLIC, which stands for Canadian Lebanese Investment Corporation. Mr. Abdelnour began his career in commercial real estate investment then, in 1985, after having managed and owned a supermarket in Laval, he decided to engage in the food retail in North America. Today, CLIC International Inc. has become a leader in the production and distribution of international products. The company CLIC employs 185 people in 6 different locations in Canada and the United States. In 2008, the company reported annual revenues of $ 44 million, of which 25% represent export to over 30 countries worldwide.

Relations between Quebec and Lebanon

Relations between Quebec and Lebanon are primarily based on business and education. Indeed, the Lebanese-Canadian business community contributes significantly to bilateral trade relations, especially within the framework of the Canada-Lebanon Chamber of Commerce and Industry. To give a few figures, Canadian exports to Lebanon reached 116,535 million in 2012, and imports were 20,827 million. Across Quebec, exports reached $ 72.4 million, which is a considerable improvement over previous years. Imports amounted to $ 12.9 million.

Governments in Quebec and Lebanon encourage cooperation in the fields of education and vocational and technical training. Specifically, Quebec offers tuition exemption scholarships that allow Lebanese students to study in Quebec’s higher education institutions under the same tuition plan that applies to students from Quebec. Sixty of these scholarships are awarded each year.

Relations between Quebec and Lebanon can be considered as privileged.

To ensure healthy social cohesion, it is essential for immigrants to build their ties to the host country without alienation or morbid nostalgia. Relations to the community should be strengthened in order to mitigate the cultural shock suffered by newcomers, who need to develop a new ethno-cultural identity without losing sight of their origins. This is what we call the “Libanus Quebec.”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.