A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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General History

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES, COMING TO CANADA

Julius Farhood had been in Canada about four years when he heard of his wife's death in Lebanon. It was then that he made the trip back home, sold off all the family possessions and returned to Canada with his son Assaf.

The obstacles faced by new Lebanese Canadians like the Farhoods were common to most immigrants: learning a foreign language, coping with solitude and pangs of nostalgia for the homeland they knew and loved, braving the unexpectedly harsh Canadian winters and worst of all, suffering hurtful stereotypes and discrimination.

By the turn of the 19th century, the face of Canada was changing dramatically. The old order of Anglo-Saxon Canadians watched a heavy inflow of immigrants coming to their country from eastern Europe and Asia. This sparked heated public debates about the impact of immigration on Canadian culture and the desirability of different types of immigrant groups.(10)

New Canadians of Arab or Syrian origin were often the object of stereotyping, where certain perceived qualities of a person's character were accentuated or exaggerated, and depicted as unfavourable in the public consciousness.(11)

An early study of Canadian immigration done by J.S. Woodsworth in 1909 quotes several example of the negative assessments of Syrian immigrants who "usually become itinerant merchants or factory hands"; they were thought to "carry contagious and loathsome diseases... which constitute serious threat to communities in which these aliens are absorbed." It was also observed that "the mental processes of these people have an Oriental subtlety. Centuries of subjection, where existence was only possible through intrigue, deceit, and servility, have left their mark, and, through force of habit, they lie most naturally and by preference, and only tell the truth when it will serve their purpose best."(12)

These cruel stereotypes affected Canada's immigration policy, which in 1908 was changed to restrict the entrance of the "less desirable" ethnic groups. Immigrants were required to have at least $200 in their pockets before they were allowed into Canada -- a fortune for people who were fleeing lives of destitution. As a result, the arrival of newcomers from Arab and Syrian origin was reduced to virtually nothing until after WWII.(13)

Syrian and Arab immigrants already established in Canada were prevented from sponsoring relatives. They made numerous pleas to political leaders, requesting that their ethnic group be exempted from the restrictive policies. It was not until the 1950s, however, that the Canadian government began to gradually open up their immigration law and discard the discriminatory policies.(14)

Over the years, Julius and Assaf Farhood learned the French language and adapted to the culture of their new country. But they did pay a price. To blend into the community they sacrificed their foreign-sounding names. Julius became George. Assaf became Charles. And while they never forgot their roots, the Farhoods gradually became Québeckers.

Footnotes:
1,7,10,11,12,14,15,16,17
An Olive Branch on the Family Tree, The Arabs in Canada, by Baha Abu-Laban
(McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, 1980).

2,3,4,5,8,9,13
The 1998 Canadian & World Encyclopedia
(McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, 1998).


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