When the Lebanese population in Montréal took root and started to grow, the community turned their attention to founding churches and religious organizations, which would be their main means of maintaining cultural identity.
A substantial advantage for the building of Lebanese communities in Canada was their ties with their counterparts in the United States. The cultural link they shared was strongest in the area of religion. When it came time for Lebanese communities to create their own churches in Canada, they received much guidance and support from the Syrian communities in New York, for example, which were much larger and well-established. The majority of Syrian immigrants to Canada were affiliated with the Antiochian Orthodox, Melkite, and Maronite churches, many examples of which remain today as centre points of their communities.(15)
The church not only provided a basis faith and religion, it reached out and had a presence in all aspects of community life, keeping the Lebanese people together in a close-knit ethnic family. The church was the place where community committees were set up and made plans for the future. Language schools operated out of the churches, making sure that the subsequent generations of Lebanese Canadians maintained this most essential element of their heritage. Social and cultural activities were put on by the churches. The priest, for example, would be the person who gathered parishioners together in the Lebanese tradition of storytelling, and who would have organized small theatre groups and productions as community fundraisers.
That's probably what inspired Charles and George Farhood to get into the theatre business. They bought the Théâtre Chanteclerc in 1912 and turned it into one of the earliest and most successful houses of Francophone theatre in Québec. That two immigrants from Lebanon could become so involved and immersed in the French culture is a testament to the contribution and legacy of the Lebanese in their newly adopted homeland.
While finding their place in Canada, remembering the old country was very important to the Lebanese community . Community newspapers were one way in which people were able to maintain a sense of their distinct identity as a people and preserve their language. The first Arabic-language newspaper to appear in Canada was the Al-Shehab, originating in Montréal in 1908. It was published by a young Syrian immigrant who came to Canada at the age of 18 in 1902. The publication only lasted two years due to the relatively small community and limited readership. But it was only the first of many publications to pop up over the years, in persistent attempts to give the Lebanese a voice of their own. The Mercury, published in the late 1930s, was another short-lived publication, but one that signified a community that was maturing with its focus both on aspects of ethnic life, pride in ethnic heritage, and concerns for multiculturalism and the Canadian political system. Subsequent periodicals ranged in their coverage, with more and more over the years providing a mix of local and Canadian coverage, but with an emphasis on the ever-evolving situation in the Middle East and the plight of the Palestinian people.(16)
An awareness of ancestral origins is also maintained among the Lebanese community in Canada through the institution of the family. It has been through the family unit that second and third- generation Arab Canadians have absorbed the nuances of their ancestral language, maintained an appreciation of their unique foods, and practiced the many customs and holiday celebrations that are reminders of their ethnic heritage. The family is such an important unit that Arabic tradition historically arranged marriages, by which spouses are selected for one another on the basis of maintaining familial bonds. While the restrictive practice of arranged marriage is no longer widely adhered to, the strictures of mate selection continue today to favour endogamy, or marriage within the ethnic group, in fostering a traditional family environment.(17)
The familial unit also maintains its ties to members in the old world by sending financial support or sponsoring relatives to join the family in Canada. Over the years the Farhood family in Canada has continued to grow with the arrival of family members from Lebanon. And their roots in Québec Francophone theatre and entertainment continue, generation after generation. Abla Farhoud, the great-grandniece of Charles Farhood, was six years old when she arrived in Canada. She's made a name for herself as one of Québec's best-known playwrights. Her early works explored the immigrant experience; and her own immigrant history. She considers herself and her family very rich: rich from what had been lost, and from what has been found.