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By Craig Carter-Edwards

One of the best parts of the work we do at WHTO is the people we get to meet – Canadians,  new and old, who are starting lives, joining and establishing communities, sharing their talents in support of others, and working together to strengthen our very special cultural mosaic.

Last summer, I had a chance to meet one of our newest Canadian citizens – Tareq Hadhad, founder of Peace by Chocolate, public speaker, community leader and all-around inspirational guy. We met at the Peace by Chocolate (PBC) factory, a nondescript blue building tucked away on the outskirts of Antigonish, a town in northern Nova Scotia.  Tareq took me on a tour of the factory floor where every single piece of delicious PBC chocolate gets made, and proudly introduced me to his team of confectioners. Then we sat down in his office for an amazing and wide-ranging chat.

This will be the first of a few posts that share the highlights of that conversation.

I was immediately impressed with how genuine Tareq was. I’ve worked with and around a lot of people who spend much of their time being interviewed; often enough, they fall into a state of messaging ‘auto-pilot’ that gets developed when you’re answering similar questions time and again.

Despite having been interviewed over 500 times by his estimation, Tareq was fully present for our conversation, engaged and interested – not to mention funny and, above all, optimistic. Tareq is definitely a glass half-full kind of guy, and had some great wisdom to share not only with other newcomers, but with every Canadian.

Even when talking about winter, he had only positive things to say.

“Canadians are very sweet, they don’t show you winter in their booklets and documentaries when they promote the country. They show you only camping, kayaking, you know, lovely summer activities. It was -30°C last winter.

“Really, it’s nothing to complain about though. I have my coat on me, I have my toque, I am fully prepared, I have a warm house – it’s really nothing to complain about when you compare yourself to people who are not finding water to drink, right?”

True, that.

Another thing that stood out for me was how grateful Tareq was that his family had ended up in small-town Nova Scotia, and how proud he was of the Antigonish community.

Generally, newcomers want to move to one of the Big Three communities – Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver. Tareq was no different, at first. His hometown of Damascus is a big, metropolitan city, so he thought his family would feel more comfortable settling down somewhere similar.

It was the Canadian Consul who convinced him otherwise. Canada’s big cities are so diverse already, suggested the Consul, that if Tareq were dropped onto Bay Street in Toronto, nobody would know he was new to the country and needed support.  No one would know he could use some help.

Instead, the Consul told Tareq “I’m going to put you and your family in a town, wherever it is, on the east or west or in the middle, but that will be decided later on.”

That town, of course, ended up being in Nova Scotia, a province Tareq had never even heard of.

“When I arrived in Toronto, I thought that I would stay in Ontario. Then they told me that I had a flight the next day to Nova Scotia. I said ‘Nova Scotia? I want to stay in Canada!’  And then I arrived in Halifax, and realized there is a sweetheart town called Antigonish that has fundraised, and done everything they can to bring my family over.

“Ending up in Antigonish was absolutely random, but I think this is the loveliest thing that has happened in my life; I would not rather be anywhere else in the world right now. Even though you feel it’s a small town of 5,000, these 5,000 are so powerful and open minded and willing to help so many people from around the world. That’s why you start to see now that more diversity has started to come to the town.”

While Tareq agreed there are more job opportunities in bigger cities, he feels that there’s a trade-off when it comes to quality of life. He likes the fact that in a town like Antigonish, you can know your kids are safe going to and coming home from school, and that you know all your neighbours.

He pointed out an interesting difference in Canadian small towns that might not be obvious to newcomers from other countries.

“In the Middle East, the city is where there are hospitals, schools, everything there is in an urban system. Once you go out of the city, you’ll find towns that don’t have schools, no hospitals, etc. You really have to go to the city to study in universities. It doesn’t work like that in Canada. For a province like Nova Scotia, you have the exact same services in Antigonish as someone living in Halifax”, the provincial capital.

Tareq raised another good point about small-town living. Big cities tend to have ethnic communities, so it’s fairly easy to settle into a pattern of life that is relatively close to what you had in your home country. “In smaller towns,” he said, “we have a massive opportunity to create something new.

“My family, we decided that we are in Canada because we want to enjoy people from different cultures. We didn’t fly 7,000 kilometers to live in the same lifestyle we had back there.

While Tareq seriously encourages newcomers to try out small towns, he believes Canada should be particularly proud of the freedom of movement it allows its residents.

“My grandfather taught me that when you start your life, if you don’t like where you are you can move and find your opportunity, because you are not a tree. That really stayed with me; I’m not a tree, I can move anywhere I want. And while some people see challenges as things that set them back, they’re really opportunities; they push you forward.”

The Hadhad family has certainly seen its fair share of challenges, but it has turned them all into incredible opportunities, not just for themselves but for their community and their new country.

“Whatever I do, in my entire life, we can never pay back this community, but we always try. We really strive to make contributions to the town. We are giving back to the community by offering jobs to a town that was shrinking, and I share the name of Antigonish in every single speech, interview, and documentary I do all around the world.”

Not only has the Hadhad family been supporting the town of Antigonish, they have been making a distinct effort to learn about indigenous communities in Nova Scotia, such as the Paq’tnkek First Nation.

“The story of Canada,” he said, “is that it’s a collaboration between Indigenous populations who are the original inhabitants of this land and all the people that have joined them here, including recent waves of newcomers and immigrants.

“You cannot build peace if there is no reconciliation,” Tareq said. “You cannot build peace if a community that is a ten-minute drive from you doesn’t have clean or safe water, doesn’t have the support or services they need.”

Told you he had wisdom for all Canadians.

While Peace by Chocolate has had stratospheric success – literally, as Canadian/American astronaut Dr. Andrew Feustel brought some of their chocolate bars with him to the International Space Station – the Hadhads have kept it grounded in their core mission: promoting peace.

“The first bar we created as Wantaqo’ti, which means ‘peace’ in Mi’maw.  There’s nothing nobler than sharing our message in the mother tongue of the land that we are on and that we now call home. It’s a tribute to the original inhabitants of this land, but also to tell Canadians that newcomers care about these issues.

“Our slogan is ‘one peace won’t hurt.’ Every time people see the word peace, they remember how fortunate we are in Canada to live in peace, and then they take that peace and then they implement it into their house, they take it into their relationship, into their connections – and that’s really how change happens.”

Stay tuned for our next post, with more gems from Craig’s chat with Tareq – insights for newcomer entrepreneurs!