New consulate marks city’s ties to Lebanon
Immigrants love Canada as much as the old country, writes Elie Ghanimé.
This week marks a significant turn in the history of Canadian and Lebanese relations: The official opening of Lebanon’s first honorary consulate to serve the southern Alberta region.
We launch with a celebration on Lebanese Independence Day, Nov. 22, which this year is the 75th anniversary of sovereignty from France in 1943.
The expansion of consular services into southern Alberta helps increase opportunities for more trade, cultural exchanges and tourism between our beloved countries.
The new consulate is also the result of several years of hard efforts and lobbying by myself and other members of the Lebanese diaspora, who have promoted Calgary as a major Canadian city with extensive international business and cultural exposure.
The increase in Lebanese representation reflects strong ties between the two countries. The first Lebanese immigrant arrived in Canada in 1882 and today, there are some 350,000 Canadians who are of Lebanese descent. About 50,000 live in Calgary and southern Alberta.
Canada is often referred to in Lebanon as the favourite destination for young, bright graduates in search of success, stability and fortune. Maintaining strong ties with Lebanese people, wherever they are around the world, has helped Lebanon remain strong and independent, amid political instability. It’s resulted in an enduring love for the mother country that lives on in the children of Lebanese immigrants, their children and their children. There are generations of Canadians of Lebanese descent contributing to every thread of the fabric of Canadian life. But as much as they have a love for old country, their love and appreciation of Canada is just as strong.
As I have seen over the years that I have spent in Canada, and in particular Calgary, my Lebanese friends have contributed to every aspect of Canadian life, gaining prominence and respected positions wherever they live, and have encouraged the generations that followed to continue to love both Lebanon and Canada for welcoming them with open arms.
This reminds me of a story of a young Lebanese businessman returning to Canada. When presenting his Canadian passport at the border, the officer commented: “You are a Lebanese who is now living in Canada, right?” The young man answered “Yes,” with pride. So, the officer continued, asking: “Then which do you love more, Canada or Lebanon?”
The young man answered quickly: “Sir, this is not a question you can answer easily and lightly. It is like asking someone who would he love more, his mother or his wife? Lebanon is like my mother. I was born with her and did not choose her. I love her unconditionally and will always return to her for love and safety. While Canada is like my wife: I chose to be with her, I love her and respect her and I partner with her to raise a family and be successful in everything I do,” answered the young man.
Both loves cannot be taken lightly or treated as one better or less than the other.
Last year, for the first time, Canadians of Lebanese descent — even those whose families came here more than a hundred years ago — were allowed and encour- aged to vote in the Lebanese elections. They just had to register in advance with the government. An honorary consulate in Calgary now makes this process easier.
Some claim that Lebanon has not actually taken independence, due to the continued political unrest and interference by various countries in a precarious balance of powers in the region. I argue this is simply untrue. The Lebanese people have demonstrated that they are lovers of life, progress and independence. They struggle and fall, but they never give up. They are the ultimate representation of courage and positive thinking.
This week’s Platinum Jubilee is proof that our Lebanese forefathers got it right. The Lebanese government’s continued open policy of forging close ties with the French government, and many other countries including Canada, has helped secure its position as a strong and independent country.
It is my hope that all Calgarians and indeed Albertans and Canadians, experience Lebanon for themselves and add it to their bucket list of must-see tourist destinations.