© Guardian photo by Mitch MacDonald
Members of the Canadian Lebanese Association of P.E.I. executive show a copy of the documentary “A New Place Called Home” before a screening in Charlottetown Saturday. In this photo is, from left, Olinda Gossen, Karen Zakem, president Fadi Rashed, Robert Mansour and Fouad Haddad.
Lebanon may be where they’re from but Prince Edward Island is now their home.
The story of how P.E.I.’s Lebanese community came to the province is now available on DVD after the Canadian Lebanese Association of P.E.I. had a recent public viewing at the Carrefour Theatre.
The documentary, entitled A New Place Called Home, gives a history of Lebanese Canadian families’ journeys to the province over the past 125 years and the reasons why they left their country behind in hopes of better and more prosperous lives.
Association president Fadi Rashed, who initiated the project, said the screening saw more than 100 individuals in attendance.
More importantly, he said he felt the final draft of the documentary, which was written, produced and directed by David Rashed, gave fantastic insight into the journey many of the original Lebanese settlers had travelled.
“The hardest thing for our generation was trying to understand the hardship our parents and the other first settlers had to endure before coming to a new country,” said Fadi. “We were starting to lose that generation of Lebanese immigrants and they were taking their stories with them this is the reason why we wanted to produce this documentary.”
David Rashed said the original Lebanese immigrants left their country for different reasons. Some came to P.E.I. to avoid persecution during a tumultuous time in the country.
Others came for the opportunities they saw in Canada, but had also left on their own accord.
David said that while they came from different backgrounds, one thing that often tied them together was a hard-work ethic.
“I’m sure that is for a lot of different backgrounds but they were very hard working people and they didn’t really have a fallback plan,” he said. “They’d decide ‘I’m choosing to do this, selling something or opening a store and this has to work. And I’ll work 16 hours a day, seven days a week to ensure I succeed.’
“That’s what I admire, is that they weren’t afraid to work.”
Fadi said the challenges of opening and operating a business for many of the original immigrants was only compounded by the fact that many did not speak English when they arrived.
“They couldn’t speak the language but they wanted to sell you things, so they learned as they went along. If you imagine doing that anywhere else it’s scary,” said Rashed. “But Canada has given these people a lot of opportunity and it’s been a good home. They seem to make roots here … Lebanon will always be where they’re from but Canada is their home now.”
David had previously shot photos and videos during a visit to Lebanon in 2011.
When he got the go-ahead last spring to start the documentary, he realized the vast archive of original imagery he would be able to use for the project.
In addition, he travelled across the province connecting with individuals in the community, including some of the original families that first arrived in P.E.I.
Rashed, who is also a well-known P.E.I. musician, said the project was his first attempt at documentary making.
“I’m pleased with the final result, it was just nice to get to know a lot of the different members of the community,” he said. “I’m glad I had the opportunity to do it and tell their stories.”
The documentary also interviewed Island author David Weale and used his book A Stream out of Lebanon as source material for the project.
Other sources include Immigration Story, a poem written by Labeeb Rashed, Land of Promise, written by John Hashem and read by children of the community, and a song by the famous Lebanese composer Wadih El Safi, sung by Elias (Louie) Rashed.
The DVD can be purchased through the association’s executive by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or at Charlottetown stores Island Activewear, Brighton Clover Farm, Cy’s Lunch, Shaddy’s Restaurant, Papa Joe’s and Downtown Deli.
All proceeds from the viewing and DVD sales will go towards renovating the association’s clubhouse.