P.E.I.’s Lebanese community is a tight-knit family of which Olinda Gossen is proud to be a member.
She was born in Brazil to Lebanese parents and later married a Lebanese man in Ottawa.
The couple honeymooned in P.E.I. in 1970 and haven’t looked back.
“We liked the Island so much that we stayed… we made a lot of friends with the Lebanese community so we enjoyed it here,” said Gossen, during the 55th annual Lebanese levee held at the Delta Prince Edward Saturday night. “(The Lebanese community) is like a small family. All of us are close. When you’re in a bigger city, you’re too far apart… but in a small town, you’re closer like a family.”
Gossen, who has been a member of the Canadian Lebanese Association of P.E.I. for about 30 years, has seen how the community as well as Islanders’ appreciation for the culture has only grown since she first arrived.
She can remember when the levee had only about 50 individuals attend at the Holy Redeemer Parish Centre in Charlottetown.
This year, Gossen led a team of about 20 in order to prepare enough food for the more than 700 who attended Saturday’s levee.
“We make sure it’s real, authentic Lebanese food,” said Gossen, who seemed to love the dancing as much as the food. “I love it, I could be cooking and if I hear the music I’ll start shaking and dancing because it’s automatic. I can’t help it.”
While one of the night’s entertainers, club percussionist Fadi KOD, was unable to make the event due to a cancelled flight, belly dancer Miryam Khoury kept the crowd entertained throughout the night.
Fadi Rashed, president of the Canadian Lebanese Association of P.E.I., thanked those in attendance and said the event’s success was humbling.
“We’ve come a long way from having our party in the hall,” said Rashed, who also pointed to Gossen as a “driving force” behind the event’s growth throughout the years.
The event funds the Lebanese Cultural Centre in Charlottetown.
Rashed said Lebanese are known for their love of socializing, dance and music as well as for their hard work and perseverance.
He said Lebanon is not much larger than P.E.I., but has about six million people living in it. Unfortunately, it’s also a region that has seen much conflict.
“Even though Lebanese people live their lives every day in this reality, they worry about stability and maintaining their independence against occupying forces, it has never darkened their love of life and their hope for the future,” he said.
Rashed’s own parents arrived in P.E.I. in 1975 after leaving Lebanon due to war.
“I can’t imagine the amount of courage and fearlessness it takes to leave somewhere you know to go somewhere you’ve never been to make a life for your family,” said Rashed, who later described Canada as the greatest country in the world. “Because of the peace and prosperity, and the opportunity… for those who are willing to work hard to achieve what they want, they can fulfill their dreams here.”