It’s my great honour to rise today, as MPP for London West, to speak on behalf of the Ontario NDP and my leader, Andrea Horwath, on Bill 60. This is an important bill, and I am very proud to co-sponsor.
Given the significant contributions of Lebanese Canadians to this province’s rich cultural fabric and to our social and economic well-being, it is fitting that November will henceforth be recognized as Lebanese Heritage Month in Ontario.
This is a bill that has special meaning in my riding and to London’s thriving and dynamic Lebanese community. It is a community close to 5,000 strong, one with deep roots in our city. For more than 100 years, Lebanese Londoners have been a vital part of our city’s growth and prosperity, with a legacy that extends beyond London to both the province and our country.
In 1964, the first mosque in Ontario opened its doors in London, a project that was driven by the vision and commitment of 12 immigrant families from Lebanon who had settled in our community. The London Muslim Mosque, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014, was only the second mosque in Canada and just the third in North America.
The history of the mosque is chronicled in a marvellous book by Lebanese Londoner—and my good friend—Hanny Shousher called Now and Then: An Historical Overview of the Muslim and Arab Communities of London, Ontario.
The story began in 1901, when a small group of Lebanese immigrants began arriving in London. Many of these first Lebanese families were Muslim, while others were Christian, but all understood the need to support each other and to contribute to the broader community. To help each other integrate while fostering a sense of home and belonging, they started the Syrian-Lebanese Club.
As London’s Muslim population grew, a home was purchased in the 1950s to provide a common place to pray or to celebrate occasions, and to offer a cultural haven for London’s growing Muslim population. After the home was destroyed by fire, these 12 pioneering Lebanese families decided to build a mosque, making London a destination for Muslims around the world. Londoners are forever indebted to these Lebanese pioneers for their efforts to build London’s thriving Muslim and Arab community.
Today, Lebanese Londoners are some of the most prominent and distinguished members of our community, serving as leaders across many different sectors, including health care, education, law, arts and culture, religion, sports and business.
They include Nazem Kadri, the first Muslim ever drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Nazem’s extraordinary talent for hockey stood out from an early age, and Londoners were thrilled when he joined the London Knights, and, later, overjoyed when he started playing centre for the Leafs.
Najwa Zebian is an inspiring teacher and poet who has drawn a global audience for her powerful poetry, which tackles difficult issues of racism, isolation and sexual harassment, and gives voice to anyone who has ever felt silenced.
Jamelie Hassan is an internationally recognized artist whose work is displayed at the Art Gallery of Ontario, the National Gallery of Canada and across the globe. She received the Governor General’s Award for her art, which weaves together the themes of political conflict, social activism and cultural displacement.
Jamelie’s brother Hanny Hassan is a professional engineer who received the Order of Canada in 2011. He is well known for his work in cross-cultural and interfaith understanding, and has dedicated more than 40 years to voluntary service.
Philip Aziz was Western University’s first official artist-in-residence, and painted commissioned portraits of Premier John Robarts and Governor General Georges Vanier. He used his art to help with humanitarian relief efforts globally.
There are so many others I could mention, but I do want to recognize well-loved Imam Jamal Taleb of the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario, who was born in Lebanon and is highly respected for his commitment to making London more inclusive.
London’s Lebanese connections were celebrated earlier this year when commemorative street signs were unveiled in both London, Ontario, and the Bekaa Valley village of Mdoukha, the original home of many Lebanese Londoners.