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Lebanese immigration to Alberta

Hussein (Sam) Abouhassan

Sam Abouhassan was born in 1956 in Jdita, Lebanon. There he attended school until the age of fourteen when he dropped out to work at a tailor shop in the neighbouring town of Zahle. He continued to work there until civil war broke out in 1975 and travelling between the towns became too dangerous. Apart from Lebanon the only other place Abouhassan had relatives was in Canada, where an uncle lived in Edmonton.

To get to Edmonton, Abouhassan first had to travel overland to Damascus, Syria, and then fly to Cairo, Egypt. There, with the help of his uncle, he received a landed immigrant visa. He arrived in Edmonton on 22 October 1976.

His early years in Edmonton were spent living with his uncle and working. Abouhassan’s first job was at a tailor shop called Alberta Tailor. After a few months of work, he quit to join his uncle digging tunnels for the LRT (Light Rail Transit) because he could make more money. When he had made enough money, he went back into tailoring, first working for someone else, then starting his own business in a basement downtown.

His big break came one day when an Edmonton Journal writer named Dick McLean went to Abouhassan for a suit fitting. When McLean entered the premises he found Edmonton Oilers Coach and General Manager Glen Sather being fitted. The next day McLean wrote an article about Sather and Abouhassan.

Word spread, and soon Abouhassan was cutting suits for Oilers such as Wayne Gretzky and Kevin Lowe. From hockey players, Abouhassan began fitting politicians, businessmen and others. Abouhassan is recognized as one of the premier tailors in Canada, with his suits starting at $1,650.

The Rustom Family

The Rustoms left Lebanon in 1977, like many other Lebanese, they were fleeing the violence of the civil war that had been ravaging the country for two years. Habib and Nahia Rustom decided to come to Canada because Nahia had three brothers living in Edmonton who sponsored the family’s immigration. Habib and Nahia travelled with their children, Joe, Marcelle, and Rania and arrived in Edmonton in December, 1977.

Habib took a job working with the city and Nahia found work as a cook at a college. After being in Canada for ten years, an opportunity presented itself to the Rustoms. A friend had recently started a restaurant called Parkallen Pizza but had decided to sell it. The Rustoms bought the restaurant. Quickly, they established themselves as makers of some of the best pizza in the city. Over time they began to introduce Lebanese cuisine to the menu, beginning with specialities such as baklava.

The restaurant has always been a family affair, with all the members contributing to its success. Joe returned to the business after having a real estate job and helped the restaurant undergo a renovation. The name was changed from Parkallen Pizza to Parkallen Restaurant as the menu was expanded to include many Lebanese dishes. The next-door repair shop was bought and the seating capacity of the restaurant was upped from thirty to eighty. Also, the wine list was expanded to become one of the best in the city. The restaurant has since won awards for its wine list and its Lebanese food.

Larry Shaben

Larry Shaben was born on 20 March 1935 to Lebanese immigrant parents, in the small town of Endiang, Alberta. In 1966 he was introduced to Peter Lougheed, the leader of the Alberta Progressive Conservative (PC) party, which at the time was growing in support in opposition to the ruling Social Credit Party.

In 1967, Shaben moved from his Edmonton home to High Prairie. There he discovered there was no PC riding constituency. Shaben took it upon himself to establish one and recruited people to run for the party in 1967 and 1971. In both elections the PC candidate was narrowly defeated. The next election came in 1975, and unable to find a suitable candidate he took it upon himself to run and ended up winning the seat.

It was a milestone for Arab and Muslim people in Alberta as Shaben was the first person of such descent to be elected MLA. He would go to win elections in 1979, 1982, and 1986. After his victory in 1979, Shaben was appointed Minister of Utilities and Telephones, becoming the first Muslim cabinet minister in Canada. Shaben continues to serve the Muslim and Albertan communities through his chairing of the Edmonton Council of Muslim Communities.


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