Syrian family returns Canada's favour, one 'peace' of chocolate at a time

When the community of Antigonish, Nova Scotia decided to sponsor a Syrian family and bring them to their town, little did they know that family would become an example of hope and peace across Canada. Through starting their business Peace by Chocolate, the Hadhad family quickly became ambassadors for newcomers to Canada and the Antigonish community alike – one piece of chocolate at a time.

After a 2012 bombing in Damascus, Syria, the Hadhad family lost their home and their 20-year-old chocolate factory. The family lived in a refugee camp in Lebanon for three years before they started on their path to a new life in Antigonish.

“When we arrived in this country we were really excited, we were thrilled with all the support and the kindness of the people that helped us come here because as a family, we were counting down to that,“ Tareq Hadhad, founder of Peace by Chocolate told Yahoo Canada News. “We had very frustrating days in the Middle East after we lost everything that my family had been building since we were born.”

The Hadhad family outside the Peace by Chocolate factory in Antigonish, Nova Scotia/Peace by Chocolate

Beginning their business

The resurrection of the family’s chocolate business started organically. Although Hadhad’s father was a chocolate maker, Hadhad himself was actually a physician in his home country. Upon their arrival to Antigonish, the Hadhad family attended a “multicultural potluck” to get to know their new community. They decided to bring the one product they knew how to make at home – chocolates.

“Everything my father had made in the home kitchen was gone in 10 minutes,” Hadhad said. “Then we started at the local market in the town…people were waiting in line to buy our product, which was fascinating for us.”

After two months of selling chocolates made in their home kitchen, the community in Antigonish came together to build this hardworking family a factory.

“They came all together as carpenters, as electricians, as plumbers, as business counselors, they all came and they built a small, tiny factory beside the house,” Hadhad said. “It’s all…a representation of the community.”

‘Peace by Chocolate’

When it was time to name their growing business, Hadhad said his family wanted to choose something that reflects their personal values and the values of the country they now call home.

“We felt that Antigonish…offered us peace and we feel that peace is really the noblest thing ever that anyone can ask for,” Hadhad said. “We suffered from violence in the Middle East for a long time so for us, it was to work for peace, it was the meaning of celebrating others and accepting their differences.”

Peace by Chocolate products/Peace by Chocolate

National ambassadors

Peace by Chocolate began to receive extensive national and international attention when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shared the Hadhad family’s story at the Leaders Summit on Refugees at the United Nations.

“It’s remarkable. I couldn’t really be more honoured,” Hadhad said about the recognition.

As Trudeau shared at the United Nations, the Hadhad family consistently aims to give back to the community that brought them to Nova Scotia and the country that welcomed them.

The wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alta. were burning on the other side of the country as the Hadhad family was in the process of opening their chocolate factory. After learning about the disasters, Peace by Chocolate donated a portion of their profits to relief efforts for those affect by the wildfires.

“We were really honoured to be part of helping those who fled the wildfires in the west and we said…we know that feeling, what does it mean to lose everything,” Hadhad said.

Peace by Chocolate’s Peace Bar/Peace by Chocolate

‘Peace is beautiful in every language’

Peace by Chocolate started making headlines again in 2018 after releasing their new “Peace Bars,” with the first one titled Wantaqo’ti, the word “peace” in the indigenous Mi’kmaq language.

“Mi’kmaq is the start for everything in the land that we are on right now and we really couldn’t find anything nobler than spreading our message in the mother tongue of…the land that we call home,” Hadhad said. “The land that welcomed me and my family regardless of out ethnicity, regardless of our background, regardless of our religion, and embraced us.”

When Hadhad consulted with the Mi’kmaq community before the bars were released, he told them that it’s “an honour” to spread his family’s message of peace in their language.

“As a newcomer to this country, me and my family, we were always thinking how is the best way to spread our message in this country,” Hadhad said. “We realized that the indigenous population, they were having some troubles, and we really wanted to reveal that and say anything’s possible with peace.”

The Peace Bars will soon be available in 20 additional languages and a portion of the proceeds is given to the community of Antigonish to fund the 2018 Special Olympics Canada National Summer Games. The Hadhad family is also speaking to other indigenous communities about creating a Peace Bar in their language as well.

Founder of Peace by Chocolate, Tareq Hadhad/Peace by Chocolate

Changing stereotypes and moving forward

Although Hadhad says the family has faced some criticism and has received negative messages through their website, many people have responded back to them with a change of heart.

“Changing minds is even more honouring,” Hadhad said. “Changing a negative stereotype into a positive one is a complete honour for us.”

As they push through those stereotypes, Peace by Chocolate is set to release a new chocolate bar called “Common Ground,” partially motivated by the additional attention the company has been receiving from individuals in the United States.

“We know that our countries are connected. We will find common ground for peace with everyone,” Hadhad said.

The family’s ultimate goal is to continue to give back to the people that welcomed them, helping the community of Antigonish prosper.

Peace by Chocolate is exactly the idea of giving back and saying thank you,” Hadhad said.

Hadhad says he has now participated in over 300 speaking engagements across the country, sharing his family’s story as an “ambassador” of Antigonish, but also stressing that newcomers to Canada should speak out about their experiences and skills, and give back to their new community.

“For the long-term, sustainable opportunities, for having genuine success and feeling happy about what they will do, I would really encourage them to stay in small towns, especially Atlantic Canada,” Hadhad said. “They may find some challenges when they come here, but they will be part of the long-term success of this town.”