What's your story

I moved to Montreal in 1967. Little did I know it was the Quiet Revolution

Nadia Alexan left Egypt a widow with two young children. In Montreal, she landed in the midst of Expo 67 and a province in undergoing political and cultural change.

'Our arrival coincided with the most exciting time in Quebec history.'

Alexan's Eygptian passport photo, with her children Sami and Daisy (left), and the retired teacher and advocate, today (right). (Nadia Alexan)

Did you make the right move? Sometimes that's a question you can only answer in retrospect, says Nadia Alexan of Montreal. Throughout 2017, we're asking Canadians, "What's your story?" Nadia Alexan, of Montreal, shares hers.

In Egypt, Alexan earned a B.A. honours in English language and Literature from Alexandria University. In Montreal, she became a teacher and advocate — she founded the organization Citizens in Action Montreal to promote political, economic, environmental and social justice. (Nadia Alexan)

Fifty years ago, I arrived to Montreal's Trudeau Airport (known then as Montréal–Dorval International Airport) from Alexandria, Egypt — a young 25-year-old widow, with two toddlers. I had just lost my husband the year before, after a short marriage of four and a half years.

Unable to cope with the built-in discrimination into law against women in the Middle East, I decided to flee the country of my birth.

When we arrived at Dorval airport, we went through immigration procedures and then boarded the Murray Hill bus to Montreal. The bus stopped at the Sheraton Hotel where we got off. But to my surprise, the desk-clerk was unwilling to give us a room. He said the hotel was booked solid for Expo 67. I pleaded with him to let us stay at least for one night. He agreed reluctantly, on condition that it should only be one night.

When I went up to our room and I ordered supper for the children, I could not eat. Where were we going to go? What were we going to do, if we couldn't stay in the hotel for more than one night?

The next day, a couple helped me to find my way around the city and they took me to the Canadian Employment office. I had some secretarial experience and I was fully bilingual. I was interviewed and hired on the spot. We arrived on a Thursday and the following Thursday, I was already working!

Alexan's kids, Sami and Daisy. 'Expo 67 was magical and charming. [It] was not only a success but also a source of pride and renaissance for Quebecers,' says Alexan. (Nadia Alexan)

During the summer, I took my children to visit Expo 67 on St. Helen's Island, many times. The most spectacular pavilions were those of the United States' Biosphere, as well as the Canadian, Russian and French Pavilions, whose architecture was outstanding.

Canadian summer in Montreal! (Nadia Alexan)

And so slowly we began to settle in.

Our arrival coincided with the most exciting time in Quebec history. The Duplessis corrupt, reactionary government was replaced by an enlightened, progressive Liberal parliament that was determined to herald Quebec society into modernity. The Quiet Revolution during the sixties was a period of intense socio-political and socio-cultural change. It was characterized by the effective secularization of society, the creation of the welfare state, the nationalization of electricity, the creation of the department of Education and the adherence of Quebec to the national Canadian Health Act. It was a time when French Literature and theatre flourished and Quebec had come of age!  

For a long time, I kept wondering whether I had done the right thing by immigrating. The answer came many years later, when Egypt fell into the fascist arms of the Moslem Brotherhood, equality between men and women became a thing of the past and the country fell further into the throes of Islamic fundamentalism, as jihadists began to massacre the Coptic Christians, even while they prayed inside the churches. Only then, was I assured I had done the right thing.

Fifty years later, now that I am retired and my children are successful professionals, I am proud to be living in Canada, where men and women are equal, where there is a separation between Church and State, where the rule of law guides both elected officials, as well as citizens and where freedom of expression and freedom of the press are fundamental pillars of democracy.

What's your story? What defines Canada for you? Is there a time that you were proud to be Canadian, or perhaps a time you felt disappointed? Is there a place, person, or event in your life that sums up what being Canadian is to you? Tell us at cbc.ca/ whatsyourstory.



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