Nova Scotia

Sweet success: How the Hadhads went from refugees to employers in 1 year

After fleeing war in Syria and arriving in Canada a year ago, the family behind Peace by Chocolate celebrates

How this family went from refugees to employers in 1 year 0:50

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A Syrian family in Antigonish, N.S., says they're financially independent on their one-year anniversary in Canada, having made a sweet success of their start-up business.

The Hadhads are so successful they now employ 10 people at their small chocolate shop.

The Hadhads are arguably the best-known former refugees to land in Canada. Their story has evolved far beyond how any of them could have imagined. 

The Hadhads had never been on a plane before they made their journey to Nova Scotia.

They landed with no belongings but a few bags of clothing, tired and nervous about what was to come. 

The Hadhads arrived in Antigonish, N.S., a year ago.

The Hadhads say they can't imagine living anywhere else but Antigonish, N.S. (CBC)

The universal language of chocolate

"We were thinking that finding a job would be hard for me and my family," Tareq Hadhad, the eldest son, told CBC News.

But they were wrong. Their one asset was their ability to make chocolate, their former family business. It didn't require any translation.

The community embraced the Hadhads and their sweets. In a matter of months, they were selling at farmers markets in Nova Scotia.

Volunteers in Antigonish helped build the tiny shed-turned-factory. Tour buses started dropping by and news agencies around the world started calling.

Their biggest break was when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau highlighted their accomplishments in a speech at the United Nations.

"We just explored every option to be integrated as fast as possible," said Tareq Hadhad.

Hadhad family

The Hadhad family, shown moments after landing in Halifax in January 2016, were the first Syrian family to move to Antigonish, N.S. (Steve Berry/CBC)

Family reunion

The transition wasn't always smooth. Tareq was surprised to find out he wouldn't be able to enter medical school right away to complete his degree, which he had nearly finished before he was forced to flee Damascus.

The family was also forced to leave behind their 25-year-old daughter, Alaa, and her two children when they moved to Canada.

The family was finally reunited in December, but when her mother, Shehenaz, was asked to reflect on her first year in the country, she described it as "sad" because of their separation.

Now, a weight has been lifted off her shoulders, she said. "I want to now help my husband and make chocolate," she said.

The entire family flew to a conference in Toronto in November. While many Syrian families are relocating to larger centres to find work, they say they'll never leave Antigonish because for them, it represents a feeling of peace and safety.

Hadhad Chocolates

The Hadhads started selling their chocolate at farmers markets. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

Hopes to grow Peace by Chocolate

Their next steps are to expand the business. They started accepting online chocolate orders just before Christmas, but had to shut down almost immediately because they couldn't handle the demand.

"We had thousands of orders," said Tareq Hadhad. The 10 new staff members will help them process all those orders, but they'll need more help.

Hadhad said they realize other Syrian families are having a tougher time with the transition. Their plan is to hire some of them in other locations to help distribute their chocolates.

While all the family members are helping with their chocolate shop, their teenage daughter Batoul says she has plans that she could have never imagined one year ago. She wants to get into university and study geography.

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