There was a tearful reunion at the Halifax airport Thursday night as Antigonish's first Syrian family arrived after two days of travel.
The Hadhad family was greeted first by their son, Tareq, who arrived three weeks earlier.
"This is the first time for the whole family to travel by planes," he said of their long journey. "It must be great experience."
There were also more than a dozen people from the community at the airport who held signs and presented the family with flowers. The group Syria-Antigonish Families Embrace spent months fundraising. Their efforts were so successful, they're expecting three families to arrive this year.
"We've been building up the anticipation for this for several months," said SAFE co-founder Tanya Felix. She said the group has been studying Arabic to make sure they could speak to the newest members of their community.
"This is a really good day for Tareq and the Antigonish community."
As the Hadhad family arrived, the SAFE members sang a traditional Arabic song. It didn't take long for the tears to start to fall.
"It's what we've been waiting for, and really special to have Tareq with his family," said Bronwen Cooke.
Separated for weeks
The Hadhad family has no idea why Tareq was sent to Canada three weeks before his parents and three younger siblings.
But Tareq Hadhad, who is fluent in English, said it worked out for the best. They had no idea they were moving to Antigonish until he landed in Toronto.
He has spent weeks sending them photos and information about their new town.
"For any refugee, it's so hard to leave the Middle East and come to a new country without knowing anything about their new country."
The family could only travel with a few bags, so Tareq told them to bring the few mementos they had of their life in Syria and Lebanon. Much of their clothing was left behind.
Tareq's parents Assam and Shahenaz were clearly exhausted but appreciative of the group who were there to greet them. They said thanks at every opportunity.
"He's so delighted, he's so happy," Hadhad translated as his father spoke.
Their children, Batoul, Ahmad and Taghrid were curious, and couldn't stop looking around at their new surroundings.
After some rest, next week will be busy for the Hadhads.
"The first week will be just some introductions, and getting everybody familiar a little bit with the layout of the community," said Felix. She said members of SAFE will help the family fill out all the paperwork from signing up for school to getting their banking sorted out.
"There will be a lot of meeting and greeting."
Building a future
The Hadhads said they'll waste no time in getting to work.
Assam Hadhad ran a chocolate factory in Damascus that was destroyed in the war.
"We are now arranging here for starting a business," said Tareq Hadhad. "I find this is the country of opportunities."
He plans on helping his father start up the new sweets store as the whole family practices their English.
His mother was once an English teacher in Syria but has lost the language in the 20 years since she stopped teaching. They're hopeful it won't be long before her skills return.
Once the family is settled, Hadhad said he will focus on his own goal of finishing medical school and becoming a doctor.