Family of Syrian immigrants mourn father killed by falling bricks in Parc-Ex

Originally from Aleppo, Hanri Sabbagh came to Montreal last year to start a new life with his wife Rima Bidan and their two daughters. "To come here to the safest and nicest place in the world and to die like this ... I don't think we can recover," says his grief-stricken wife.

'To come here to the safest and nicest place in the world and to die like this,' laments man's wife

Widow Rima Bidan, left, and her daughters, Mirelle and Christelle Sabbagh, are mourning the death of Hanri Sabbagh, who was killed after being hit by falling bricks in Montreal earlier this month. (Valeria Cori-Manocchio/CBC)

On Nov. 1, howling winds blew down trees and knocked out power all over southern Quebec.

And in Montreal's Parc-Extension neighbourhood, those winds dislodged bricks from the façade of a building, killing a man in his 50s who had just missed his bus and was standing near a bus shelter, waiting for his daughter to come pick him up.

The man was Hanri Sabbagh, a Syrian immigrant who arrived in Canada with his family just last year.

Originally from Aleppo, Sabbagh came to Montreal to start a new life with his wife, Rima Bidan, and their two grown daughters. 

"We wanted to reunite and live as a family again, in a safe place, in a nice place," said Bidan.

Strong winds dislodged bricks from the façade of a building in Parc-Extension on Nov. 1, killing Hanri Sabbagh. (Mathieu Daniel Wagner/Radio-Canada)

She described her husband as a very positive person.

 He started taking French lessons as soon as they arrived in Montreal. He encouraged his family to explore their new home and its culture, taking them to visit Mont-Tremblant and to a sugar shack.

"He loved this country. For him, the future of the girls was safe and was better than any other place," said Bidan.

Rima Bidan, Hanri Sabbagh and their daughters, Christelle and Mirelle Sabbagh, came to Montreal from Aleppo, Syria, just over a year ago. (Submitted by Mirelle Sabbagh)

Bidan said she and her daughters have been inundated with messages of sympathy from her husband's fellow students in French-language class.

At such a difficult time, she said, she and her daughters have been touched to hear stories of her husband's kindness and good humour from people they'd only just come to know.

Mirelle Sabbagh, Hanri's younger daughter, said she thinks of her father as a friend as well as a parent, recalling "how lovely and how funny he was."

Hanri Sabbaghm who had worked as a goldsmith in the Middle East, was taking French lessons in Montreal before he died. (Submitted by Mirelle Sabbagh)

"I know I will go on, and life will go on, but I won't be the same. No one will be the same. We're broken, even in our happiest moments in the future, there will be pain because he's not here," she said.

Building awaits repairs

The wind ripped several rows of bricks from the façade just below the roofline of the building at the corner of Saint-Roch Street and Champagneur Avenue. People living in the building were temporarily evacuated. 

As of Monday, 10 days after the incident, the intersection was still closed to all traffic.

The borough of Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension told CBC that it's checking the area daily, and the building owner is making the necessary repairs.

In the meantime, Sabbagh's family is considering legal action — and trying to fathom how to move forward.

"It's really a strange accident — to suffer all these things in our country and in Dubai, and to come here to the safest and nicest place in the world and to die like this — it's not easy," lamented Bidan. "I don't think we can recover."

The family heads back to Syria Tuesday, to bring Sabbagh's body back to the place of his birth.

Bricks from the top section of the building's wall fell on Friday Nov. 1, killing Sabbagh who was standing by the bus shelter below. (Mathieu Daniel Wagner/Radio-Canada)

Based on reporting by Valeria Cori-Manocchio


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