Nova Scotia·Special Report

Syrian chocolatier determined to rebuild business in Antigonish

Immigrant support organizations are encouraging Syrian refugees new to Canada to take a year before looking for work, but one refugee in Antigonish says finding a job will be the best way to help him adjust to his new life.

Assam Hadhad employed 30 people in his chocolate factory in Damascus, Syria

Tagrid Hadhad shows off trays of her father's chocolates. The family has started selling them at the market. (Steve Berry/CBC)

Immigrant support organizations are encouraging Syrians new to Canada to take a year before looking for work, but one refugee in Antigonish says finding a job will be the best way to help him adjust to his new life.

Assam Hadhad says having the freedom and ability to work means everything to him.

"I didn't use to just sit down in the house," Hadhad said, through an interpreter, of his time as a refugee in Lebanon. "I used to just go out and work. If I'm working I will feel better."

Assam Hadhad is anxious to get back to work as a chocolate maker and finally provide for his family again. (Steve Berry/CBC)

Some organizations argue that the families need the year — the length of their financial sponsorship — to adjust to Canadian customs and learn the language.

Hadhad is the only member of his family who arrived with no knowledge of the English language, but he's convinced that working will help him learn faster.

"When anyone works it will motivate him to continue. But if he sits down in his house, he will be frustrated and he won't be able to communicate with anyone in the community."

Leaving a career

Hadhad was a chocolate maker in Damascus, Syria.

He owned a factory that employed 30 people and shipped his speciality treats all over the Middle East, including to Yemen, Jordan and Lebanon. The factory was destroyed in a bombing, forcing the family to leave everything behind and flee to Lebanon.

While there, Hadhad wanted to recreate the business to support his children.

"The Lebanese government rejected us," he said. "We applied to have a government certificate to establish a business in Lebanon but the Lebanese government has forbidden us to work. It's regarding the decisions of prohibiting the Syrian refugees to work in Lebanon."

The family lived in poverty and Hadhad lost more than 25 pounds from the stress.

"It was like three years of depression and frustration because I stayed at the house most times."

Starting over

When the family was offered the opportunity to move to Antigonish, N.S. they jumped on it.

The family made chocolates to hand out to 450 people at the Liberal Party's annual general meeting. (Joseph Khoury/Submitted)

"I came here just for my family to have a bright future."

Now that he's in Canada, Hadhad is trying to rebuild his career.

Hadhad is spending hours every day in English classes and watching videos to learn the language. He's making gourmet chocolates at home and selling them at the market.

His sweets are already garnering a reputation.

He was recently hired by the Liberal Party to serve his chocolates at their provincial annual general meeting to 450 guests.

Hadhad is hopeful that these first steps are paving the way for him to eventually open a chocolate shop in Antigonish, and become financially independent once again.


Carolyn Ray


Carolyn Ray is a videojournalist who has reported out of three provinces and two territories, and is now based in Halifax. You can reach her at


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