Who gets to be a part of Canadian history, asks Arab-Canadian writer

When writer Christine Estima explored her family’s history, she discovered her great-grandfather helped build Montreal’s Arab community. Yet, despite his accomplishments, Estima found that Canada’s immigrants don’t often get the credit they’re deserved.

Christine Estima wonders if immigrants are getting the credit they deserve for their contributions to Canada

Michael and Marie Zarbatany (Submitted by Christine Estima)

Writer Christine Estima felt her blood boil when Coach's Corner co-host Don Cherry complained that he thought immigrants don't wear poppies on Remembrance Day. 

"You people ... you come here, you love our way of life. You love our milk and honey. At least you could pay for a poppy," said Cherry, on the Nov. 9, 2019 edition of Coach's Corner, a hockey commentary segment of Hockey Night in Canada.

The implication, as she understood it, was that non-white Canadians aren't conisdered a part of Canadian history, and aren't invested in it. 

"He didn't have to clarify what he meant by 'You people,'" said Estima. "I've heard that racist dog whistle my entire life."

The comments hit especially hard because her grandfather, a Syrian, fought for Canada in the Second World War, suffering hearing loss and living with shrapnel embedded in his body and post-traumatic stress disorder. Estima felt like Cherry was treating her family as newcomers, when she could trace her family back at least a century in Montreal. 

A bust of Michael Zarbatany found in Saint Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church. Zarbatany was born and educated in Damacus before moving to Montreal and becoming Economos or manager of the local church community (Submitted by Christine Estima )

After she voiced her objections on Twitter, Estima was interviewed by journalists, some of which  Estima thought, sounded surprised that such a history was even possible.

These conversations prompted her to take a deeper look into her family's life in Canada for an article in Maisonneuve, called "Living Legacy." What she found in her search made her wonder how the contributions of Arab immigrants have escaped Canadians' attention. 

Christine Estima is a writer, playwright and journalist living in Toronto. She grew up in Montreal, where her great-grandfather's church still stands. (Graham Isador)


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.