The Syrian-Lebanese Presence in Montreal
between 1882 and 1940

A special exhibition at the Centre d'Histoire de Montréal from October 10, 2002 to May 25, 2003

One hundred and twenty years ago, in 1882, Montreal's first immigrant of Syrian-Lebanese origin arrived in the city and stayed.

Over the next three decades, some 2,000 men and women would also leave their cities, towns and villages of birth in Bilad al-Sham (geographical Syria) and immigrate to Montreal where they would form the city's first Arabic-speaking community. The exhibit "Min Zamaan - Since long ago" tells the story of this immigrant community, composed largely of Syrian-Lebanese, and, in smaller numbers, of Mardini (people from the city of Mardin) and Palestinian immigrants, as it anchored itself in Montreal's early-twentieth-century economy and society.

Recapturing a memory of community and a communal memory

There are few members of the early-twentieth-century immigrant generation still with us. Their Canadian-born children are advancing in age and those of the younger generations often have only scant knowledge of their grand-parents' and great grand-parents' time and experiences. Brian Aboud, sociologist, and a descendant of immigrants, initiated this exhibit with the aim of remembering the early Syrian-Lebanese immigrant experience, preserving its material traces and bringing it to the attention of the wider Montreal and Quebec populations.

"Min Zamaan" tells the story of the early Syrian-Lebanese presence in Montreal and in other parts of Quebec, covering a range of themes: the context and causes of departure from Bilad al-Sham, the journey to North America, the challenges and strategies of earning a living during the initial years after immigration, the subsequent process of adapting and contributing to Montreal and Quebec's economy and culture, the achievements and trajectories of some of the community's more 'legendary' personalities.

Complementing the historical exhibit is a photographic exposé on the present-day Arab community of Montreal entitled Wousoul (l'arrivée-arrival). It is prepared by Rawi Hage a local artist of Lebanese origin.

Remembrances and rare finds

A search of public and private archives as well as interviews with dozens of community members, have allowed us to find rare photographs, documents and family objects and to gather and record life stories, anecdotes and personal remembrances of the eldest community members. The quality and range of materials and the richness of the stories will contribute to make the "Min Zamaan" exhibit an unprecedented and memorable event for Montrealers of all origins.

The exhibit has received funding from the Ministère des Relations avec les Citoyens et de l'Immigration du Québec and from the Ministry of Canadian Heritage, through the Museums' Assistance Programme. The project has received the support of an associational partner, the Lebanese-Syrian Canadian Association of Quebec. It also benefits from the counsel and assistance of an advisory committee composed of artists, professionals and business people from a cross-section of the Arabic-speaking community.