February 15, 2021 is Heritage Day in Nova Scotia, and this year’s Honouree is our beloved First President, Lieutenant Edward Francis Arab. His incredible accomplishments in his short life of only 29 years, has made him an icon for the Canadian Lebanese community and identity.
Edward Arab was the youngest student to graduate from Dalhousie Law School, at the age of 22 in 1936. He was at the top of his class, and his yearbook entry states that he was a contender for the Smith Shield, a premier mooting event dating back to 1927. He became a member of the Nova Scotia Barristers Society on November 16, 1937.
Soon after, he became the First President of the Canadian Lebanon Society of Halifax. He opened the Society’s first official meeting on November 13, 1938, with the first order of business being - a prayer.
Edward Arab, together with his fellow founding members, had a vision for a people who identified themselves as Canadians of Lebanese descent, even though, in 1938 Lebanon was not yet a country. Thus, the Society’s name, for which Edward Arab advocated, was historically significant.
An excerpt from the minutes of the first meeting reads as follows:
“The meeting was opened by Chairman Eddie F. Arab who declared previous vote regarding the name of the Society unconstitutional. Mr. Arab proposed changing the name to Canadian Lebanon Society and outlined his reasons for same. Discussion followed – it was decided by the chairman to put the matter to vote. The name “Canadian Lebanon Society” was voted to be the name of the organization. Mr. Edward Arab outlined the Constitution in English and Mr. Peter Laba in Arabic. The outline of the Constitution was motioned to be passed by Mr. Joseph Laba and seconded by Mr. Wilfred Abraham. Motion passed. Mr. Edward F. Arab was nominated president on motion by Mr. Peter Laba, seconded by Wilfred Abraham – passed.”
Since ancient times, “Lebanon” has been defined by its white capped mountains, which provided protection for its people. The Canadian Lebanon Society of Halifax is probably the oldest organization in the Americas with “Lebanon” or “Lebanese” in its name.
The Society’s founding members were from “Mount Lebanon” – a region that had achieved quasi-independence from the Ottoman Empire, under the French Mandate in 1923.
Reference to “Mount Lebanon” is made in the minutes of a meeting in May 1939, where it is recorded that a decision was made for Anthony Arab to “write to his brother in Mount Lebanon and have him send some shoots of cedar trees over to send to the Archbishop and one to be planted in the Public Gardens of Halifax”. One year later at a meeting in May 1940, the President distributed seeds of cedar trees to the members.
At its first annual meeting, it was noted in the Society’s minutes that Edward Arab, “reaffirmed his hopes that the Society would continue to grow in membership and strength”. Around this time, the Society was liaising through correspondence with community members stretching from Yarmouth to Truro to Cape Breton, to Annapolis, to Ottawa and the New England states of Vermont and New Hampshire.
In 1940, the Society held a dance at St. Joseph’s hall, with admittance of 25 cents. That year, the Society also raised money to help with the war effort and donated $100 to the Red Cross.
In addition to the hopes and dreams of preserving the history, culture and traditions of their motherland, there was a need for advocacy for improved conditions for those who remained behind.
Within months of being formally organized, the Society received reply correspondence from the French High Commission. The Society, under Edward Arab’s leadership, was advocating for Lebanon’s independence from the French Mandate.
The sentiment of Halifax’s Lebanese community during Edward Arab’s prime of his life, is captured in a newspaper article published in the Halifax Mail on November 19, 1943 entitled “Halifax Watches Lebanese Crisis”. The article opens like this:
“Halifax citizens of Lebanese birth and descent are watching with keen interest the delicate political crisis in the Republic of Lebanon”, and noted there were over 50 Lebanese families in the city at that time, with their own organization – the Canadian Lebanon Society “to foster interest of the Lebanese in the colorful history of their ‘homeland’ and strengthen goodwill between the Republic and the British Empire. At this time, they were “pinning their hopes on the British to use their influence in settling the trouble with French control”.
At the time of this article, France was occupied by Nazi Germany. Two days later on November 22, 1943, Lebanon received its Independence from France. This was five years after the Canadian Lebanon Society was formed.
One month shy of Lebanon’s first year anniversary as an Independent Republic, on October 25, 1944, at the age of 29, Edward Arab was tragically killed in action in the Netherlands, as an officer in the Canadian Army, fighting to liberate France. He had been exempted from war service but volunteered in order to “do his bit” for his country – Canada.
Prior to Edward Arab’s death, on February 13, 1944, a motion was made that all members of the Canadian Lebanon Society will be advised of such place to recite the rosary, in the event that a Society member or his family became deceased. But with the tragic death of Edward Arab, the following motions were made on November 19, 1944, to honor the fallen soldier:
“Moved by A. Haddad, Jim Arab that the High mass be said and the price be paid with three priests, altar boys and choir for the Late Lieut. Edward Arab. Motion carried. Moved by Sam Almolky, Anthony Arab that Monsieur Burns be consulted where the High Mass for Lieut. Arab is to be held whether at St. Mary’s or St. Thomas. Motion Carried. Moved by C. Joseph, P. Joseph that the mass be officially announced in the paper. Motion carried.
In 1949, Halifax City Council made a decision to name streets after young Halifax men killed in action during World War Two, in the newly developed Westmount subdivision of the City. One of those streets is Edward Arab Avenue.
In 2013, Ms. Kelly Regan made the following Resolution No. 490 in the Nova Scotia Legislature:
“Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution: Whereas the Canadian Lebanon Society of Nova Scotia every year honors one of their own as Emigrant of the Year, a person who gives of their time and talents to better their community and society; and Whereas lawyer Edward Francis Arab ran his own criminal law practice and refused to see any Lebanese, black, or poor person turned away from his door because of an inability to pay, and was a founding member and first president of the Canadian Lebanese Society in 1938; and Whereas Eddie, as he is still known, enlisted in the army in the Spring of 1941 choosing to serve overseas, and Lieutenant Arab's platoon, part of the Lincoln and Welland Regiment, came under heavy enemy fire in 1944 on the border of Belgium and Holland killing most of the platoon including the 29-year-old Nova Scotian; Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House of Assembly congratulate the Arab family on the selection of Edward Francis Arab as the Canadian Lebanon Society’s 2013 Emigrant of the Year, he was a young man who influenced many and left us all too soon”.