Peace by Chocolate

Winner of a marketing and brand communication Ovation award!

Jon Tattrie, author of this insightful look into a Syrian family’s journey to Canada, provides some background information on the history of chocolate, the historical significance of embracing all people by the citizens of Antigonish, Nova Scotia and the political will around the immigration policy that embraced displaced Syrians in With that backdrop, Tattrie takes us into the journey of one family from Syria to Canada: the Hadhads.

Let’s go back in time to when this family made Damascus their home. Living within a multigenerational family complex, the Hadhad ties to their city and country were deep. They lived, worked and played in a part of the world that has seen its share of turmoil. But despite all the changes, the family thrived. Out of that growth, a young man, Isam, became obsessed with the world of chocolate. He took that passion and began a successful business. To win his bride’s affections, he gave her a box of chocolates with the note, “I do not make chocolate, I make happiness.” They married and soon had two daughters and a son.

In 2012, war had destroyed the family home, the business and much of their beloved city. The Hadhad family had no choice but to flee to Lebanon. By now, their son, Tareq, had a dream to be a medical doctor…how would this happen now? While volunteering with a medical team, he learned about ways to leave the war-torn homeland to make a new life in a foreign country.

When Tareq informed his family that Canada had accepted their immigration application, they protested saying it was too cold (Damascus is very hot!) and they would need 10 jackets to stay warm. Tareq was approved to travel to Canada first to become established and the family would follow a few months later. He told them, “We lost our family of sixty, I promise you I will build a family of 600 in Canada. When you arrive, you will feel at home.”

Tareq Hadhad poses at his family’s home in Antigonish, N.S. on Monday, August 17, 2020. Darren Calabrese

When Tareq and 213 Syrian refugees stepped off the plane in Toronto, they were warmly welcomed by Governor General David Johnson and his family. On the flight to Halifax, the captain welcomed Tareq and one other Syrian family and the entire plane cheered their support. After living in fear and uncertainty for many years, the reaction from the Canadian passengers overwhelmed Tareq. I admit that when reading this, I had a few tears and felt so proud to be a Canadian!

In the meantime, a grassroots committee in Antigonish formed to embrace any Syrian refugees that landed in their midst. They provided housing, clothing and food for the new families until they were settled into a life of work, school and community. Tareq set up a home for his family who sporadically made their way to Canada. During this time, the publicity around the Syrian refugees escalated and soon Tareq found himself in front of television cameras, talking to reporters and becoming the poster boy of how a displaced person can embrace his new homeland.

Once daddy Isam was settled into his new home, his love of chocolate once again took hold. This time, he would involve friends and family to transform his passion into a business. Before long, Tareq left his dreams of becoming a doctor behind, and embraced his role of managing a burgeoning business.

On the coattails of having the Prime Minister use his family has an example of the success of the Syrian refugee immigration policy, the chocolate business exploded. Check out the speech that changed the trajectory of the Hadhad family business:

The Hadhad family built a warehouse that employs people from Antigonish – they can now give back to the community that embraced them from the start. The family has a strong philanthropic spirit – in fact, they have built “giving back” right into their business plan. When they were still starting their business in Canada, they responded immediately to those needing assistance in Fort MacMurray during the fires of 2016. And now, they have teamed up with a charity close to their heart: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Canada. Check out the family’s contribution to the cookbook available at and try the Chocolate Wrap in our Recipe segment – so delicious!

Tareq Hadhad, centre, enjoys the NightingaleÕs Nest (ÔIsh El Bulbul) dessert with his father Isam Hadhad, second from left, and his siblings, from left to right, Ahmad Hadhad, Sana Alkadri, and Taghrid Hadhad at their home in Antigonish, N.S. on Monday, August 17, 2020. Darren Calabrese

I also wanted to include a note that I received from the author, Jon Tattrie:

So many people I spoke to while writing Peace by Chocolate told me they first got involved because they wanted to help other people (i.e. the Syrian newcomers), but ended up helping themselves. I had the same experience: working with the Hadhads to tell their story left me energized and inspired. 

I learned that if you want to feel good, you should do good. The very last interview I did for the book was with Isam, the father and chief chocolatier. We had spoken many times before then, but in the last interview, I finally asked him: why chocolate? Why not start a more practical business, if you want to be an entrepreneur, or a more artistic endeavour, if you want to be an artist?

Isam gave a long, lilting answer in Arabic, and I savoured the poetry of the sound (not speaking Arabic myself). When Tareq translated his answer into English, I learned that Isam loved how he could pour his happiness into the chocolate, and then see happiness light up the eyes of people when they ate the chocolate. “I’m not making chocolate, I’m making happiness,” he told me. 

Isam was captivated by how he could make a tiny chocolate that balances on his finger, or an enormous block the size of his head. He was fascinated by how you take the raw ingredients, mix and melt them, and then pour them into the mould – but the chocolate is not the mould. You can always melt it again, and reshape it. Those insights proved critical for the family, as they lost their old identities in Syria and found new ones in Canada. Their chocolate stayed the same – only the mould was different.

Jon is an amazing author – check out his work at

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Cover was originally published in Peace by Chocolate: The Hadhad Family’s Remarkable Journey from Syria to
Canada copyright © 2020 by Jon Tattrie. Reprinted by permission of Goose Lane Editions.