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Making his mark

Local humanitarian honoured
by Robert Hirtle

Brothers Allie, left, and Abe Younis proudly display the plaque which posthumously honours their father, Abdul Fatah Assaff Younis, as Lebanese Emigrant of the Year for 2008.
 COUNTY - There are a lot of people of Lebanese descent who have one man to thank for the privilege of being able to call themselves Canadian.

 Abdul Fatah Assaff Younis was a mere lad of 15 when he followed in the footsteps of his older brothers, Charlie and Jim, and immigrated to Canada from Lebanon in 1912.

 At the time, the move may have seemed significant only to the young Mr. Younis and his immediate family.

 Now, however, nearly a century later, the extent to which Mr. Younis' immigration touched not only his relatives, but an entire community, has been recognized by the Canadian Lebanon Society and the Canadian Lebanon Embassy in Ottawa during a moving ceremony in Halifax.

 Known as Abdoo, Mr. Younis was looked after by his brothers when he first arrived in Canada. However, after he became old enough to become involved in the family business, Charlie and Jim loaded up a pair of suitcases with clothing and other articles and sent their younger sibling "up country" on his first door-to-door sales assignment.

 According to Mr. Younis' sons, Abe and Allie, the story was told that the young man returned the same day, two empty suitcases in tow, proud of the fact he had sold everything which had been in them.

 All was well until his brothers asked him for the money, and he reached in his pocket and pulled out a handful of change.

 Unfortunately, with his limited knowledge of English, the only response Mr. Younis knew to the question "How much?" was to answer "five cents." As a result, he sold every item in both suitcases for a nickel, something that, while perhaps not endearing him to his brothers, taught him his first valuable lesson as a salesman.

 Whether the story is true or not, Mr. Younis turned the early experience he gained selling door to door into a successful career as a local businessman, opening stores first in Bridgewater and later in Lunenburg. Finally, he opened a store and restaurant on Main Street in Mahone Bay where in later years son Abe, followed by grandson Yama, ran a successful furniture store.

 Despite his impressive business acumen, it is for his humanitarian work in helping more than 30 of his fellow countrymen and their families immigrate to Canada that Mr. Younis is most fondly remembered.

 And not only did he and his wife, Emma, help get them here, they put them up in their own home, sometimes for periods of longer than a year, until they were able to fend for themselves in their adoptive land.

 "No matter how many people were present at mealtimes, she could always find an abundance of food because the fridge was always full, making it seem like there was no back in it," Allie recalled. "It wasn't uncommon to have 25 people at a meal."

 Those efforts were not forgotten by friends of the family, who nominated Mr. Younis posthumously for the annual Emigrant of the Year Award, which was accepted by Allie on his father's behalf at a gala ceremony in April.

 "It's to honour emigrants that have come to Canada and made their mark, done something that was over and above the call of duty," he explained. "Every year they give away two emigrant awards. This is the eighth year and our father was one of the recipients this year."

 A full house of about 250 people were in attendance for the presentation, including representatives who spoke on behalf of the federal and provincial governments as well as the Halifax Regional Municipality.

 "And there was a representative from the Lebanese consul Wadih Fares," he added.

 Mr. Younis said the whole experience was a bit overwhelming, as the event turned out to be "a lot bigger than we thought.

 "It was a surprise first of all to find out what was going on because we didn't know anything about it. And honour-wise, it was," he said, "it was a beautiful, beautiful reception."

posted on 06/24/08
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