‘Canada adopted us’: One family’s journey from Syria to Calgary

Family business: Joudi Sijarzi poses in his home garage in Northwest Calgary on Tuesday, November 7, 2023. Sijarzi works as a mechanic at Universal Ford Lincoln in Sunridge, Northeast Calgary having began work as a mechanic with his father, Abdul, who owned a shop in Syria prior to the outbreak of the Syrian civil war (Photo by Daniel Janson/The Press).

Since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, more than five million people have fled the country as refugees, with more than 40,000 Syrians coming to Canada.

The Sijarzi’s were one of many families who fled, leaving their old lives, including a mechanic shop, behind. Abdul Sijarzi and his wife, Laila, have three boys and two girls. Their youngest daughter, Esther, was born in Canada. Their youngest boy, Joudi, currently works as a mechanic at Universal Ford Lincoln in Sunridge.

“When I was young when the whole family used to get together back in Syria, they would be speaking about nothing but cars,” said Joudi. “Despite people saying Syria was bad before, life was very good back then.”

The Sijarzi’s previously lived in the Syrian city of Aleppo, which saw some of the fiercest fighting during the early years of the civil war.

“We used to hear a lot of clashes, weapons exchanges and people dying,” said Joudi. “We saw a lot of ambulances and fighter jets going over the city and bombing the other side of the city.

“All the children and myself, my siblings, we will just leave work and go watch.”

Joudi, along with his brothers, Daniel and Leo, were forced to quit school because of the war and began working due to the family shop being shut down. Joudi recalls having to wait in line for 13 hours to get bread due to the resource shortages in Aleppo.

“The baker started producing bread and everything was okay until there was a fight near the bakery,” said Joudi. “People were running over each other just to get bread and we were left stranded on the street. It got worse after we left as well.”

The Sijarzi’s fled to Lebanon following the outbreak of the war in 2011, living there until 2019. Joudi says the family was unsure if the war would continue to escalate.

“We all thought it would be two, three months and then we’ll go back to a normal life,” he said. “We didn’t have an ID card with us or any permanent residence. Anytime it was a possibility of the Lebanese army catching us and throwing us back to Syria.”

The many difficulties the Sijarzi’s faced in Lebanon forced the boys to find work once more. Daniel began work as a barber, which is what he is still doing today at Denim and Smith Barbershops in Crowfoot.

“I went to a Syrian refugee camp (in Lebanon) and told the kids I would give a free haircut and get practice at the same time,” says Daniel.

The Sijarzis eventually made the decision to immigrate to Canada as members of their extended family had privately sponsored by a church in Calgary several years earlier.

“I worked in the barbershop (in Lebanon) and then told the owner that I was moving with my family to Canada. He was very sad because I’ve been with him for the last four years,” said Daniel.

Joudi also offered thanks to “the people who provided for us and who welcomed us here like Varsity Bible Church.

“They were our brothers and sisters,” he said. “Syria is our is the mother who we were born of, but Canada was the mother who adopted us and hugged us.”

Joudi faced several challenges after first arriving in Canada.

“It’s hard when you can’t express yourself in front of people,” he said of the initial language barrier. “We all used to live in one community. People would be on the same street, same building, very close to one another but here there is that big distance.”

Daniel also noted challenges he had with the weather upon first coming to Canada. He would take transit and walk to school for evening classes in the middle of winter.

“I would come back home at night when it’s cold and I have to put my hands in my jacket so I don’t freeze,” he said. “In the summer in Southern Canada, I like it more than Syria and Lebanon. It’s like 25 to 30 degrees. In Syria, it gets to like 40 to 50 degrees and the humidity there is too much.”

The Sijarzi family recently obtained Canadian citizenship and plans to remain in Canada for the foreseeable future.

“I know that in Canada, I got a lot of opportunity,” said Daniel. “We feel like we are free now.”

The eldest brother, Leo, was married this past year in Iraq. The application to bring his wife to Canada is still being processed due to visa issues.

Barber: Daniel Sijarzi poses in his home in Northwest Calgary on Tuesday, November 7, 2023. Sijarzi works as a barber at Denim and Smith Barbershops in Crowfoot, Northwest Calgary having previously worked as a barber in Lebanon where his family fled as refugees from Syria following the outbreak of the Syrian civil war (Photo by Daniel Janson/The Press).
About Daniel Janson 6 Articles
As a news reporting and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Daniel Janson is working as a writer for The Press in 2024.