In the early 1920’s Faragallah Bassal, member of the Levantine‘s community in Aleppo, Syria, married the young Turkish Elvira Toutounji. The new couple then emigrated, with Faragallah’s brothers, to Egypt, where they reached a land of multiple opportunities. But they ran out of money quickly, and had to ask for help. The group sent a telegram to their family in Syria asking: “Send 20” – meaning send 20 pounds. But the family didn’t quite understand the telegram, and sent… 20 barrels of white cheese!
The brothers then opened a shop that sold… white cheese. It took a bit of time, but eventually made a good living with it. Then, Faragallah opened a cigarette-making plant, for the British soldiers garrisoned in Egypt during WWII. This very lucrative business made him a millionaire, although he lost huge amounts lending to his brothers who never paid him back.
Faragallah and Elvira had three children: Vanda, the oldest, still lives (March 2017); Edgard, died in 1967; and Antoine, the youngest, died in 2014. Vanda married Pierre Raad, a Cairo cinema owner who dies from heart attack at age 39. They had one son: Jo.
Edgard, the second son, marry Marie Missalli in 1954 and have two children: Rawi (born in 1955 and Salwa (in 1957). They emigrate to Montreal, Canada, where Rawi becomes Dominique, and Salwa change her name to Lucienne.
Antoine, the younger son, married Effat Bassal, his cousin – this is common among Levantines, and have two sons, Adham and Karim. They too move to Montreal in 1968.
Still in Cairo, Edgard Bassal opens a small but successful printing shop. But he judged that President Gamal Abdel Nasser, at the head of the country since 1952, is a dangerous communist. The Bassal family decide in 1963 to emigrate to Canada, where Marie rapidly finds a teaching position at the “Collège de Mères du Sacré-Coeur”. Marie had been a pupil of Heliopolis’ sister Sacré-Coeur College. But for Edgard, it is more difficult to integrate in this new society. He died, age 39, from schistosomiasis, a disease found in tropical countries, but unknown by the local doctors. Had he been living in Egypt, maybe he could have been cured.
Marie never fully recovered from her husband’s death. Raised like a princess, she struggled taking control of the family, especially the education of Rawi – that became Dominique, and Salwa – now Lucienne. She keeps her job to provide for the family, but is not mentally present for her children. It is often Dominique or Lucienne that do the grocery, the cooking, washing the dishes, cleaning up the house. But when the siblings reach adolescence, during the “Flower-Power” era, the tensions with their mother reaches new heights, and the relationships degrade.
A few years later, Lucienne becomes a social worker, Dominique a composer and sound engineer, and Marie retires.
Dominique marries Chantal Bénit in 1994. They have a son, Étienne, born the next year. Chantal was the last child, born in Algeria, from a “Pied-Noir” family – Europeans settled in Algeria since the end of 19th century, generally from Spain or Italy. In 1962, after the Evian Accords, the Pied-Noirs flee from Algeria. The Bénit family first move to Luxeuil, France, where they didn’t feel welcome. They resettle, at the end of the year, in Montreal, Canada.
Chantal studied literature, and becomes educational designer, then Project Manager at [email protected], in Montreal.