Syrian immigrants operated store in Barry's Bay over a century ago

By Theresa Prince, Special to The Daily Observer

In 1910-1911, Moses Salloum was living in Barry’s Bay. It appears that Moses was doing business out of the Billings Hotel (now Balmoral), and later was a tenant at Drohan’s Blueberry Hotel.

In 1910-1911, Moses Salloum was living in Barry’s Bay. It appears that Moses was doing business out of the Billings Hotel (now Balmoral), and later was a tenant at Drohan’s Blueberry Hotel.

Over a century ago, many young Syrians, who were facing social and economic hardships in their homeland, came to Canada looking for a better life for themselves and their families.

I have been researching the history of Barry's Bay for over a decade and a half, and have recently discovered further information about one such family - the Kouri family who established a store in the village in the early 1900s. The general store was located beside the Bank of Montreal on Opeongo Line. Through, I was able to make contact with descendants of the Kouri family living in Saskatchewan, which shed much light on my long-time interest and research of the store.

Around the turn of the last century, three Salloum/Kouri siblings arrived in Canada, at different times, from the village of Qaraoun/Karaoun in western Syria (present-day Lebanon). Khishfy (Mary) came in 1899, Naaman (Norman) in 1904, and Boutros (Peter) in 1908. Their father was a priest in the Christian Greek Orthodox faith, and Norman was given the middle name "Kouri" meaning priest in Arabic. Shortly after his arrival in Canada, the "Salloum" portion of Norman's surname was dropped and he became known as Norman Kouri. Being the children of a priest gave Norman and his siblings the opportunity to learn to read and write in English, as well as Arabic, prior to their emigration. Although the Kouris were Lebanese, all the Canadian Censuses Returns show their place of origin as Syria and their nationality as Syrians. This is similar to the early Polish Kashub settlers being referred to as Prussians, when in fact they were of Polish descent from Prussian occupied Poland.

On Feb. 11, 1902, Mary Salloum (1879-1956) married Moses Salloum (1877-1961) in Smith Falls, Lanark County, where their only child, Samuel, was born. (Moses and Mary were distant cousins.) Moses was born in Lebanon and came to Canada before 1900. In 1904, Norman Kouri joined Moses Salloum in a small wholesale partnership in Smith Falls before moving to Barry's Bay.

In 1910-1911, Moses, Mary, their son Sam, brother-in-law Peter Kouri and cousin Frank Salloum were living in Barry's Bay. Moses was a merchant and tenant on part lot 182 RBS. It appears that Moses was doing business out of the Billings Hotel (Balmoral), and later was a tenant at Drohan's Blueberry Hotel. Shortly afterwards, during the large scale movement to the West, Moses, Mary and Sam moved to Saskatchewan, where they continued in the retail food business.

In 1910, Norman (1888-1968) and Peter (c1892-1913) Kouri decided to set up a store in Barry's Bay on the north side of Opeongo Line opposite Drohan's Hotel. On Sept. 7, 1910, the Kouri Brothers signed a five-year lease with James and Margaret Drohan to rent a building consisting of a store and storehouse. The building was located on part of lot 181 RBN; the present site of the Bank of Montreal. The conditions of the lease included the payment of $160 per year and the Lessee to pay all taxes and fire insurance.

On Jan. 3, 1911, Norman Kouri, age 22, married Rose Wackid, age 21, at St. Brigid's Parish, Ottawa. Rose was from Zahle, Lebanon; her parents Charles Wackid and Rose (Azar) came to Canada before 1900, and Rose and her brothers followed in 1902. At the time of his marriage, Norman is shown as a merchant of Barry's Bay. A year later, their first child, Ernest, was born in 1912 in Rockland, Ontario.

From the beginning, it appears that Norman Kouri was a hard and industrious worker, involving himself in a number of enterprises. He sold olive oil, started a fruit wholesale business, owned considerable land in Gloucester, formed business partnerships, and opened stores.

Then tragedy struck the family . . . just three years into the lease at Barry's Bay, Peter Kouri, age 21, died on Sept. 11, 1913, following injuries he received when he either stepped off or fell from a streetcar on Bank Street, in Ottawa. An inquest into Kouri's death delivered a verdict of accidental death. He was buried in Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa.

Following Peter's death, Norman continued to operate the store in Barry's Bay with the assistance of his brother-in-law Allen Wackid (Rose's brother). During the next few years, two more sons were born; Peter (most likely named after his deceased uncle) was born in Barry's Bay in 1913, and Theodore (Ted) was born in Madawaska in 1915. Why in Madawaska?

Further research makes the story even more intriguing and the fact that Rose Kouri travelled by train to Madawaska (the first car did not arrive in Barry's Bay until 1917) to have her baby adds another fascinating chapter to the story. Lumber baron, J. R. Booth, had the divisional point for the Ottawa, Arnprior and Parry Sound Railway built at Madawaska, complete with a roundhouse and hotel. Back in those days Madawaska was a prosperous and thriving community; much more so than the town of Barry's Bay. Rose's brothers, Allan and Patrick (Wadi) Wackid, had established a store in Madawaska. The Madawaska store was located on Dawson Street. It no longer exists as several buildings in the area were demolished with the construction of Highway 60. According to local history, the Wackids were considered wealthy Syrians. They lived in a huge two-storey house, built on the largest lot in Madawaska, complete with a fireplace and a second-storey balcony. In 1928, St. Paul's United Church purchased the Wackid house for use as their rectory. The rectory still exists as a private residence situated near St. Matthews Church in Madawaska. As well, Rose Kouri owned land in Madawaska, and some remember a Kouri house, which stood vacant and was later destroyed by fire. Another interesting discovery is the fact that Charles Wackid (Rose Kouri's father) died of natural causes in the spring of 1924 on the train at Barry's Bay. This would indicate that he travelled by train to visit his children in Barry's Bay and Madawaska.

After the five-year lease expired in 1915, the Kouri family returned to Ottawa, where two more children were born; Dorothy in 1917 and Joseph Wilfred in 1919. By 1918 Norman set his sights on the prairies. He once again joined Mary and Moses Salloum and travelled ahead to Hazenmore, Sask., where he opened a store. A short time later, the family joined him and daughter Marjorie was born there. Soon afterwards, the family settled in Ponteix, Sask., where five more children were born: Harry, Lillian, Patricia, Charles and Norman Jr. In 1920-1921, Norman established the retail food business Kouri's Market in Ponteix, which served a large district around the community. In 1947, his eldest son, Ernest, established Kouri's Market in Mankota, SK, while the Ponteix store continued to be operated by sons Peter, Ted and Norman Jr. until the early1980s, when Norman Jr. took sole ownership of the business until 2000. Norman Kouri's sons had continued their father's legacy for over 80 years.

In addition to starting several businesses in two provinces, Norman and Rose raised a family of eleven children who grew up to distinguish themselves as prominent citizens who made significant contributions to their community. Ernest and Peter both served in the Second World WAr; Ted served as mayor of Ponteix for 21 years; Dorothy (Chater) was renowned for her ethnic cooking and enjoyed teaching kindergarten; Joseph Wilfred died at five weeks; Marjorie (Read) worked in several stores and enjoyed needle work; Harry died at the age of 7; Lillian (Gee) and Patricia (Currie) graduated as nurses; Charles graduated as a pharmacist and practised in Ottawa where he owned several drugstores; and Norman Jr. who was an artist with a beautiful tenor voice, helped to design the Ponteix Golf Course. Only two of the children are still living. Both reside in Calgary; Marjorie lives is a retirement home while Patricia still lives in her own home.

In 1917 The Merchants Bank of Canada leased the former Kouri Store building, from widow Margaret Drohan, and on Feb. 7, 1917 the bank provided the residents of Barry's Bay with their first permanent banking service as the forerunner of the Bank of Montreal. The interior was renovated to suit the requirements of a banking arrangement. A. L. Windsor, manager of the Eganville branch, spent several days in town setting up for the opening of the newly established Barry's Bay branch. Patrick J. Hogan was the first manager, assisted by Brian Kearney as junior clerk, both of Eganville.

I find the Kouri story an important contribution to the early development of the village of Barry's Bay, especially in light of the recent arrival of Syrian refugees to Canada. It is interesting to note that the Syrian family, sponsored by Valley Welcome, who arrived in Eganville in early 2016 also came from Lebanon after their escape from Syria. By all accounts, there are similarities between the Kouri immigrants, who came to Barry's Bay over 100 years ago, and the Syrian refugees who have just arrived. No doubt their desire is to build new lives here and their main concern is to provide an education for their children.

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