Palestinian finds refuge in Richmond co-op

  1 October 2022

Ziad Ardat found safety, and a secure place to raise his family, in the Robert Owen Housing Co-op in Richmond, where he celebrated his new status as a Century of Co-operation Award recipient last week.

It was an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of home – and just how fragile that can be.

“I was taken out of Palestine as a refugee when I was three years old,” Ardat recalled. It was 1948 and the British were pulling out of Palestine, leading to the mass exodus of some 700,000 Arab residents and the destruction of more than 400 Palestinian villages.

Aqabat Jabr camp
Aqabat Jabr camp, undated, UNRWA Archive.

Ardat’s family was one of many that had to flee; his grandparents stayed behind, with the British citizenship granted to his grandfather after fighting for Britain in the Second World War. The family joined thousands of Arab Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps, and Ardat called Lebanon home until he left in his early 20s.

He joined his older brother in Dubai, working in power engineering in the air conditioning and gas pump sectors. It’s where Ardat started a family, played on a first-division masters soccer team and enjoyed a flourishing career.

But there was one big drawback. “It is so hot, hot like hell,” Ardat said ruefully. “At noon you don’t see anyone on the street, no cars, no people, nothing.”

A red address sign with

Ardat, his wife and daughter then joined his sister in Oklahoma briefly before moving to Vancouver and then settling in their Richmond housing co-op.

In the safety of a welcoming community, Ardat’s family grew to include four more children. They enjoyed weekly dinners and lunches with neighbours, and conversations with fellow parents while they watched their children outside.

It was a secure landing spot for a family to thrive, and where Ardat’s children were able to pursue their dreams. He proudly shared their accomplishments – his daughter, now a school vice-principal, two sons following in his power engineer footsteps, and another studying arts at the Emily Carr University.

“I see the refugee camps… how people live there,” Ardat said. “My daughter, she thanks me because we come here and she can study. I’m very happy here in Canada.”

Ziad Ardat, who has lived at the Robert Owen Housing Co-op for 33 years, was honoured along with all the 2022 Century of Co-operation Award recipients at a ceremony on Sept. 29, 2022. The awards celebrate longtime co-op residents; to qualify, one must be a resident of CHF BC member housing co-op and the individual’s age, plus the length of time in the co-op, must add up to 100 years or more.