This Syrian refugee family took their first road trip across Ontario
In 2012, the Syrian civil war tore the Toubeh family from their home in Damascus. They spent three and a half years as refugees in Lebanon before they were sponsored by a private group of Canadians and resettled in Ottawa in December 2015. Now, Wejdan and her 23-year-old son Ward are taking ESL classes, while the other two children, 18-year-old Wessam and 12-year-old Aziza, are both in school.
RVezy, an Ottawa-based RV rental company (think Airbnb for campers), recently offered the Toubehs a road trip across Ontario as a way to celebrate Canada 150. “We saw these families coming to our country and we wanted to welcome them,” says RVezy founder Michael McNaught. “We wanted to share what we love as Canadians, by travelling outdoors in our country.”
In June, a caravan of four RVs—including the Toubehs, McNaught’s family and RVezy employees—embarked on a four-day, all-expenses-paid trip across the province. We caught up with the Toubehs during a visit to Canada’s Wonderland and asked them to share some highlights from the 1,000-kilometre trek.
The Toubehs set out from Parliament Hill. They had never set foot in an RV before. Ward, Wejdan, Wessam and Aziza pose here in front of their 32-foot Fiesta motorhome along with RVezy employee Julia Lewis on the left, and McNaught and Ottawa councillor Keith Egli on the right. The Toubehs were all fasting for Ramadan at the beginning of the trip. “The first day, our companions were surprised,” says Ward. “I told them that it was normal, that we fast to feel the experience of the poor people of the world.”
The Toubehs spent their first night at the Rideau Acres Campground in Kingston. “Sleeping in an RV is very nice, especially because we have air conditioning.” says Ward. “It’s like you’re sitting at home.”
The next day, the family trekked to Kingston’s Fort Henry, where they explored the wine cellar and dungeons. Here, Wessam tests out a cannon at the top of the fort.
The Toubehs drove west to Sandbanks Provincial Park in Prince Edward County. Ward and Aziza first thought they were on the shores of an ocean, not Lake Ontario. “The waves were massive,” said Aziza. “We’d never seen anything like that before.”
Ward mastered the art of kayaking quickly. But other vessels proved trickier—Ward and Wessam accidentally capsized a canoe.
At Sandbanks, Ward, Wessam and some of the other kids on the trip buried Aziza in the sand. “My most cherished memory of this trip is that my children are happy,” says Wejdan. “If they enjoyed this experience, I am happy.”
The first thing that Wessam noticed when the family arrived at Canada’s Wonderland was the number of people bustling around. The Toubehs had gone to theme parks in Syria, but nowhere as big as Wonderland. “I love activity, being able to communicate with a lot of people,” says Wessam. “This is how you learn English.” His mother, on the other hand, prefers the quiet life in Ottawa.
Aziza, shown on the far right, tried more rides than her more squeamish mother and brothers, who felt dizzy after a few hours. Wessam was the only one brave enough to take on the Leviathan, but just before the drop, he closed his eyes. “My heart stopped,” Wessam says, laughing. “Once we went down, I kept my eyes shut and didn’t know what happened until we weren’t moving anymore.”
Algonquin Provincial Park was the last stop of the Toubehs’ cross-Ontario odyssey. The family spotted a bear and a moose and sampled s’mores—the RVezy team made sure they had halal options. “It’s incredible,” says Ward. “You’re forced to sit peacefully and quietly in this kind of atmosphere.”