By Jennifer Moore
Wadih Fares made a Member of the Order of Canada
Wadih Fares, C.M. (BEng‘80) was made a Member of the Order of Canada on November 23, 2012. Regarded for his entrepreneurial spirit and service to the community, Fares is known as a talented innovator. His company, WM Fares Group, is credited with both transforming the Halifax skyline, and boosting its local economy. Mr. Fares gives back to the community in wide-ranging ways – most notably perhaps, has been his ability to build bridges between Canadian and Lebanese communities both locally and nationally.
Spirit, drive and giving back
When Fares was a young boy in Lebanon, he frequently visited construction sites with his father, a road contractor and well-respected man in their community. With each visit, the desire grew in Fares to follow his father into the profession of engineering and building.
“Engineers are highly regarded in Lebanon, and I wanted to be someone like that,” reveals Fares. “To be honest, I never thought of becoming anything else.”
Fares would travel a long way from his childhood home in the small mountain village of Diman in northern Lebanon to realize his dream – a very long way. He recalls how his father worked hard and sacrificed to ensure he and his siblings received a quality education, which meant private schooling for him. It inspired him to apply himself in his studies and make his dream a reality. Yet in 1975, as Fares was preparing to enter university in Beirut, civil war broke out in Lebanon, closing the schools. One male member of each family was required to fight, and Fares’ father had volunteered, but Fares insisted he should be the one to go. This way, there was someone to provide for the family.
For three months, Fares fought on the front lines. He remembers one particularly intense night when the echo of gunfire could be heard everywhere. Arriving home the following day, his distraught mother, who’d been awake all night, phoned her brother to help her get Fares out of Lebanon. A mad scramble ensued to obtain army permission and documents to leave the country and, in the spring of 1976, Fares found himself living in Halifax with his grandmother.
A strong Lebanese community and the presence of family had made Halifax a seemingly obvious choice for Fares to start a new life and pursue his education. Yet there was one thing he had not counted on: the language barrier. “I thought I’d be fine because I was fluent in French and Canada is a bilingual country. I was shocked to find out that French is not a common language here.”
It was around this time that Fares discovered that he had been accepted into the engineering program at TUNS. In a meeting with the dean, he learned, with the help of a cousin who acted as a translator, that he could earn his degree in a new four-year program instead of five. “I thought the dean was crazy; I didn’t even know if I could do it in five years considering I couldn’t speak English.”
Not only did Fares complete his degree in four years, he was writing and speaking in English when he graduated. He credits the community, his classmates and TUNS professors for assisting him in achieving his dream. “The guidance and support my professors provided particularly helped me through the bumps along the way.”
In the years that followed, Fares launched his own company: WM Fares Group. It was unique in that it brought together all of the disciplines necessary in the development of construction projects under one roof. By eliminating the stress of dealing with various consultants and contractors, Fares delivered a more practical service to clients, and enjoyed considerable success.
“Failure doesn’t exist,” is Fares’ assessment of his journey, demonstrating a combination of perseverance and dedication that are at once rare and admirable. He also possesses a spirit of generosity that has seen him contribute to the growth of the community in a variety of ways, from serving as Honorary Consul of Lebanon for the Maritime Provinces to his involvement in Pier 21 as a Past Chair. That spirit extends back to his alma mater, which is now part of Dalhousie. He sits on the university’s Board of Governors and chairs the Operations Committee. “I owe my success to my engineering degree,” he says.
Fares’ journey continues. He is exploring new development opportunities, such as the recently completed Trillium condominium project, his business is prosperous, and his now adult children, a son and a daughter, work for the company. Given his experiences, you wonder what advice he has to offer the next generation of Dalhousie engineering students coming up.
“I say stick with what you want to do and don’t derail yourself. Go after your profession and don’t let anyone take away from what you have worked so hard for.”
Those are words to live by, and Fares has lived by them very well.