Francis Fares is a name associated with success, most recently as creator of the impressive King’s Wharf development on the Dartmouth waterfront. The prominent land developer was celebrated as “Lebanese Business Person of the Year” by the Canadian-Lebanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry in 2012. “The area is on the verge of exploding economically and culturally,” says Francis. He feels Halifax should better exploit its positive attributes – such as its accessibility to Central Canada, New York and Europe. He also feels strongly that our artists need to be celebrated. “The soul of a place is its art and culture.”
Francis’ long journey here was indirect. He was determined to leave war-torn Lebanon to join several aunts and cousins in Halifax. But getting a student visa was difficult so he moved to Rome and studied art and theatre for six years. Despite the exotic setting, and the opportunity to work in the Vatican Museum, Halifax remained his goal. In 1989, on his ninth attempt at a visa, he was finally permitted to immigrate.
“I took any job I could get,” says Francis, reminiscing about cleaning greasy grills in a fish and chips joint and baking and delivering pizzas – all at minimum wage. “It was a hard time but there’s no word for failure in my vocabulary. I had to make it one way or another.” He saw a newspaper ad for real estate sales, took the course three times until he passed, and became an agent. “I started selling real estate and never looked back.” The forward-thinking Francis lived cheaply in a basement apartment putting his earnings toward buying real estate. In 1995 he formed his own company and a year later jumped into development by buying a large chunk of land, subdividing it and selling lots to Germans known for their affection for Nova Scotia.
Francis felt welcomed here especially after dealing with racism in Europe. “This was a breath of fresh air.” As many immigrants before him, he was guided along the way. “A lot of people helped me; even people I didn’t know well. I’m the kind of guy who will ask for help.” He completed the Executive Master of Business Administration program at Saint Mary’s University and later served on its Board of Governors. He was vice-chair of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce and is now the chair.
He travels frequently with his wife and two boys, but Halifax will always be home. “I like this place; I like the pace of life.” He encounters newcomers who can’t wait to go home and encourages them to adapt. “You miss your family and certain food and the weather, but you can’t have it all.” Francis describes himself as a workaholic but he finds time for golfing and sailing, and puttering in his garden, greenhouse and orchard, and tending to his bees, roosters and hens. “I came from nothing and I have a successful business and I am happy. My success is everyone’s success. We should all celebrate success.”