Your Neighbour’s Secret Past

Just west of the Black Creek, where Grandravine meets Arleta is a community housing complex where a remarkable man and his family once lived.

His name was Mahfuzul Bari and he came to Canada as a refugee in 1982. He settled into a tiny apartment in the Parkdale neighbourhood, had few friends and worked long hours in precarious jobs, much of it outdoors during the long unforgiving Canadian winters.  For years, his contact with his wife and children in Bangladesh were limited to short telephone conversations lasting no more than sixty to eighty seconds on a monthly basis due to long distance costs.

Finally, after four years, Mr. Bari welcomed his family to Canada and shortly thereafter, moved to a townhouse complex in our community.  Mr. Bari’s three sons, all of them C.W. Jefferys graduates with honours, fondly remember the joy of moving into our neighbourhood.  Eban, the youngest, recalls that “moving our large family out of a tiny one-bedroom apartment and into a large townhome was a dream come true for us.”

Eban and his siblings spent their late childhood and teenage years in our community.  One by one, Mr. Bari’s children left their home, starting their own careers and families. By 1999, Mr. Bari turned in his keys to Toronto Community Housing, and moved into a home of his own.

The tough life and poverty Mr. Bari faced upon his arrival here, the lonely wait to be reunited with his family, and the eventual success his family achieved through years of perseverance and hard-work is worthy of praise.  This story though is not uncommon for many who live here.

What separates Mr. Bari from others, was the man he was back in Bangladesh.

Mr. Bari was born in 1941 in East Bengal, a province within what was then the undivided Indian subcontinent. Following the end of British rule in 1947, the Indian subcontinent was divided into India and Pakistan (comprised of East and West Pakistan).  Mr. Bari  was a studious and hard-working youth from a large family.  By his thirties, he was a military pilot and an engineer who was a leader within a growing movement to separate Bangladesh (then known as East Pakistan) from West Pakistan.  He was ultimately charged and jailed for sedition and treason in 1968 with 35 others during the highly publicized Agartala Conspiracy Case.  This political imprisonment led to a massive public uprising, and the prisoners were released a year later to become the leaders of a war of independence in 1971.

After having gained independence, new challenges awaited the young nation.  Recognized as a founding father of the new nation, Mr. Bari  was appointed as the Vice Chairman of the Bangladesh Volunteer Corps, leading a network of trained volunteers tasked with  rebuilding the war ravaged nation, and also the Head of the Department of Homeless Services, which provided assistance to the millions of displaced citizens.  However, in 1975, when the Prime Minister was assassinated, Mr. Bari ultimately fled Bangladesh and ended up in Canada in 1982 as a refugee.

Mr. Bari died while visiting Bangladesh earlier this year.  His passing drew condolences from the current Prime Minister (daughter of the aforementioned Prime Minister) and other major public officials and a moment of silence was observed during the sitting of Parliament. He was given the ultimate recognition by the Bangladesh Government when his body Lay In State at a National Monument and given a guard of honour.

When Mr. Bari’s eldest son returned to Bangladesh to retrieve his body for burial in Canada, he was pleasantly surprised to meet many members of the extended family  who praised his father for years of financial contributions he had made towards their basic needs and for the educational needs of their children.

Imagine, Mr. Bari here in the early 80’s; a celebrated war hero and founding father of a country several times more populated than ours, shoveling snow and cleaning people’s cars for a few dollars.  The next time you meet a new immigrant, working at minimum wage and struggling with the English language, consider that their past might just be an incredible one.


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