Until he was school age, Labi Kousoulis had no idea his parents spoke English. “We only spoke Greek in the house,” says Labi, adding that he and his sister attended Greek school. “It was on Saturday mornings and we were missing cartoons; everybody was grumbling.”
Turns out his father was fluent in English and his mother spoke well. They had arrived separately at Pier 21 in 1957, and met here. His father was on his way to New Jersey to join other family, but he had a documentation problem. Post-World War II was difficult in Greece and he had been encouraged to leave his agricultural family for new opportunities. Labi’s mother had family in Halifax. “Like most immigrants they were tied together through the Greek community and church,” Labi explains.
His parents worked in the restaurant business; her first job was at the Armview and his, the Cameo. “He moved his way up from dishwasher to salad chef to cook.” They eventually became owners of the Floral, renamed the Spartan, the Doric, and the Coach Room at the Acadian Lines bus terminal.
It was almost like two worlds, but they did overlap. It was a melting pot and it was very easy.
They were happy here, but Labi recalls his father telling stories of establishments in the ‘50s having a sign listing unwelcomed ethnicities or people of colour. “I don’t know how many times, but I remember him facing that.” The family socialized with locals as well as Greek immigrants, maintaining customs that seldom changed. “They’re almost frozen in time. Even words we use are more proper, but people have moved away from those words in Greece.” He says he’s even seen better Greek dancers here than in Greece. His parents returned occasionally. “My dad would be regarded as having left and made it big.”
Labi played soccer as a youth and still coaches. He had Greek friends from Greek school and soccer, and other friends at school and the neighbourhood. “It was almost like two worlds, but they did overlap. It was a melting pot and it was very easy.” Sundays at home were special with a Greek feast and music.
His parents advised him against following them into the restaurant business. “They worked so much. It didn’t matter what you do, go to university, get a good education. Life was golden when your marks were good.” Labi studied finance at Saint Mary’s University, which led to earning his Chartered Professional Accountant designation, and an MBA. He worked at Scotiabank in Truro and Amherst and as the controller at Trenton Works. He and his sister operated Zephyr Rug and Home, a business she continued to run until its recent closing.
Giving back to the community is important to Labi; he has volunteered at church, mentored graduate accountants, and chaired the Greek Festival. Labi is the member of the legislature for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island, and Minister of Labour and Advanced Education, but his parents didn’t live to see his political career. “They would have been proud of me.” Labi even participates in World Hellenic Interparliamentary Association meetings for parliamentarians of Greek descent from around the world. Those language skills have certainly paid off.