Peter Baker: Canada’s First Muslim Legislator and the Arctic Arab

In 1964, Canada witnessed a historic moment when Peter Baker, born in Lebanon as Ahmad Ali Ferran, became the first known Muslim elected to legislative office in the Northwest Territories. While details of Baker’s political contributions are scarce, his varied life experiences paint a picture of a resilient and innovative spirit.

A Journey from Lebanon to the Canadian North

Ferran’s odyssey began in 1907 when he fled conscription in the Ottoman Empire in search of North America. His journey from Beirut to Halifax and then to Edmonton was marked by hard work and adaptability. In Edmonton, an encounter with a friend from Liverpool began Ferran’s northern adventures, turning him into an “Arctic Arab” known for his enterprise in the harsh Canadian North.

Establishing Roots in the Far North

Baker’s adventures took him from peddling everyday goods in Fort Smith to an unforgettable journey selling oranges in indigenous communities, where he earned the nickname “Jiaс Oza” or “Orange.”

His business acumen often clashed with established traders, and he faced discrimination and challenges that tested his resolve. But Baker’s ability to speak indigenous languages and his close ties to local communities brought him to the attention of many, even as he navigated the complexities of identity and prejudice in a rapidly changing landscape.

Perseverance and Public Service

Baker’s election to the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories was the culmination of a life spent breaking down barriers and building bridges between different cultures. Although little is known of his legislative accomplishments, his pioneering role as a Muslim in Canadian politics set a precedent for future generations. After leaving office, Baker’s later life remained a mystery until his death in Rochester, New York, in 1973. His last rites were performed at the Al Rashid Mosque, a fitting tribute to a man who navigated the intersections of faith, identity, and public service with grace and tenacity.

Peter Baker’s story is an example of the resilient spirit of immigrants who change their destiny by contributing to the mosaic of Canadian society. His journey from the hills of Lebanon to the icy expanse of the Canadian North is a tale of striving to find common ground amidst diversity.