Julie’s Story

Juleigha (Julie) Patel, nee Hassim, was born in Johannesburg, South Africa on June 20th, 1930. She was the middle child of seven. Her family consisted of four daughters and three sons. While her family was very well-off, they faced restrictions imposed by Apartheid. Julie’s father was progressive and encouraged all of his children to be studious and pursue formal post-secondary education. Julie’s mother taught her daughters handicrafts but never required them to spend time with domestic chores. After completing high school, two of Julie’s sisters attended design and secretarial school, one sister became a nurse, and the three brothers went on to become an economist, a lawyer and a doctor.


Julie was the only child in the family who was not fond of school. She enjoyed knitting, sewing and reading science fiction. She was mischievous and in an effort to avoid school, she climbed the mango tree in her yard and refused to come down. Eventually, her wise father gave into her wishes and Julie went off to work in a factory sewing blouses and dresses.

At twenty, Julie was engaged to Ahmed (Chota) Patel. At the time, he was the owner of a small shop that catered to Indian clientele. Julie sold some of her garments in his shop. Ahmed was enterprising and hardworking and decided to move his family to Durban to expand his business. In the early days of Apartheid, it was unusual and difficult for people of colour to move from one province to another. Julie was very close to her family and did not initially embrace this move. However, her pioneering attitude, determination and resilience made the transition easier for the growing Patel family including their three children: Feisal, Ameen and Fiona.


Ahmed became an ‘indent agent’, the sole representative of companies in Japan, Austria and Scotland, selling specialty fabric, household goods and fine tailored garments. Julie performed the administrative tasks in the business and self-taught how to type, file, place orders, and manage the finances. The administrative work became her full-time job while raising a family. As an avid reader, she amassed extensive general knowledge. This allowed her to interact with ease when entertaining Ahmed’s clients at home. At that time, women of colour seldom socialized with businessmen, and Indians/Malays were forbidden from mixing with whites in public venues. Julie was a trailblazer for women’s rights.

The family enjoyed their life in Durban, but as time passed, Ahmed realized there were limited opportunities for his three children due to the repressive political regime. In 1969, when Ameen was 13 and Feisal was 16, their father took them to Toronto to live with relatives who had previously immigrated. Two years later, Ahmed, Julie and Fiona joined the boys in Toronto. While Julie was eager to work, she lacked Canadian experience, therefore she remained at home taking care of the family while Ahmed worked full-time in retail. Life in Toronto was very different from what the family had experienced in South Africa, but everyone had faith that this was a good move for the future.

In 1973, two years after arriving to Toronto, Ahmed died suddenly of a heart attack. This was devastating to the Patel family and left Julie to be the sole financial provider. She started sewing in her basement, babysitting and working various factory jobs to maintain the house they had purchased in Canada. She longed to return to her familiar life in South Africa but realized that the family had immigrated to Canada for educational advancement. Julie knew she should remain for the sake of her children’s education. To her credit, she supported to the best of her ability her three children to attain post-secondary education. Daughter Fiona earned a Bachelor’s degree in history, son Ameen obtained a Medical degree and son Feisal completed two Master’s degrees.

With her children’s future secure, Julie took time to enjoy her life once again. She read ferociously about various topics ranging from English Gardens to the mechanics of aircraft engines. She volunteered with Indigenous youth at a homeless shelter and knit bonnets and blankets for newborns. She enjoyed home entertaining and was generous in cooking food for family and friends.

In her later years Julie voiced her desire to create a charity to support individuals to remain in school and reduce their financial hardship. She never forgot the marginalized people she met at the shelter and this reinforced her belief that the pursuit of education could lead to a better life. Today her children, Feisal, Ameen, Fiona and grandchildren, Zarina, Adam, Camille, Alexandra, Andrew and Matthew work together to make her dream a reality through the Julie Patel Foundation.

Julie Patel – approximate circa 1965, Johannesburg, SA