Gideon Travel is another victim of the pandemic, announcing that it will be closing its doors for good after 61 years in business. Founder Joseph Gideon, seen outside the storefront office in Toronto pioneered the charter business in the 1960s. Photo courtesy Gideon Travel

Pandemic claims Gideon Travel

By 
  • October 25, 2020

After 61 years Gideon Travel has reached the end of the road. 

The death of founder Joseph Gideon in May and the continuing effect of COVID-19 on the travel business combined to make it impossible to carry on, Gideon Travel general manager Pauline Gideon told The Catholic Register.

“With everything that’s happened, it was too much for me to keep going,” she said. 

Cancelled trips had already translated into hundreds of refunds to disappointed travellers. Gideon could see no quick or easy recovery just around the corner.

“I knew that this disease is not all of a sudden going to go away,” she said.

Gideon Travel was a full-service travel agency with dozens of corporate clients. It had pioneered the charter business back in the 1960s. But it was best known among Catholics for organizing pilgrimages to the Holy Land. As a Palestinian Christian who fled his homeland in 1948, Joe Gideon never lost connection to the land of the Bible.

“He knew it inside out. He knew everything. He knew what to see,” said his daughter Pauline.

Gideon Travel has also been a good friend to The Catholic Register, being a loyal advertiser since 1964. 

“Over the years it grew to be a friendship as much as a business relationship,” said Register publisher/editor Mike Simpson. “There’s no question the success of Gideon Travel was built on personal connections and that will truly be missed.”

For nearly 20 years Kitty McGilly booked Holy Land tours for church groups through Gideon Travel. McGilly recalls Gideon accompanying her pilgrimage groups not as a tour leader but as a generous host welcoming people to his home.

“He was a fantastic singer. He was a tenor. He did ‘Ave Maria’ at many of the holy places,” McGilly said. “He was proud of his Palestinian background. It broke his heart to see what was happening there.”

Gideon was writing his high school matriculation exams when the 1948 Arab-Israeli war broke out. His family, at the time, was vacationing in Egypt. As the war turned into a refugee crisis, Gideon finished his exams and joined his family in Egypt, where they were stuck for three years.

In 1951 Gideon’s father decided his family would be better off in Canada. Joe worked as an accountant for several companies, including a travel agency. When a storefront came available in 1959, he decided he would rather own and run his own business.

For Pauline, her dad’s decision to make a life in the travel business meant growing up a citizen of the world.

“He used to take us on trips he never had to take us on,” she said. “We were kids (she and her sisters Jacqueline and Angeline) and he would tag us along. So we got to see the world that a lot of people don’t. For that, I’m grateful. It made us, I think, better people.”

Pauline helped out with the family business from childhood, eventually becoming the general manager for her father.

“My dad was one of the most enthusiastic, optimistic people I have ever known,” she said. “We would say bye to him when he went on a trip. Then he would come back and we would say, ‘Hi Dad, how was the trip?’ And of course Dad would say, ‘It was the trip of a lifetime, sweetheart.’ He was so grateful, every trip he went on was the trip of a lifetime. That was so amazing to me.”

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