My Journey to Canada
Los Angeles, Sep 22, 2020
NRIpress.club/Balwant Sanghera/ Ramesh/ A.Gary Singh
It has been more than fifty four years when I set foot in Winnipeg, Canada in the midst of a very cold winter in the last week of January, 1966. On my way to Canada (from my hometown Pharwala in Jalandhar District) I had spent a week in England visiting my friends and relatives there. The flight on BOAC (which later changed its name to British Airways) from New Delhi to London was quite enjoyable and a pleasant one. After staying in England for a week or so, I flew from London to Prestwick on Air Canada and then on to Winnipeg for immigration and customs. It was the PhotoScape middle of winter. From Winnipeg I flew to Vancouver to join my brother, Gurbux Singh Sanghera and family. When I look back to those times and the current situation in Canada, I am amazed at the changes that have taken place both in Canada and in the South Asian community. It is a very different Canada than the one there was more than fifty years ago. Same is the case for our community. Some of my friends have urged me to share my experience and perspective with the readers in this and some of the articles that will follow this one.
Before coming to Canada, I had completed my B.Sc. degree from Punjab University. Soon after my arrival in Vancouver, my brother suggested to me that I should apply for admission to the newly opened Simon Fraser University to pursue a career in teaching as this was the profession I intended to follow in Canada. This brand new university on Burnaby Mountain had just opened its doors a few months ago in September, 1965. The university’s architecture by prominent architect Arthur Erickson was just amazing. My academic session was to begin in September, 1966. Thus, I had a few months to adapt myself to the new environment. A relative of mine was working in a saw mill (Selkirk Spruce Mills) in Donald, BC, about 15 kilometers west of Golden right on Trans-Canada Highway about 800 kilometers east of Vancouver. He asked me join him and work at that mill till the session started at SFU in September. Incidentally, it has been reported that Golden was the home of the first Gurdwara in Canada built by South Asians working in a saw mill there. That mill burnt down in 1927 and the workers moved to other places including Metro Vancouver. It was a great learning experience for me to work in the saw mill in Donald prior to attending SFU.
The lumber industry in BC has played a very important role in the growth and development of this province. In the 1960s and 1970s it was the backbone of BC with thousands of people working in various saw mills and related industries all over the province. A lot of small towns were totally dependent on this industry. Similarly, International Woodworkers of America (IWA) was one of the most powerful unions in BC at that time. As a matter of fact, the lumber industry has been a boon for our community. It has provided good paying steady jobs to Indo-Canadians in general and Punjabis in particular since their arrival in Canada in late 1880s and early 1900s.
As a keen observer of politics, soon after my arrival here, I found political developments and interactions here to be very different, fascinating, interesting and entertaining. For example, by just looking at three of our premiers between 1966 and 1986, - Social Credit’s W.A.C. Bennett, his son Bill Bennett and NDP’s Dave Barrett- one gets a comprehensive view of BC politics. All three of them, despite their limitations have contributed a lot to making this province what it is to-day. Regardless of their political affiliation, all of them have left an indelible mark in BC. Their legacies like the highway networks, infrastructure, ICBC, ALR; Expo etc. were the turning points in this province. Their vision and foresight along with the natural beauty of BC have made Metro Vancouver in particular and British Columbia in general as one of the most attractive places in the world for visitors, immigrants and investors alike.
PART 2 Continue
September 22, 2020
Working at the saw mill in Donald, BC gave me an opportunity to learn about some of the Canadian values, culture, customs a, history and traditions. This experience was very helpful to me when I started my journey towards a career in education at Simon Fraser University in September ,1966. This brand new university on Burnaby Mountain had just opened its doors a year ago, in Septmeber,1965. The university architecture by world famous architect Arthur Erickson was just amazing. It was widely applauded .In addition toits impressive, SFU also became famous for its radicalism. One specific department –PSA- was considered to be the hot bed of radicals. PSA stood for Political Science, Sociology and Anthropology. There were frequent demonstrations on and off campus on various issue. On one occasion some of us even went to Victoria to demonstrate at the Parliament Buildings in Victoria for more funding foe post-secondary education. It took a few years before things settled down at SFU and the situation became normal like other universities.
During my year at SFU I learned a lot about Canadian politics. There were political clubs aligned with the main political parties. As a member of these political clubs one could get a good grasp about the political structure and Canadian politics. Well-known personalities and political leaders would often visit the SFU campus for talks etc. Thus, it was an honour for me as a student at SFU to meet and talk to Prime Minister Mike Pearson on one of his visits to SFU and Vancouver in late or early 1967. Also, , there was a model United Nations at the university. As part of this, it was a pleasure to travel to Portland ,Oregon for one of the Model UN Conferences. Thus, in addition to regular studies there was so much more to do socially and culturally at the university. So far as the regular studies were concerned I found the educational experience here to be fascinating .
Terms like tutorials, term papers, mid term exams, quizzes, clasrsroom participation were totally new to me. It was way different from the final exam and cramming style in India. Students were encouraged to think rather than cram facts and figures. Also, the student performance did not depend upon his/her performance on the final exam only. Instead it was spread over a number of performance rsults throughout the semester or the year. Another r thing that I found strange was that some of the professors would encourage their students to call them by their first names rather than sir or madam. It was so informal. The other aspect of universit5y education here that was quite different from the one I had experienced in the Punjab was the interaction with the students by professors and Teaching Assistants (T.As) . The professors would address a large number of students in big lecture halls . That was followed by small tutorial groups where the TAs,usually graduate and post-graduate students in that faculty, pic king up where the professor left. In short, it was a very enjoyable and rewarding experience for me.
While thinking about my year at SFU one incident still stands out clearly in my mind. It was early November and I was studying n the university library. The huge plaza outside the library was uncovered at that time. Suddenly, snow flakes started hitting the ground. This was the first time I had seen the snow and snow fall. I was so excited that I put all of my books and and ran out side to the plaza in order to feel and enjoy the snowfall. Incidentally, as usual could see and feel the huge changes at SFU when I was appointed asa Senator by the provincial; government 25 years after I had left the university.I still cherish some of those pleasant memories associated with SFU both as a student and as a Senator.
PART 3 Continue
September 24, 2020
In order to get ready for my career in teaching at Simon Fraser University, one of Canada’s newest and innovative universities, on Burnaby Mountain in September, 1966, I said good bye to my friends in Donald and moved to Vancouver with my brother and his family. Life in Metro Vancouver for the South Asian community in the 1960s was simple, yet challenging. At that time, there was not even one store totally designed to serve the Indo-Canadian community. There was an Italian store (Famous Foods) on Hastings and Clarke that carried some of the Indo-Canadian items like flour and
lentils s etc. Also, there was only one Gurdwara (at 1866 West Second Avenue, near Burrard Street) run by Khalsa Diwan Society, Vancouver. Our community’s population at that time was also fairly small. I would accompany my brother to the Gurdwara every Sunday. There, everybody knew everybody. It was a very close=knit community. Most of the members of our community were working in saw mills in South Vancouver, False Creek and elsewhere in Metro Vancouver. The elections at the Gurdwara were mainly by acclamation.
Things were fairly quiet and steady in the South Asian community till early 1970s when there was a huge influx of visitors from Punjab. It all started with EXPO 1967 in Montreal. Canada had invited the world to visit EXPO-The World Fair. It was a huge success and put Canada on the map. Lester (Mike) Pearson was the Prime Minster of Canada at that time. He was a very kind and open minded person with international outlook. He asked Canadians to invite their friends and relatives to EXPO. It was a very successful fair that showcased Canada to the world. The visitors liked what they saw here. Some of the international visitors approached Mr. Pearson and urged him to let them apply for a permanent resident status. He agreed. This started the process of allowing visitors to Canada to apply for permanent resident status. Pierre Elliott Trudeau succeeded Mike Pearson as leader of the Liberal
Party of Canada and as Prime Minister in April, 1968. Trudeau continued this policy. As the news filtered through to Punjab, there was a huge influx of mainly well- educated, energetic young men in their late twenties and thirties coming to Canada as visitors in early 1970s. Most of them became permanent
residents and later citizens of Canada. This was a huge milestone and game changer for our community in Canada.
Change is always uncomfortable for some people. Same was the case in our community when the visitors from Punjab started arriving in Canada in large numbers. They faced both positive and negative reaction from the people who had been here before them. It was close to the reaction and challenges that the international students from India in general and Punjab in particular have been facing here for the last few years. Nevertheless, through their hard work and perseverance most of those visitors have succeeded and made the community proud of them. Once these visitors settled, they sponsored their families and relatives. This gave our community a big boost as our numbers began to grow steadily. This process continues to date. Consequently, our community has now become one of the largest, visible and most powerful communities in Canada. However, we should not forget that like other communities, our community had also to face a lot of challenges and struggles in order to reach this point.
When our pioneers arrived in Canada in early 1900s, they had the right to vote as British subjects. In addition to facing racism, discrimination and other hardships, their right to vote was taken away in 1907. It took hard work and intense lobbying by our pioneers to get this right back in 1947.
Similarly, our pioneers could not buy property in certain areas and could not pursue certain professions. Our community was disliked so much that t some of the decision makers at that time attempted to relocate our community to British Honduras. Luckily, some of our community leaders at that time, declined. . Then we had the tragedy of Komagatamaru in 1914. To its credit, Khalsa Diwan Society, Vancouver, under its very capable leadership stood like a rock defending our community’s interests and right place in this country. All of us, especially our younger generations need to remember our history, appreciate the same and learn from it.
PART 4 Continue
September 28, 2020
Working at the saw mill in Donald, BC gave me an opportunity to learn about some of the Canadian values, culture, customs, history and traditions. This experience was very helpful to me when I started my journey towards a career in education at Simon Fraser University (SFU) in September, 1966. This brand new university on Burnaby Mountain had just opened its doors a year ago, in September, 1965. The university architecture by world famous architect Arthur Erickson was just amazing. It was widely applauded and praised .In addition to its impressive architecture, SFU also became famous for its radicalism. One specific department was considered to be the hot bed of radicals. There were frequent demonstrations on and off campus on various issues. On one occasion, a large number of students even went to Victoria to demonstrate at the Parliament Buildings for more funding foe post-secondary education. It took a few years before things settled down at SFU and the situation became normal like other universities.
During my year at SFU I learned a lot about Canadian politics. There were political clubs aligned with the main political parties. As a member of these political clubs one could get a good grasp about the political structure and Canadian politics. Well-known personalities and political leaders would often visit the SFU campus for talks etc. Thus, it was an honour for me as a student at SFU to meet and talk to Prime Minister Mike Pearson on one of his visits to SFU and Vancouver. Meeting with Mr. Pearson was one of the highlights of my days at SFU .In addition to various clubs on campus, there was also a model United Nations at the university. As part of this, it was a pleasure for me to travel to Portland, Oregon for one of the Model UN Conferences. Thus, in addition to regular studies at the university, there was so much more to do socially and culturally. So far as the regular studies were concerned I found the educational experience at this post –secondary institution to be just fascinating.
Terms like tutorials, term papers, mid- term exams, quizzes, classroom participation were totally new to me. It was way different from the process of ones performance on just the final exam and the cramming of facts and figures .Here, students were (and have been) encouraged to think rather than cram facts and figures. Also, the student performance did not depend upon his/her performance on the final exam only. Instead it was spread over a number of performance indicators throughout the semester or the year. Another thing that I found strange was that some of the professors would encourage their students to call them by their first names rather than sir or madam. It was so informal. The other aspect of university education here quite different from the one I had experienced in the Punjab was the interaction with the students by professors and Teaching Assistants (T.As). The professors would address a large number of students in big lecture halls. That was followed by small tutorial groups where the TAs, usually graduate and post-graduate students in that faculty, would follow up on the lecture. In short, it was a very different, enjoyable and rewarding experience for me.
While thinking about my year at SFU one incident still stands out clearly in my mind. It was early November and I was studying in the university library. The huge plaza outside the library was uncovered at that time. Suddenly, snowflakes started hitting the ground. This was the first time I had seen the snow and a snow fall. I was so excited that I put all of my books away and ran outside to the plaza in order to feel and enjoy the snowfall.
More than 25 years later, in mid 1990s, I was appointed by the Provincial Government to the Senate at SFU. That appointment gave me an opportunity to see the big changes that had taken place at the university. It brought back some very pleasant memories for me of this great centre of learning on top of Burnaby Mountain... During these years, SFU has come a long way from its early years of turmoil and upheaval. During these years, SFU has gained an enviable position as an inspirational institution of higher learning. I still fondly cherish some of those pleasant memories associated with SFU both as a student and as a Senator.
PART 5 Continue
October 5, 2020
After spending a very exciting year at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, it was time for me to get a taste of the beautiful Kootenays in the Southern Interior of British Columbia. At that time, it was the home of a small private university in Nelson, the queen city of the Kootenays. Nelson is a lovely town of more than 10,000 people on the banks of Kootenay Lake. Notre Dame University (NDU) had students from around the globe. It was like an international campus. The faculty was also a mix of various nationalities. It had two prominent members of the South Asian community. Dr. T.S Bakshi and Dr. Darshan Singh Sahri were prominent members of the NDU Faculty. However, the student population was confined to just two students of Indo-Canadian heritage- I and another student from the Punjab. However, we never felt lonely. It was like a big international family. There were a number of students from Trinidad- Tobago, Peru, Malta, Portugal, Bolivia, Columbia, Chile, and Hawaii in addition to the ones from Alberta and BC. etc. NDU later became the Nelson campus of Castlegar based Selkirk College.
Throughout the academic year at NDU I stayed in the dorms (residence) on campus. It gave me an excellent opportunity to interact with my fellow residents/students more freely. This university was the headquarters of the National Ski Team. Well-known skier and world ski champion Nancy Green; along with her other team mates were our fellow students. Incidentally, Nancy’s hometown, nearby Rossland, was a very popular training ground for budding skiers. It was a pleasure for me to meet Nancy Green-Raine again in 2004 when both of us received the Order of British Columbia at the Lieutenant Governor’s residence in Victoria.
NDU also had a number of politically active students from various countries. One such student was from Iran, who became Iran’s foreign minister later on. Discussing international politics with him and others was a treat. Unfortunately, we found out a few years later that this future foreign minister of Iran couldn’t get along well with the rulers in Iran and was dismissed and executed. In order to capture the international flavour at the university, some of us formed an organization called Club International. I was given the honour of being its president. Under its auspices, we sponsored a number of very impressive functions and debates.
Nelson is a good example of small town British Columbia. It had one newspaper- Nelson Daily- and one radio station. NDU being the only post-secondary institution in town received a lot of coverage in the media. Both of these media outlets would always welcome any input from faculty and students at NDU. The atmosphere in town was also very pleasant. The surroundings were great for outdoor activities such as skiing, swimming, hiking etc. . . . I still vividly remember our hiking trips to the lovey Kokanee Glacier Park and historic towns Kaslo, New Denver, Silverton, Sandon, etc. Not very far from Nelson was a very popular Ashram nestled in a beautiful setting. I believe it is still there. Nearly every town in BC has a special place of interest. Around Nelson, it is the beautiful Kootenay Lake and a Lakeside Park along the lake. This lake is a part of the famous Columbia River system that begins in the Rocky Mountains north of Revelstoke and flows all the way to the Pacific Ocean near Portland, Oregon.
During the holidays, I would visit my brother, family, relatives and friends in Vancouver. The trip from Nelson to Vancouver and back was another delightful experience. Small Okanagan communities like Osoyoos, Keremeos, Oliver, Grand Forks, Castlegar etc. were a delight to visit. It reminded one of the small villages and towns of Punjab. In the 1970s these communities also brought in a large number of immigrants from the Punjab who bought the orchards and wineries etc. Now this area is booming. At the end of June, 1968, I received my teaching credentials and soon after accepted a teaching position in Hudson’s Hope in northern British Columbia.A few years ago, I visited Nelson again. Certainly, this queen city of the Kootenays has changed a lot since 1968. However, its charm is still there.
(Balwant Sanghera is a retired School Psychologist and Community Activist)
Having earned my teaching certificate at Notre dame University (N.D.U.) in Nelson by June,1968 I was ready to launch my career in teaching at Hudson’s Hope, in the Peace River Region in the foothills of the Rockies in BC’s far north. However, I would return to Notre Dame University in Nelson for two summer schools to complete my degree –Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.). Hudson’s Hope was and is still popular as the Playground of the Peace .It used to be a trading post of the Hudson’s Bay Company settled along the Peace River in 1805.It is the third oldest European –Canadian community in the province. This historic community is home to one of the largest earth filled dams in the world. The dam was initially named Portage Mountain Dam. However, later on, it was named W.A.C. Bennett Dam after the premier of BC at that time. Incidentally, this small community was and is blessed with incredible natural beauty.
At the height of Dam construction, it employed thousands of people. As such, this small community had grown overnight beyond its wildest imagination. In a sense, it had become a BC Hydro town. This influx brought an airport to the community for BC Hydro personnel and VIPs. It was a pleasure for me to fly from YVR to Hudson’s Hope in a mid- sized Pacific Western Airlines aeroplane at the end of August, 1968. I was looking forward to the opening of the school in the first week of September. At that time, the Dam was nearly finished and ready to go on line.
A few weeks into our school year, we got a pleasant surprize from our BC Hydro friends. The Dam was officially being put into operation and go on line. For that purpose, Premier WAC Bennett brought his entire cabinet to Hudson’s Hope. Not only that, he also brought some of the most prominent people of the province for the opening ceremonies. All of us (teachers) were invited to the opening and the reception that followed. In that context, it was a privilege for us to meet the premier, all of his cabinet members and dignitaries like H.R. McMillan, Robert Bonner, Gordon Shrum and many others.
I was assigned to Hudson’s Hope Elementary-Junior Secondary School (grades 4 to 10). A Primary School (K-3) - George Pearkes- and ours were the only schools in town. Grades 11 and 12 students would travel to Fort Saint John about 90 kilometers away. I understand that in 1993 this school building was replaced with a brand new school for students from K to 12. In my school, there were about 30 teachers. Due to the large turnover there were only four teachers who were there from the previous year. Rest of us were new. I was the only Indo-Canadian teacher. As a matter of fact, I was the only Indo-Canadian in the whole area. However, I never felt lonely as all of us in town-teachers, BC Hydro officials and local residents- bonded well with each other. There were B.C.Hydro professionals and exchange teachers from countries like Australia, U.K., U.S. , New Zealand, Philippines etc. This gave an international character to the community? It was like one big family.
The winters were unusually cold and harsh. Some days the temperature would dip to more than 50 degrees below zero. Also, there was lot of snow during the winter months. Interestingly, a warm wind, popularly called chinook, would come and the temperatures would warm up considerably overnight. Also, the beautiful view of northern lights during the winter months was just amazing. The fall would usher in beautiful coloration of the trees all around us. All of this would make one forget the harshness of the winter months. On top of that, there were some wonderful people like Mike Richmond. Mike’s dad was the mayor of Hudson’s Hope at that time. Mike himself was a very friendly and prominent businessman. Every weekend he would invite all of the teachers to his spacious log cabin on the outskirts of the town and entertain us. We all loved Mike and his friendly Husky dog Mandy.
PART 7 Continue
October 19, 2020
Living and working in small communities in Canada’s north has its own charms and challenges. Hudson’s Hope was no exception. As soon as the Bennett Dam was complete and operational, the town population began to decline. Soon, the town was back to its normal size. However, a few years later, another dam was under way nearby. The first dam was initially called the Portage Mountain Dam as it was in the Portage Mountain range. However, soon after its completion, it was renamed W.A.C. Bennett Dam after the premier of BC at that time. The second dam, built a few years later downstream, was called the Peace River Canyon Dam. It also brought back some life and prosperity to Hudson’s Hope. Now, a third dam on the Peace Rive-Site C Dam- between Hudson’s Hope and Fort Saint John is under construction. Thus the Peace River has become famous for its dams. Incidentally, the Peace River country is reported to have vast oil and gas reserves. Also, some of this region’s soil is considered to be very fertile for farming.
The winters in this part of BC were unusually very cold and harsh. However, the global warming and huge reservoirs behind the Bennett Dam have made this area relatively warmer now. The summers were usually very warm. Also, the daylight hours in this part of BC are a lot longer during the summer months. For shopping, we would go to Dawson Creek and Fort Saint John. Dawson Creek is the Mile 0 of world famous Alaska Highway. Occasionally, we had our teachers' conferences in these towns where teachers from all over the Peace region would get to-gether for professional development etc. During winter months the blowing snow would really give one a good taste of the northern winters. This small community inspired me, like many others, to get actively involved in the community. I became actively involved with the local community association and the local teachers’ association. This spirit of contribution to our communities has inspired me all along.
Early in the school year, to my surprise, I was elected vice president of our District (Portage Mountain) Teachers’ Association. At Christmas time, our president, Doug Green, moved to Kelowna. On the urgings of my colleagues I agreed to take over as president. I served in this position till I moved to Lillooet in 1973.During my and my family`s stay in Hudson`s Hope for five years, we always felt included, appreciated and respected. The driving in the north especially during the winter months is another challenge. However, the challenges get pushed back when one looks at the positives like beautiful scenery, no traffic, ample and diverse wildlife and a lot more. I still remember travelling to Fort Saint John one February on icy roads to Fort Saint John to attend a teacher’s conference with some of my colleagues. We saw 23 moose either on the road or standing or walking along the road. The abundant and diverse wildlife in the north is just amazing.
While living and working in communities like Hudson`s Hope one becomes very aware of the vastness of this country and inter- connection and interdependent of people on each other. It makes one proud of Canada and the wonderful people who have made it as one of the most open, inclusive, multicultural and multilingual countries in the world. This small community of some 1,100 residents tucked away in the foothills of the Rockies in northern British Columbia gave my family and me so much love; respect and recognition that I felt quite at home. I still remember my first trip.. At the end of August, 1968, when I checked in at Vancouver International Airport for my flight to Hudson’s Hope to begin my teaching career there, the Pacific Western Airlines rep at the counter turned to me and said:” Mr. Sanghera, you are going to God’s country. Enjoy it.” He was right. It really is. I thoroughly enjoyed myself living and working in the amazing Peace River region for five wonderful years. It has been more than 47 years since my family and I moved south. However, the Peace River Region still has a very special place in my heart.
PART 8 Continue
October 25, 2020
Living and working in northern BC for five years was a very enjoyable experience for me. However, despite all of the positives of living up north, my family and I missed our relatives, friends, cultural activities and of course, our community. By 1973 our community had changed drastically. Vancouver’s Main Street, between 48th and 52nd avenues, had become an attractive shopping centre for the South Asian community. A variety of businesses had sprung up there. As our community grew so did these businesses. People from all over would make it a point to visit the popular “Punjabi Market”, as this section of Main Street became known. Naturally, my family and I also had an urge to move closer to Vancouver. Thus, it was a pleasant surprise for me when I received a job offer to teach in Lillooet. This small yet historic “B.C’s Little Nugget” is less than four hours by car from Vancouver.
After spending the summer with my brother and family in Vancouver, my family and I made our way to Lillooet in order to begin my teaching job at Cayoosh Elementary School in September, 1973. The town, at that time had a bustling saw mill –Evans Forest Products, one of the main employers in town. Also, there were other major employers like BC Forest Service, BC Rail, Government Agent’s Office, Court and others. Lillooet is the regional centre for surrounding communities and the Aboriginal community. Tucked between Fraser River on one side and the mountains on the other, this community has an ideal and very scenic setting.
“Guaranteed Rugged”, Lillooet is a great place to visit. A circuitous route provides the visitor with unique view. A visitor can travel to Lillooet by taking Highway Number1 through Hope, Yale, Boston Bar and Lytton. The Fraser Canyon offers a very impressive view of the Fraser River Canyon, the mountains and a lot more. The return visit through a very scenic Duffy Lake route through Pemberton, Whistler and Squamish is amazing and beautiful.
Lillooet is a historic town. It is mile 0 of the Gold Rush Trail to Barkerville. During the gold rush days of 1850s, Lillooet was a flourishing community. It has a very rich First Nations heritage, gold rush and mining history. This area’s unspoiled mountains, valleys and lakes are a delight for the visitors to enjoy. The Lillooet area was home to the jade mine. It has been reported that in late 1950s and early 1960s, Lillooet shipped more nephrite jade worldwide than any other place on earth. Lillooet’s Golden Mile of History takes one from Bridge of 23 Camels to BC Railway Station, Lillooet Museum, Mile 0 Cairn, The Mining Rocks, The Miyazaki House, Town Hall, Hangman’s Tree Park, The Camel Barn, Ma Murray’s Old Newspaper Office and the Old Bridge. This Golden Mile through downtown Lillooet gives the visitor an impressive view of this community’s historic past.
When my family and I arrived in Lillooet, we were welcomed amongst others, by a number of members of our community. There were around 30 Punjabi families living in Lillooet at that time. The men folks were employed at the local lumber mill. Thus, it was a very pleasant surprise to see them. Lillooet’s mayor at that time was member of a Punjabi pioneer family. Johnder Basran must be one of a few Punjabis, after Mission’s Naranjan Singh Grewal to have that distinction. Basran and I became good friends and worked to-gether on a number of projects designed to serve the community. As a matter of fact, it was Basran who encouraged me to become actively involved in the community. Within less than two years of my arrival in Lillooet, he convinced me to seek election as an Alderman (City Councillor). Thus, it was an honour for me to be elected to the Municipal Council.
As a member of Lillooet’s Municipal Council from mid 1970s to 1990, I had the privilege of spearheading a number of initiatives including a campaign to save the Old Bridge from demolition. This historic structure, built in 1911, is a major landmark of the community. It is very satisfying to learn that to date, this bridge has been serving as a popular tourist attraction for locals and visitors alike. Also, with the support and encouragement of my fellow councillors at that time, I had the honour of initiating and leading the yearly celebration of Lillooet Days. The Lillooet Days festivities have been transformed into Apricot Tsaquam Days which is now celebrated towards the end of July.
(, Balwant Sanghera is a retired School Psychologist and Community Activist)
PART 9 Continue
Soon after my arrival in Lillooet, I became quite active in the community. This included my local teachers’ association, Lillooet and District Historical Society and Lillooet and District Recreation Commission etc. This involvement gave me an opportunity to learn more about the community that will be my home for the next 17 years. This community added another dimension to my experience. A large number of students in my school were Aboriginals. This helped me connect with some of the Aboriginal leaders in and around Lillooet. Some of them became good friends of mine. Working with them helped me resolve some of the conflicts that were going on between some of our Punjabi and Aboriginal workers employed in the local lumber mill. I was very impressed with the aboriginal culture. This culture has a lot to offer. From time to time I would invite Aboriginal elders to my class to speak to my students about their culture.
Like every other community , Lillooet also had some outstanding citizens. Two of them stood out from others. Outspoken journalist , editor and publisher of the local newspaper ,Bridge River-Lillooet News, Margaret Murray, was an institution in Lillooet. She was well known all over Canada as a feisty journalist. It was always a pleasure to have conversation with her . She was fondly known as Ma by everyone. Her favourite quote was : That is for damshure. Her editorials in the local newspaper reflected Ma Murray’s no nonsense approach to journalism and the community issues. Dr. Masajiro Miyazaki was the other well respected figure in the community. He had served not only Lillooet but also the surrounding communities as a physician for many years. I had the opportunity to serve with Dr. Miyazaki on various organizations and enjoyed listening to his stories about the sufferings of the Japanese community. Though he was a victim of the internment of the Japanese community during World War 2 to the interior yet he never complained.
Dr. Miyazaki once told me that Canadian residents of Japanese, Chinese and South Asian heritage could not buy a house in their names before 1947. However, he managed to buy one of the best houses in Lillooet in one of his Caucasian friend’s name. After 1947, that friend transferred the title of the house to Dr. Miyazaki. Ironically, before passing away, Dr. Miyazaki donated that very house to the Municipality of Lillooet. Now it is being used by the entire community and is known as Dr. Miyazaki Heritage House. What a beautiful gesture on his part ! Both Ma Murray and Dr. Miyazaki were nationally recognized figures. Both of them have added immensely to Lillooet’s glorious past and to the Canadian Mosaic.
Lillooet is Mile 0 of the famous Gold Trail to Barkerville. Prospectors for gold would travel to Barkerville by horse when gold was discovered there in 1850s . It was a tedious journey. One person became more creative and is reported to have brought some camels to transport goods and people to Barkerville. However, after some time he had to get rid of the camels as they would scare the horses . Also, the rocky mountain terrain was hard on their feet as the camels seem to be more suited for deserts. There are still some remnants of their presence in Lillooet. Even the new Lillooet bridge is named after the camels. It is called The Bridge of 23 Camels.
Like every other community ,Lillooet also had its ups and downs. One of the two local mills closed and left a number of workers without jobs. BC Rail closed its railway station. The courthouse moved to Kamloops and the forestry also cut down its work force. All of this adversely affected the entire community. However, the people of Lillooet are very resilient. Despite losing some of its main sources of employment, the District Municipality has not only survived but also flourished in some ways. Its Sheep Pasture Golf Course, The Kaoham Shuttle between Lillooet and Seton Portage, the Fort Berens Estate Winery, fishing, hiking and gold panning are just some of the wonderful things that offer so much to the visitor. Lillooet, in a sense, is really Guaranteed Rugged. In indoor and outdoor recreation, Lillooet offers unique opportunities.
My family and I have very special attachment to this wonderful community. Having been an active member of this community and as an educator for more than 17 years (1973-1990) including 13 years as an Alderman (Councillor) my family and I enjoyed every moment of it. We have very pleasant memories of this “small town with a big heart”.
PART 10 Continue
November 9, 2020
Small towns of British Columbia have their own charms. Certainly, for shopping or health related services etc. one has to travel to much larger communities. For example, when my family and I were in Hudson’s Hope, we had to travel to either Fort Saint John or Dawson Creek for shopping or other reasons. Similarly, when we were in Lillooet, we had to travel to Kamloops or Vancouver for family functions, shopping or other things. This is the main drawback of living in small towns. However, on the positive side, these small communities offer simple living, minimum crime, minimal driving, wonderful environment and a strong sense of belonging to the community. Usually, in small communities most of the people know each other fairly well. As such, these small communities are ideal for raising a family. Everyone feels like an integral part of the entire community.
The other difference I noticed while living in small communities is that people appreciate more the contribution of any of its members for the betterment of the community. In this regard I can relate my own experience. Since everyone is on a first name basis, the people will stop you on the street and speak their mind. It may not be to ones liking at times. However, for most of the time, it is usually positive. For example, in Lillooet, when I decided to put forward my name for the position of Alderman (Councillor) I was warmly encouraged and supported. As a result of my commitment and contribution to the community, I was elected six times, usually topping the polls, till I decided to move to Richmond in 1990. Usually, folks in small towns are more friendly, more resilient, more open and welcoming.
These traits were on display when Lillooet was asked to host thirty young exchange students. Fifteen of these students were from different provinces of India and fifteen were from all over Canada. The entire town felt honoured to host these guests and went out of its way to welcome them. As part of that, members of the Punjabi community also did everything to make these young students’ stay very enjoyable. They invited these young boys and girls to their homes. These students stayed with us for about one month and took away very pleasant memories of our hospitality.
The thirty or so Punjabi families in Lillooet would get to-gether at our house on special occasions like Diwali, Lohri, and Christmas etc. for celebration. On Lillooet Days, a special community celebration, we would all work to-gether to celebrate this special day. The ladies would make samosas gulab jamans and other sweets and delicacies. Men folks would set up a temporary plywood structure called Punjabi Dhaba and hand out plates of these delicacies to the attendees. It used to be a lot of fun. At the end of the day, all of the Punjabi families-men,women and children –would meet at our place and have a party. Celebrations like these made life enjoyable for everyone.
While living and working in Lillooet, I upgraded my educational credentials through summer schools etc. at University of British Columbia and received my Master of Education (M.Ed.) degree in 1983. I specialized in educational psychology and earned my credentials as a school psychologist. In this context, it was quite an experience for me to travel to Kamloops for 30 Saturdays to attend UBC’s outreach classes in order to complete my pre requisites for admission to the Master’s Program. This was one of my cherished professional goals.
My older son Barinder graduated from Lillooet Secondary School in June, 1990 and was admitted to University of British Columbia (UBC). As such, my family and I realized it was time to move to the big city. I was offered and accepted a position as School Psychologist by Burnaby School District and we moved to Richmond in early July,1990. It has been our home since then.
PART 11 Continue
November 15, 2020
Leaving a community where my family had lived for 17 years was rather a difficult decision. However, due to a number of reasons, we had to make the move to Metro Vancouver. My family and I had built strong bonds and relationships with the residents in Lillooet. After spending 23 years in three of BC’s small communities, returning to Metro Vancouver, we had mixed feelings. Of course, during these 23 years spent outside Metro Vancouver, my family and I would visit Vancouver frequently due to one reason or other. However, moving to Richmond and working in Burnaby was very exciting and challenging. Our older son Barinder was all set to start his post-secondary education at UBC. Our younger son Balraj (Bobby) began his grade 10 at Richmond High School. I would start commuting from my Richmond home to Maples Adolescent Centre (The Maples) at the intersection of Willingdon and Canada Way in Burnaby. It was quite a change from a short walk to my work places in Hudson’s Hope and Lillooet. The Maples was run by the Provincial Health Ministry. However, the educational services there were provided by Burnaby School District at this Provincial Resource Program. As a school psychologist I thoroughly enjoyed myself working there for the next fourteen years.
Though my family and I were away from Metro Vancouver for almost 23 years, yet, we would visit our relatives, friends and others here from time to time. However, living in this part of the province on a regular basis was quite a different experience. The demographics of Canada in general and BC in particular had undergone a major shift. Metro Vancouver had become very multicultural and multilingual during this time. The South Asian community in general and Punjabis in particular had become a major presence. Over the years, Surrey had become a major centre for our community. Surrey’s Scott Road area and later 128 Street had become our major shopping, cultural and religious centres. This growth continues .
Another major development for the Punjabi community in Metro Vancouver was the start of Nagar Kirtans by our Gurdwaras. The first major Nagar Kirtan was held by Khalsa Diwan Society, Vancouver to celebrate Vaisakhi and birth of the Khalsa in 1979. Free food, free drinks and other goodies for the spectators have made theses religious celebrations very attractive and enjoyable .More than 100,000 well-wishers come out to enjoy themselves every year in the Vancouver Nagar Kirtan. A few years later, Gurdwara Dasmesh Darbar on 128 Street and 85th Avenue began sponsoring the Nagar Kirtans in Surrey. Soon after that, Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara on Scott Road in Surrey began celebrating the Miri Piri Divas. Now these religious celebrations have become very popular not only in Vancouver and Surrey but also all over BC and Canada. Incidentally, the latest Nagar Kirtan in Surrey held in April 2019 is reported to attract upto half a million devotees. It is considered to be the biggest celebration of its kind outside Punjab.
As our community has grown so have the stores, facilities, places of worship, resources and everything else. Surrey’s Scott Road and 128 Street have become our new Punjabi Markets and business centres. For such a progress, we owe a lot to our ancestors and pioneers. As a result of the sacrifices and struggles of our ancestors and pioneers, to-day our community has become one of the most prominent, powerful, resilient and generous communities in Canada. Unfortunately, this unprecedented growth and progress has also brought with it problems and issues. These include drugs, gangs, violence, alcoholism, domestic violence, unethical and inappropriate behaviour /activities as well as the exploitation and abuse of the vulnerable members of our community. In addition to this, Issues relating to international students from India in cities like Brampton and Surrey often capture headlines not only in the South Asian media but also the mainstream media.
Another subject that needs more attention is the need and emphasis on our community’s heritage and past history in Canada since its arrival here more than 125 years ago. Our younger generations and relative new comers seem to lack the awareness and appreciation about the sacrifices and struggles that our pioneers had to go through so that the following generations could enjoy the good life in this country. The proposed South Asian heritage museum in Surrey and the work being done by various organizations like Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford should go a long way in this regard.
PART 12 Continue
November 22, 2020
It is quite natural for any new immigrant to this country to miss his/her home country and environment in a strange land. Though I felt quite comfortable and at home with my brother and his family yet I missed the flavour of Punjab and India for the first couple of years. One thing I missed the most was the politics .Soon after my arrival in Canada I was often asked the question as to why most of the Indo-Canadians in general and Punjabis in particular are so much interested in politics. I think it is in our blood. Perhaps that is the way that we have been raised or exposed to politics. Most of us tend to be very keen observers of politics and politicians. Politics and history are very closely linked with each other.
Learning about the history of this country and that of our community in Canada is extremely relevant and beneficial for Canadians. I have noticed that both in our community and the broader community here in Canada, there is very limited knowledge about the history of Canada. Certainly, like our neighbours to the South, we don’t carry nationalism on our sleeves and salute the flag. However, we must take pride in what this country has achieved and what it stands for. In this context, a brief overview of Canadian history may be in order.
Prior to the arrival of European explorers like Viking Leaif Erickson in 1001, Jean Cabot in 1497,Jacque Cartier in 1535 and Samuel Champlain in 1603, Canada was inhabited from coast to coast to coast by First Nations/ Indigenous people. As a matter of fact, the name Canada came from the word Kanata-a Huron-Iroquois word for village (teepees/huts). The British founded the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1670. Hudson’s Bay, a trading company, became the de facto administrator of most of the unorganized Canadian territory on behalf of the British government. In the meantime, the French government also began to expand its influence in this country. The French were mostly confined to the province of Quebec known as Lower Canada at that time.
There was fierce rivalry and tension between these two European colonial powers and rivals- British and French for control of Canada. As a result, in 1763, British and French forces clashed with each other on the Plains of Abraham near Quebec City. The British won. However, the British government did recognize the huge presence of the French in Quebec and left that province under the French Civil Law. This gave birth to the theory of two founding nations-British and French- of this country. In the meantime, to Canada’s south, the United States of America (U.S.A.) had declared its independence from the British and became a formidable independent country in 1789. The British government ,afraid of the growing influence of U.S.A., urged the Canadian entities to consider uniting to-gether and become one.
Thus, with the threat of annexation from the South and pressure of the British government to unite, leaders of four of the provinces at that time-Upper Canada (Ontario), Lower Canada (Quebec) , New Brunswick and Nov Scotia got to-gether and after intense discussions and negotiations came to-gether under the name of Dominion of Canada on July1, 1867. They were joined by Manitoba in 1870, BC in 1871, Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1905 and New Foundland in 1949. The northern part of Canada had two territories-Yukon and North West. In 1999, another territory, Nunavut , was carved out of the North West Territory. By 1961, Canada’s population had grown from 90,000 in 1775 to 18 million. To-day, this number has increased to more than 37 million. So now ten provinces and three territories make up Canada-the second largest country(by area) in the world after Russia.
Ironically, Canada’s history has been described as an afterthought by some and boring by others. Actually, like histories of many other countries, Canada’s history is also fascinating and peaceful. Certainly it has some dark chapters like the Residential Schools for Aboriginal children, Chinese Head Tax, Komagata Maru , and Internment of Japanese Canadians during World War 2, mistreatment of ethnic minorities and racism etc. However, these unfortunate and tragic events are behind us. In this 21st century Canada is a much different country than it was before. As Canadians, it is incumbent upon each one of us to learn from the past and move forward. Not only that, we should make every effort in making Canada a better place to live in.