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.
PART 13 Continue
November 29, 2020
India, having been ruled by the British for so long, still has a lot of British influence all over. This is more so in our schools. I remember learning the British history in my high school years. At school, we knew very little about Canada or any other countries. However, the histories of India and Great Britain were at our finger tips. Though my father, Indar Singh Sanghera, a pioneer, had come to Canada in early 1900s and stayed and worked here for close to 25 years yet he mentioned very little about the life in Canada to us. My older brother, Gurbux Singh Sanghera, arrived in Vancouver 1955. At that time the correspondence was mainly through letters. Once in a while he would write to me about the life here. However, it was quite sketchy .As a matter of fact; members of my family were one of the first ones from our village Pharwala in Jalandhar District, to come to Canada. Thus, I was very excited when my brother sent me a permit (sponsorship letter) to come to Canada and join him.
In 1966, the year of my arrival in Canada, W.A.C. Bennett was leader of the Social Credit Party and the premier of British Columbia. Before entering politics he used to own a hardware store in Kelowna. Thus, he ran the provincial government like a business. Bennett is considered to be one of the chief builders of this province. He opened up BC‘s north and interior by building highways, dams, bridges, railways and what not. Despite being a champion of free enterprise, Bennett nationalized BC Hydro, BC Rail and BC Ferries etc. Actually, BC Ferries was affectionately called as Bennett’s Navy. Not only that, he was a fierce fighter for BC‘s rights and proper place in the Canadian Confederation. Lester (Mike) Pearson was the Prime Minster of Canada at that time. Pearson was truly a gentleman, a scholar and an esteemed diplomat. Bennett would often clash with Pearson demanding more money or rights for BC. Ottawa would often accede to Bennett’s demands. However, relations between Victoria and Ottawa became quite tense when Pierre Elliott Trudeau took over from Pearson as Prime Minster of Canada in April 1968.
Soon after taking over the leadership of the Liberal Party, Pierre Trudeau called an election. For me, it was fascinating to observe the election from a close angle. I even volunteered for couple of candidates and enjoyed the experience. Pierre Trudeau, a former New Democrat turned Liberal swept the country with Trudeau mania. Immediately, he began to put his stamp on Canadian politics and life. His first major test came when in October 1970; a Quebec based separatist organization called Front de liberation du Quebec (FLQ) kidnapped Quebec’s minister Pierre Laporte and British diplomat James Cross to force the government to accede to their demands for sovereignty for Quebec. Trudeau refused to give in and brought in the War Measures Act and crushed the FLQ. The kidnappers killed Laporte but let Cross go. That was a watershed mark in Canadian history.
Like some other prominent figures in Canada, Trudeau also made his mark in many ways. Saskatchewan premier and later leader of the federal N.D.P, Tommy Douglas is fondly remembered as the founder of our Medicare. Similarly, Prime Minster Pearson, a Nobel Laureate is known as the originator of the Peace keepers under the United Nations. Canada, a middle power is still renowned for its contribution to Peacekeeping under the auspices of the U.N. Canadian flag, Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security are some of the other notable contributions of Pearson. Trudeau’s other contributions were the historic repatriation of Canada’s Constitution from London, England, in 1982 and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He is also remembered for bringing in the Multiculturalism Act in 1971, the first of its kind in the western world. As a result of these measures and contribution of these leaders and those who followed them, Canada has become a very open, inclusive and welcoming country for people around the globe.
PART 14 Continue
December 07, 2020
Members of my family were the first ones from our village to come to Canada. Thus, I had a strong family connection with this country and was very excited to set foot on Canadian soil in 1966.
People from around the globe love to settle here. It is more so in case of Indo-Canadians in general and Punjabis in particular. Their adventurous spirit has always been very evident. To the villagers of Punjab, the western countries like U.S.A, U.K. Canada, Australia and New Zealand have been very tempting to migrate to .This trend started a long time ago and continues even to-day. In this context, let us look briefly at our community’s struggle in Canada.
The South Asian community has now become the largest minority community in Canada numbering more than 1.3 million. Punjabis constitute the largest segment of the South Asian community at approximately 800,000. South Asians come from different countries such as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangla Desh and Nepal etc... However a vast majority is from India in general and Punjab in particular.
Our community’s roots in Canada go back more than 125 years. The first arrivals in Canada are reported to come to BC via the Columbia River from the U.S. around 1885 in Golden, BC. They found work in the saw mill there. However, when the saw mill burnt down in 1927, some of these people returned to the U.S whereas some moved to Vancouver.
In 1897 Queen Victoria invited a number of young Sikh soldiers to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee in London, England. Before returning to India they decided to visit Canada. These handsome young men liked it here. When they returned to Punjab they talked fondly about Canada. Their stories became the talk of the town .Consequently, some of the adventurous Punjabis decided to come to this country around 1902/03. Canada, along with India, was part of the British Empire at that time. It has been reported that by 1904 there were 258 people of Indian origin-most of them Sikhs.
. Around 1907 there were about 5,000 Punjabis, all males, living in the Vancouver area. They worked mostly in sawmills and farms. Growing number of Asians here gave rise to resentment ,racism, discrimination and ill treatment of Asians , especially, Japenese,Chinese and South Asians. Consequently, in late 1907 and early1908 immigration from India, China and Japan was stopped completely as part of the Asian Exclusion Act. Not only that, in 1907, Indo-Canadians , who had the automatic right to vote as British subjects, were stripped of this right as well. Moreover, they were prevented from buying property in certain areas and also prohibited from pursuing certain professions. There were even unsuccessful attempts to repatriate our entire community to British Honduras.
Broadly speaking , our community’s history in Canada can be divided into three phases.The first phase from its arrival in Canada to 1947 can be described as a struggle.. It was a very difficult time and an uphill battle . State sanctioned racism,discrimination,and even violence against members of our community was widespread.However, in the face of all of that, it managed to survive and prosper.
Despite these difficulties and roadblocks, our community continued to succeed. Some of the community leaders started businesses like Guru Nanak Mining and Trust Company and Mayo Lumber Company. Khalsa Diwan Society’s formation in 1906 and the opening of our first Gurdwara at 1866 West Second Avenue in Vancouver in 1908 gave the community a united and strong voice.Incidentally, by 1918 there were only 700 members of our community . Khalsa Diwan Society led a very concerted campaign to get back the right to vote and also more immigration from India. Consequently, immigration rules were loosened a bit in 1919 and our ancestors got the right to vote in 1947.
The second phase can be described as that of consolidation. From 1947 to early 1970s our ancestors and newcomers were in a consolidation and survival mode. They made huge progress during this time. Canada opened its doors slightly in late 1960s and early 1970s . This started phase three of growth and prosperity when a wave of Indian visitors, mostly well-educated young people came to Canada. They sponsored their families and relatives and gradually began to grow and prosper. This trend continues to date. The wave of International students during the past few years has added another dimension to this process. All of these developments have made our community as one of the most visible, powerful, generous and resilient ones to-day.
PART 15 Continue
Our community in Canada has been through a lot of stressful situations. From early 1900s it has faced some formidable challenges. Our pioneers bravely faced these challenges on their own till the formation of Khalsa Diwan Society. Khalsa Diwan Society, Vancouver (KDS), formed on July 22, 1902 and formally established in 1906 has always been in the forefront in serving our community. For a number of years, KDS was the only organization fighting for the rights of the Indo-Canadian community. It established the first Sikh Gurdwara in Canada (most likely in North America) at 1866 West Second Avenue in Vancouver on January 19, 1908. It has played a major role in the social, cultural and economic development of our community in Canada. KDS has been acting as a strong advocate on every major issue affecting the community. Be it supporting the Ghadar movement, helping the victims of Komagata Maru, fighting against racism or getting back the right to vote, KDS has always been there in the front row.
I fondly remember meeting with and listening to the speeches at the Gurdwara of some of those pioneers who blazed the trails for us. When I arrived here in 1966, I would accompany my older brother, Gurbux Singh Sanghera, to the Gurdwara on Sundays. It was a very enjoyable experience for me to rub shoulder with some of the pioneers and our community leaders at the Gurdwara. These people were our idols who did so much for the community in a very selfless manner. This was clearly evident at election times. The elections were mainly by acclamation. As a matter of fact, if someone was nominated for a position he would suggest someone else for that position. Guru Nanak Dev ji’s three golden principles: make an honest living, share and meditate in the name of God Almighty- were really in action and play at the Gurdwara at that time.
During the past 135 or so years of our community’s history in Canada, it has gone through various ups and downs. It is due to the selfless sacrifices of our ancestors and organizations like KDS that our community has become one of the most visible, prosperous, generous, active and influential communities in Canada. Members of our community are now occupying prominent positions in politics, business, sports, journalism, technology, education and many other areas. The sacrifices made by our pioneers are bearing fruit now. Our pioneer societies like KDS deserve a lot of credit for the progress our community has made over the years. Certainly, the demographics and dynamics relating to our community have changed considerably over the years. However, most of the issues are still the same. Consequently, the relevance and role of such societies is still crucial in representing our interests.
In 2006, KDS celebrated its 100th anniversary. As a member and well-wisher of the Society I was invited by the KDS officials to assist with the celebration. It was a commendable effort. There were a number of seminars and activities associated with the Indo-Canadian community, Sikhism and KDS. The celebration included a dinner/banquet at Pan Pacific Hotel at Canada Place on the shores of Burrard Inlet. This was the site from where the Komagata Maru, with 376 passengers from India, was forced at gunpoint to return to India. Our chief guest was then Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan. Mayor Sullivan surprised everyone by giving his keynote address in Punjabi. As MC of this event I thanked Mayor Sullivan and remarked to the attendees, including some of the most prominent members of our community, that this was the place from where the Komagata Maru was forced out in 1914. It was a pleasant surprise and a sign of our community’s progress that mayor of the largest city of this province has addressed us in our own mother tongue (Punjabi) from the proximity of the place from where our ancestors were not allowed to land and turned away in 1914.
Over the past 50 or so years, our community’s demographics and dynamics have changed drastically. Metro Vancouver and Greater Toronto Area (GTA) have now become major centres of our community. Like Brampton and Mississauga in the GTA, Surrey and Abbotsford have now become mini Punjabs in BC. Cities like Calgary and Edmonton aren’t far behind. Now, in addition to KDS, there are societies and Gurdwaras all over Canada serving not only our community but also the community –at-large. This is sign of the times and a tribute to this great country of ours called Canada
(Balwant Sanghera is a retired School Psychologist and Community Activist)
PART 16 Continue
There is no doubt that our community in Canada has been through a lot of trials and tribulations. However, whether it is our pioneers, freedom fighters or the youth, all of them have treated these difficulties as stepping stones to success. For this, we must thank all of those people who have made huge sacrifices so that our younger generations could enjoy a peaceful and good life in this country. A large number of them have broken the glass ceiling. As Dalip Singh Saund did it in the U.S. by becoming the first Punjabi to be elected to the U.S. Congress, so was our own Naranjan Singh Grewal here. Grewal was the first Indo-Canadian to be elected first as an Alderman (Councillor) and then the Mayor of Mission in 1954. At the provincial level, it was Manmohan (Moe) Singh Sihota who was elected as an M.L.A. to the BC provincial legislature in 1986. This was another first in Canada. Later on, Moe made history again when he became the first Indo-Canadian to become a member of Premier Mike Harcourt's NDP cabinet. Later on, Ujjal Dosanjh and Harry Lali joined Moe in the cabinet. Ujjal made history by becoming the leader of the Provincial NDP and Premier of BC in 2000. On December 7, 2020 Raj Chouhan made history as the first South Asian/ Punjabi and a person of Indian heritage to be elevated to the esteemed position of Speaker of the BC Legislature.
At the federal level, it was Herb Dhaliwal followed by Gurbax Singh Malhi who made it to the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa in 1993. Malhi was the first turbaned Sikh to be elected to the Canadian Parliament whereas Herb became the first Indo-Canadian to make it to the cabinet table under Prime Minister Jean Chretien. Jagmeet Singh made history by getting elected as leader of a federal mainstream political party-NDP- in 2017.These trailblazers made way for a lot of people in our community. To-day, we have elected and non-elected Indo-Canadians not only in politics but also in every facet of Canadian life. Election of 20 Punjabi MPs in the last federal election was a first in the world. Now we have several MLAs, MPs, and Ministers not only in Ottawa but also in many other provinces.
It is not only in the political arena that members of our community have been excelling. It is same in every other area, be it journalism, communications, sports, business, technology, law, medicine or education. To their credit our youth have been taking leadership roles in many of these areas. As a result of our community’s on-going struggles, it has become very resilient. On top of that, a majority of members of our community have become very generous. Take any cause. Be it raising money for hospitals, tsunamis, earthquakes , needy or any other cause, the South Asian community is there for you.
With a large flux of immigrants from abroad and within Canada, Surrey, has now become a major religious, cultural and business centre of our community. This progress and prosperity are very evident when one is driving or walking along some of Surrey’s streets like Scott Road and 128 Street As a matter of fact, it won’t be an exaggeration if we call Surrey a mini Punjab. Our community through radio thons and other avenues has raised millions of dollars for hospitals and other causes in Surrey, Richmond and elsewhere.
Whenever there is a need, Indo-Canadians are there to help as was evident recently when a child with special needs required a very expensive treatment. The community rose to the occasion and within a few days it raised more than three million dollars so that this child could get proper treatment. There are hundreds of such examples of our community’s generosity. Cities like Surrey and Brampton have also become the main attractions for International students. Their numbers have increased steadily over the years. Their arrival has introduced another dimension to our community in Canada . Our youth is our future here.They are the ones who will be our future trail blazers.
(Balwant Sanghera is a retired School Psychologist and Community Activist)
PART 17 Continue
December 27, 2020
Since my arrival in Canada for more than 54 years ago, I have always been impressed with the sense of community service and volunteerism in this country. This positive attitude was evident to me even during my university days here.Consequently; I found it to be an enjoyable experience to participate in various clubs and extra- curricular activities at the universities. Such involvement continued at the community level when I started my teaching career and even after retirement in 2004. Research indicates that the biggest source of happiness and satisfaction for a person is to serve and help others in a selfless manner without expecting any recognition or reward in turn. Not only that, as members of the human race it is incumbent upon us to do something productive for our fellow human beings whenever we are in a position to do so. This has been one of my mottos and guiding principles all along.
When my family and I moved from Lillooet to Richmond in 1990, one of the first persons to connect me with the community was my friend Paul Binning. Paul and I had met each other in Lillooet when he brought his team of young Bhangra dancers to Lillooet to participate in the Lillooet Day celebrations. As the main organizer of this event it was a pleasure for me to host Paul and his group. Naturally, when we moved to Richmond, it was great to see Paul. He had been organizing a very popular Multifest in East Richmond. Paul encouraged me to get involved and I never looked back. Over the years, Paul has become like a younger brother to me. Thus began my long association with East Richmond Community Association (ERCA) also known as Cambie Community Centre. I served there as a Board member, Vice President and President for many years till my retirement from the Board in 2019.
While serving on the ERCA/Cambie Community Centre Board, it was a pleasure for me to work with some very dedicated volunteers like Paul, Nora Wright, Sherry Sutherland and Marie Murtagh. By working to-gether and in co-operation with the City of Richmond, we were able to transform east Richmond into a very attractive part of the community. King George Park has now become as one of the most beautiful and enjoyable parks in Richmond. Similarly, we were able to bring a lot of new services to this area. During the summer months this park looks like a mini United Nations as a lot of families and individuals representing diverse communities enjoy their picnics, games and variety of activities. It reflects the very multicultural aspect of this community.
In order to promote intercultural harmony in the community, the City of Richmond, under Mayor Malcolm Brodie’s leadership, created Richmond Intercultural Advisory Committee (RIAC) almost twenty years ago. I was honoured to be one of RIAC’s founding members. This committee has been doing an excellent job in promoting multiculturalism and intercultural harmony in and around Richmond. Same is the case with other organizations like Richmond Multicultural Community Services (RMCS). Building bridges between different communities has always been one of my major passions. As such, when I was approached to get involved with RMCS many years ago, I could not say no. Thus, it has been a privilege for me to be closely associated with RMCS for many years. In this context, it has been a pleasure for me to serve on the Board of RMCS in various capacities as director, vice president and president.
There were and still are a lot of programs run by RMCS. This includes empowering immigrants, especially newly arrived ones to become productive members of Canadian society, ESL classes and a whole bunch of other programs. This organization has helped countless new Canadians become proud members of the society in Canada. Inter faith harmony and building bridges between different communities are some of the other commendable programs that RMCS has been involved in. All along, it has been a great privilege for me to be associated with organizations like ERCA/Cambie, RIAC and RMCS. Such organizations are a great credit not only to Richmond but also Canada.
(Balwant Sanghera is a retired School Psychologist and Community Activist)
PART 18 Continue
During my posting as a teacher in Hudson’s Hope, BC I was the only Indo-Canadian on my staff of 30 or so teachers and the community. One thing I missed the most was to speak to someone in Punjabi. Around that time I resolved that if I can do anything to promote my mother tongue Punjabi I would feel greatly honoured. Moving to Richmond in 1990 from Lillooet provided an excellent opportunity for me to work towards this goal. About that time, a number of people in Richmond including Kanwarjit Sandhu, Gurdial Singh Neel, Paul Binning, Jagjit Singh Sandhu, Prem Singh,Davinder Kaur Pawa and others were encouraging our children to learn Punjabi after school. Some of the Gurdwaras, including Khalsa Diwan Society, Vancouver were also offering Punjabi classes at the Gurdwara premises and some neighbouring schools. However, the break for Punjabi came in 1994 when Moe Sihota, a member of Premier Mike Harcourt’s cabinet, managed to include Punjabi as one of the six official second languages to be taught in BC’s public schools.
In this regard, Punjabi’s well-wishers like Sadhu Binning, Inder Mehat and others helped the Provincial government set the stage for Punjabi in British Columbia public schools. Around that time I also got involved in promoting Punjabi . Burnaby South became the first public school in BC to implement Punjabi as a send language. Unfortunately, due to a number of reasons, it survived there only for one year. Around that time, Sadhu ,Aman Pal Sara, Paul and I , along with some other well-wishers of Punjabi came to-gether and formed Punjabi Language Education Association (PLEA). Since then, PLEA has been making an ernest effort in promoting Punjabi in BC’s public schools, college, universities and the community. It has been a great honour for me to serve as PLEA’s president. During these 25 plus years of PLEA’s existence there have been a lot of developments.
Over the years, Surrey has become a major cultural, religious, business and linguistic centre of our community. Surrey’s current school population of about 77,000 students has nearly 17,000 students of Punjab heritage. Thus, it was natural for PLEA to try getting Punjabi classes under way in Surrey schools. When we initially approached Surrey School officials to implement Punjabi in Surrey schools they stunned us by asking for additional funding to implement Punjabi. In this context we brought to-gether our community leaders and went as a delegation to enforce our children’s right to learn Punjabi in their schools during school time. This was a turning point. The Surrey School Board agreed with our request and began to co-operate with PLEA. Since then, Surrey School District has been one of PLEA’s major partners in promoting Punjabi in the district. To-day, Punjabi classes are under way in six elementary and eight high schools in Surrey.
In addition to Surrey, Punjabi is also being taught in Burnaby, North Delta, New Westminster and a number of schools in Abbotsford. Also, Punjabi is being taught at University of British Columbia, University of the Fraser Valley, Simon Fraser University and Kwantlen Polytechnic University. As a matter of fact, at one time Punjabi was also being taught in communities like Kamloops, Kelowna, Terrace, Oliver ,Duncan and Victoria etc. Unfortunately, due to lack of students or teachers of Punjabi in these communities it is not possible to have Punjabi classes outside Metro Vancouver. However, due to the gradual increase of Punjabi speaking population , there is a huge demand for Punjabi speakers in every area. These include city halls, hospitals, stores, businesses and organizations.
As a matter of fact, in the 2011 census Punjabi came out as the third most spoken language in Canada after English and French. However, in the 2016 census Punjabi was pushed back to fifth place as Mandarin and Cantonese moved to third and fourth places after English and French .Despite these setbacks Punjabi continues to enjoy a very prominent place. For example, at the international level, Punjabi is at tenth place from top with 150 million speakers spread out in more than 180 countries. It is very encouraging to note that our younger generations are beginning to take more pride in reading, writing and speaking Punjabi.
(Balwant Sanghera is a retired School Psychologist and Community Activist. He is president of Punjabi Language Education Association
PART 19 Continue
January 9, 2021
For more than 25 years members of Punjabi Language Education Association (PLEA) have been working hard in promoting Punjabi language in Canada at every level. In order to do so PLEA has been holding a number of functions and activities. One of such activities is the annual celebration of International Mother Language Day (IMLD) for the last 20 years. IMLD attracts a lot of attention in the community including youth, parents, scholars and well-wishers of Punjabi. PLEA invites students, parents, scholars and other professionals to share their stories related to Punjabi. In co-operation with Deepak Binning Foundation, PLEA provides certificates, cash awards and recognition to our young participants. In addition to that, PLEA recognizes prominent members of the community who have made a valuable contribution to promoting Punjabi. Furthermore, whenever possible PLEA, in co-operation with teachers of Punjabi, holds poetry and essay competitions for students.
In addition to promoting Punjabi in schools, colleges, universities and the community, PLEA has been encouraging government, non-government and private organizations and businesses to provide their services in Punjabi and place appropriate signage in Punjabi. Consequently, a large number of public and private enterprises have signage in Punjabi on their premises. Not only that, they offer their services in Punjabi as well. Organizations like Vancouver International Airport (YVR), Vancouver General Hospital, Surrey Hospital, Richmond Hospital, Insurance Corporation of BC, banks, credit unions, City Halls etc. proudly display signs like: We Speak Punjabi. As a matter of fact, in certain areas Punjabi has now become the language of employment. This is a great incentive for both Punjabis and non-Punjabis to learn the language. In addition to regular Punjabi speaking immigrants, the recent influx of international Punjabi speaking students has given added significance to Punjabi in Canada.
Speakers of Punjabi are spread out all around the globe. This has made Punjabi as a popular language in many countries. In order to discuss issues related to Punjabi, conferences are held in India and in many other countries on a regular basis. Canada is no exception. Various international Punjabi conferences have taken place in different cities of Canada from time to time. One such conference was held in the Metro Vancouver area in 2003 with PLEA’s co-operation. As PLEA’s representative it was an honour for me to chair this very successful conference organized with my friends late Dr. Darshan Gill and Kulwant (Nadeem) Parmar. We managed to attract top notch Punjabi scholars not only from India but also from many other countries like U.K., U.S.A, and Europe etc. This conference received glowing reviews from participants, media and well-wishers of Punjabi.
Canada is home to people around the globe representing more than 200 communities and more than 200 languages from every corner of the world. It is truly a multicultural and multilingual country. Here, every culture, custom and language is respected. This is reflected in the census that is conducted every five years. The last census conducted in 2016 placed Punjabi at the fifth place with nearly 600, 000 speakers of Punjabi. However, during the past five years, number of Punjabi speakers has gone up considerably. As such, the next census scheduled for May 2021 should give a boost. For this, every speaker of Punjabi should ensure that he/she is counted .Incidentally; the benefits of learning Punjabi are many. In addition to connecting with ones heritage, it enables the learner to have better employment opportunities, widens his/her horizon and enhances cognitive abilities. Consequently, PLEA would like to see every well-wisher of Punjabi to do his/her part in promoting our mother tongue.
PART 20 Continue
January 17, 2021
Richmond’s Highway to Heaven (H2H) is a very unique place. This small stretch of Number Five Road in Richmond has more than 20 places of worship of different religious denominations. India Cultural Centre of Canada Gurdwara Nanak Niwas was the first place of worship to be built on this road in 1983. This was followed by others. About sixteen years ago, as president of Richmond Multicultural Community Services (RMCS), I sent one of our staff members to do an inventory of all of the places of worship along Number Five Road in Richmond. As a result of that, I wrote an article in our local newspaper, Richmond Review, and named this stretch of the road as Our Highway to Heaven. The name caught on with the City, public and media. Since then it has become popular all over. A few years ago on a national poll, Highway to Heaven was ranked as one of the top 50 places of special interest in Canada.
Individuals and groups, especially students from all over the province and across Canada come to visit H2H. In view of the importance and interest in the H2H, a number of interested stakeholders along the H2H got to-gether and formed an association called Highway to Heaven Association (H2HA) .I was elected/acclaimed its Chairperson. Since its formation, members of the H2HA meet occasionally to discuss issues of common interest and support each other. For the past four years, H2HA has participated in the annual Steveston Salmonfest Canada Day Parade with a float decorated with banners of each of its partners. About four years ago, BBC did a story on H2H that went viral. In early November 2017, I was approached by officials from Global Affairs Canada in Ottawa with a request. They informed me that 13 United Nations Ambassadors from New York were coming to Vancouver to attend a conference on Peace and Defence. They had heard about our H2H and were interested in visiting us.
All of us were very excited to welcome the Ambassadors and hosted them at India Cultural centre of Canada Gurdwara Nanak Niwas. They thoroughly enjoyed our hospitality and discussion. Two of our members – both educators -explained to the Ambassadors what makes us tick. Sukaina Jaffer Vice Principal of the Az-Zahraa Islamic Academy and Lisa Romalis, Vice Principal at Jewish Day School explained in detail as to how all of us on our H2H co-operate and work with each other in promoting intercultural and interreligious harmony. The Ambassadors were very impressed with the presentations and profusely thanked and commended us. The Canada Ambassador to the United Nations in New York, Mr. Marc Andre Blanchard, was beaming. He commended us for doing such a great job and remarked that initiatives like this are great models for others to follow.
Soon after this event, National Film Board of Canada undertook a project to prepare a short film about H2H. This film was entered into the Toronto and Vancouver International Film Festivals. Filmmaker Sandra Ignagni has “merged beautiful, carefully framed images with a symphonic soundscape that illuminates the lives of the faithful.” The film was shown at various places of worship along the #5 Road corridor and admired. Our H2HA continues to work hard in connecting with people of different beliefs as we are all part of humanity and must respect and support each other. At the same time, such initiatives make us all proud of being Canadians
PART 21 Continue
January 24, 2021
As our community has grown and prospered, so have the problems affecting it. These include alcoholism, domestic violence as well as the misuse and abuse of Canada’s lenient laws and policies. These things are not confined only to our community. Other communities also face the same kind of issues. However, the growing issue of gangs, drugs and youth violence seems to be one of the continuing major concerns in our community. Recent carnage on our streets has again brought this issue to the forefront.
As an educator and an active member of our community I have a very special corner for our youth. When I moved to Richmond in 1990, the issue of our youth getting into trouble with the law was just beginning. It reached such a point during the next few years that we were losing our youth to drugs and violence almost every week. The mainstream media was headlining these problems in their major newscasts. That prompted some of our concerned community leaders to get involved and do something about it. It was a privilege for me to be a part of that group of community leaders coming to-gether in order to address this problem.
The youth violence issue goes a long way back- to early 1990s. Since then, our community has lost a large number of our young men, mostly in their twenties and thirties, to drugs and violence. For quite some time the community was in denial. Then the blame game was on. The police was blaming the community for lack of co-operation and the community was blaming the police for not doing enough to stop this insanity happening on our streets and neighborhoods. Finally, having gone through denial and blaming, the community decided to do something about it.
It is a credit to a number of dedicated individuals, representatives of various Gurdwaras, organizations working with youth, police and concerned community activists, who have been working together in tackling this issue. Lobbying for and creation of the BC Integrated Gang Task Force in 2004 was a good start in this regard. This was as a result of strong lobbying by our media and the community leadership. Later on, this task force was expanded and renamed Coordinate Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU -B.C.)
Since its creation, this task force has done a commendable job both at the prevention and intervention levels. Though a lot has been achieved yet the basic problem is still there. Our young men continue to be victims of this carnage on our streets. In this regard, the role played by the Indo-Canadian media continues to be very beneficial, especially in educating the parents. As a matter of fact, without exception, our media-both electronic and print- has been playing a leading role in creating more awareness about making healthy choices by our young people. Also, a number of organizations have been working tirelessly in this regard. Nearly every day one hears about good parenting skills, spending quality time with our children, taking interest in our youth’s schooling and sports etc.
During the past few years, the dynamics of our community and problems facing it have changed drastically. Consequently, a number of new organizations have come forward to deal with these issues. Our youth has been taking a very active role in helping their peers .Regardless, the role of parents and caregivers in keeping their children on track still remains as the most important one.
Our children are our greatest resource. As such, as parents and caregivers, our children and youth should be our top priority. As a community, we need to provide them with enhanced educational, recreational and cultural opportunities. At the same time, we need to continue to systematically examine the causes and preventive measures by conducting evidence-based research within our community. The foundation for this work is already there. Now we need to continue to build upon it. Our community is very resourceful and resilient. By continuing to work together, we can save our youth from the scourge of drugs, gangs and violence. This should continue to be our top priority.
(Balwant Sanghera is a retired School Psychologist and Community Activist).
PART 22 Continue
January 31, 2021
India Cultural Centre of Canada Gurdwara Nanak Niwas was the first place of worship on Richmond’s Highway to Heaven, also known as Number Five Road. Even before my arrival in Richmond from BC’s interior, I would often visit Gurdwara Nanak Niwas on special occasions. However, since my move to Richmond in 1990, I have been actively involved in this Gurdwara as a volunteer, Committee Member and as part of the Management Committee. As a matter of fact, it has been a great privilege for me to work with some of the wonderful people associated with Gurdwara Nanak Niwas under the capable leadership of pioneer, lumber baron and philanthropist, Chairman Asa Singh Johal.
Gurdwara Nanak Niwas is the third stage of the historical journey of Gurdwaras in Vancouver. The first stage was the Gurdwara built at 1866 West Second Avenue in Vancouver in 1908 by the Khalsa Diwan Society, Vancouver. As the community grew, so was the need for bigger premises. This resulted in building a brand new Gurdwara at 8000 Ross Street in Vancouver in 1969. 1970s and 1980s brought a large number of immigrants from India to Canada. Consequently, a number of dedicated community members felt the need for a new Gurdwara in Richmond. These community leaders bought 10.5 acres of land at 8600 # 5 Road, Richmond in 1983. This land included a farmhouse that was renovated into a Gurdwara.
In view of the growing congregation, there was need for bigger premises. The old Gurdwara was replaced by the present one in 1993. Thanks to the generosity of a large number of donors led by Mr. Asa Singh Johal and his family, a brand new and impressive new Gurdwara was built. This spacious place of worship is a great credit to the entire community. A few years ago, Gurdwara Nanak Niwas underwent major renovations. In addition to a new and impressive paint job, the spacious lobby has been renovated extensively. A new carpet was installed. Major new attractions in the lobby are the beautiful portraits of the ten Gurus of the Sikh faith. In the centre is the Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib) as it was in 1833. The newspaper and shoe racks have been placed at the back of the Langar Hall close to the back door entry. The Darbar Hall has been well decorated with brand new chandeliers. The entire Gurdwara has a new look.
The beautiful park just outside the main entrance has an impressive display of seasonal flowers and sprinklers. Closeby is Yadgar-E-Khalsa installed in 1999 as the tercentenary celebration of the birth of the Khalsa. 37 Gurdwara societies had agreed unanimously to install this memorial at Gurdwara Nanak Niwas. Not only that, a number of activities also kept the Gurdwara a busy place. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic all of the functions and activities at the Gurdwara had to be scaled down or suspended.
Prior to the pandemic, nearly every weekend had been pre-booked for weddings and other religious functions till the fall. In addition to that, a number of other activities had been going on. These included yoga and Punjabi classes. Furthermore, Gurdwara Nanak Niwas has also been providing leadership in many other areas. For example, the Gurdwara hosted a number of very successful Public Education Programs. These include free educational workshops and seminars in Punjabi on a number of health and community issues. In November 2017 , the Gurdwara hosted 13 United Nations Ambassadors who wanted to learn more about our Highway to Heaven Association’s on-going efforts in promoting inter religious and intercultural harmony The .Gurdwara has been a regular participant in the City of Richmond and Richmond Museum Society sponsored annual Doors Open Program and various other community activities. In a sense, Gurdwara Nanak Niwas has truly become a symbol of great pride for Richmond and our community.
PART 23 Continue
February 7, 2021
During the past 125 years in Canada, our community has been through some very difficult times. However, our pioneers never gave up. It is due to their sacrifices and hard work that our community has achieved a prominent place in Canada. Their dedication, hard work, business acumen and generosity stand out above everything else. One such respected pioneer is Mr. Asa Singh Johal. Chairman of India Cultural Centre of Canada Gurdwara Nanak Niwas. Immediately upon my move from Lillooet to Richmond in 1990, I became actively involved with this Gurdwara as a volunteer and later as a committee member and finally as a member of the management committee. Mr. Johal and his family have played a key role in the development and growth of this place of worship in Richmond.This esteemed businessman and philanthropist celebrated his 98 th birthday with his family, friends and members of the congregation at Gurdwara Nanak Niwas last year. Despite his advancing years Mr. Johal continues to be a great role model for young and old alike. This community stalwart keeps himself very active and busy. All of us at India Cultural Centre of Canada Gurdwara Nanak Niwas are very proud of Mr. Johal and wish him a long and healthy life.
Asa Singh Johal came to Canada with his parents as an 18 months old toddler in 1924. His father, Partap Singh Johal, had come to Canada in 1906. Asa mentioned that at that time, there were approximately 1200 Indo-Canadians in Canada. Most of them lived in the Metro Vancouver area and worked in lumber mills. Asa dropped out of school at age 14 and started working by delivering wood for fuel as well as working in lumber mills. This started his journey towards building a formidable lumber business. In addition to being a lumber baron, Asa and his family have also donated generously to various causes. These include University of British Columbia, B.C.Cancer Society, Richmond Hospital, BC Children`s Hospital and many more including his ancestral village of Jandiala in Jalandhar district of Punjab in India.
A few years ago, some prominent members from Jandiala approached Mr. Johal with a request to build a much needed auditorium for the Government Girls Secondary School in his native village. This popular girls ‘school serves a very wide area around Jandiala in educating girls . The Johal family opened its hearts and wallet and built a very spacious and impressive auditorium for the benefit of almost 1500 girls attending school there. There are so many examples of Mr. Johal and the Johal family`s generosity as well as other acts of kindness.
Prominent freelance writer, film and television producer and documentary director Jinder Oujla-Chalmers has done an excellent job in writing Asa‘s biography. Titled Asa Singh Johal and Terminal Forest Products describe this great businessman’s life, struggle and accomplishments very well. Its subtitle: How a Sikh Immigrant Created BC’s Largest Lumber Company says it all. Oujla-Chalmers goes on to state that Mr. Johal’s entrepreneurial ability ultimately resulted in the creation of the largest privately owned and operated lumber manufacturing facility in Western Canada.
A number of attributes stand out for this great role model for our community. He is a very disciplined , punctual and humble person. Mr. Johal is always pleasant and polite to everyone he meets. His sharp intellect and commendable business sense have earned him appreciation and accolades. On a personal note, it has been a great privilege for me to know Asa Singh Johal. It is always an honour for me to learn so much from this wonderful person. I have always found him to be very pleasant, polite, knowledgeable, kind and helpful. Mr. Johal stands out as a great pillar of not only the South Asian community but also the community at-large. All of us at India Cultural Centre of Canada Gurdwara Nanak Niwas wish him well.
PART 24 Continue
February 13, 2021
Living in the shadow of a war or conflict is a very traumatic experience for anyone. Like many other places of armed conflicts and on-going wars, people of India, particularly those living in the Punjab during the 1962 War with China ,1965 War with Pakistan and other armed conflicts will recall the constant fear of living during the conflict/war. When the relations between two or more neighbouring countries are not friendly, there is always a likelihood of an armed conflict. This realization became very obvious to me when I arrived in Canada in 1966. We are very fortunate to live in a country that has very good relations with its next door neighbour. As a matter of fact, Canada and the United States have a common longest undefended border between the two nations. Except for some skirmishes in 1812 the relations between Canada and United States have been very friendly and cordial.
Both Canada and the U.S. have very strong bonds. Both are fairly rich and resourceful countries. Both have very common values. Both are members of common alliances like NATO, NORAD, G-8, G-20 etc. However, despite these similarities, both Canada and the U.S. are also miles apart on many other issues. Take for example, Canada‘s model of MOSAIC and Multiculturalism. Canada is home to more than 200 communities and more than 200 languages from all over the globe. Canadian MOSAC is like a flower garden which recognizes, celebrates and appreciates different cultures, customs, traditions and languages. This aspect was fully recognized in the Multiculturalism Act of 1971. It has made Canada a very inclusive and welcoming nation.
No doubt, our neighbours to the south also welcome people from all over. However, rather than our model of a MOSAIC they have the model of a Melting Pot. Americans expect every newcomer to integrate, merge and be part of the American dream. Similarly, our medical systems are also quite different from each other. The other difference that is quite apparent is Canadians and Americans knowledge about each other’s countries. Canadians know a lot more about our American neighbours than our American friends know about Canada. As a matter of fact, when we move away/south from our adjoining border states, some of the Americans even look at our Canadian money as funny money. As usual, relations between our two nations depend a lot on the chemistry between leaders of both countries. Also, the policies of the two main political parties in Canada-Liberals and Conservatives and Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. play a major role in this regard.
During the mid sixties, American President Lyndon Johnson (Democrat) and Canadian Prime Minister Lester (Mike) Pearson (Liberal) got along fairly well. Certainly, the two leaders had differences over American war/ involvement in Vietnam. However, on the whole relations stayed normal. Pearson was followed by Pierre Elliot Trudeau as Prime Minister of Canada in 1968. In the U.S. Richard Nixon and later Ronald Reagan (both Republicans) succeeded Johnson as Presidents. Trudeau had some philosophical differences with both. However, despite this they managed to get along well with each other. When Brian Mulroney, a Conservative, became Prime Minster in 1984, the relations between him and Reagan warmed up considerably.
This warm relationship between our leaders and countries continued under Bill Clinton (Democrat) and Jean Chretien (Liberal). Since then relations between the leadership and the two countries have been fairly good under following administrations under Stephen Harper (Conservative) and George Bush (Republican), Barack Obama (Democrat) and Justin Trudeau (Liberal). However, this relationship turned sour when Donald Trump (Republican) was elected president of the United States in 2016. The recent election of Joe Biden (Democrat) is likely to turn things around. There is every hope that both of our countries and their leaders will continue to have an amicable and productive relationship. It is in the best interests of both of our countries and the world.
PART 25 Continue
February 20, 2021
Canada continues to be a preferred destination for people around the globe. This is more so in case of people from India in general and Punjab in particular. Punjabis have a very long and tumultuous history in Canada. During the past 125 years or so, Punjabis, as a result of their struggle, hard work and resilience have made a special place for themselves in Canada. To-day, nearly 1.6 million PIOs (Persons of Indian Origin) and 600,000 NRIs (Non Resident Indians) are proud to call Canada their home. Most of them, especially Punjabis, have their deep roots in farming. As such, the current situation in India relating to the Farm Laws is of special interest and concern to them. They are closely watching the developments in India and are emotionally attached to it.
The motto of the on-going farmers protest in India: No farmers. No food is so true. This campaign/ protest has transformed into a people movement.Farmers are the backbone of India. It has been reported in the media that almost 80% of farmers in India own less than five acres of land. The Farm Laws will hurt them the most. Consequently, for almost three months, farmers from all over India and their supporters have been camping on the outskirts of New Delhi to get these Laws repealed. They are engaged in their struggle for survival. The protest is a reflection of the farmers’ frustration .This peaceful agitation on such a large scale is the largest of its kind in post independent India.
The three Farm Laws will give big business conglomerates and a few corporate families control over agricultural produce. Furthermore, these Laws will exempt these outfits from state level regulation, licensing, stocking, processing and marketing of agricultural produce. Consequently, the farmers’ protest has attracted widespread support. Sympathizers with the farmers’ cause around the globe have enthusiastically come out in their support. In a number of countries supporters of farmers protest have been urging the government of India to repeal these Laws as requested by farmers. It is a reflection of the Indian Diaspora’s concern about these Laws and the farming community in India.
Most of us have very pleasant memories of growing up on those family owned farms. I still remember running over to our farm located a short distance away our house in my ancestral village every day after school. This continued even during my college days. The farm was and still is an integral part of a farmer and his family. Even when I arrived in Canada more than fifty years ago, this connection has continued. Farming is a very important part of every farmer and their families whether they live in India or abroad. It is an unforgettable and cherished part of our heritage. That is why people living abroad also feel so concerned and connected with the on-going farm movement in India.
To its credit, the leadership of the farmers’ protest has done a commendable job in keeping it peaceful and focused. Except for a few unfortunate incidents this campaign has been well organized and united. It has brought to-gether people of all faiths, cultures, regions and all ages. To no one’s surprise, this campaign has a large number of girls and women playing leadership roles .They are all united with one common goal. The outpouring of support in terms of food supplies and other needs has been amazing. Hopefully, all of this will impress upon the government to accede to the very genuine demands of the farmers and repeal the Farm Laws without further delay.
PART 26 Continue
February 28, 20211
When I left India for Canada in early 1966, Punjab was still in one piece. Haryana and Himachal Pradesh were parts of Punjab. Also, the green revolution was still years away. From Kashmir to Delhi, it was all Punjab territory. Most of the farming was done by old means-ploughs and oxen, Persian wheels, canals and rather primitive means. The tractors, tube wells, submersible motors and other means of modern farming were few and far between. The life of the villagers in Punjab was simple. The concept of good neighbourhood, helping each other, holistic lifestyle was prevalent. Sleeping on the rooftops and loud conversations between neighbours at night were the norm. Most of the households left their doors unlocked. Your neighbours, friends and guests could simply drop by without any prior notice. Cars were a rare commodity. Most of the travelling was done with bikes, on foot or on buses and trains. Similarly, life in the cities was also fairly simple. I vividly remember frequently visiting two of the closest cities from my ancestral village.
My hometown Pharwala (near Bilga/Nurmahal) is almost equidistant from two main cities –Jalandhar and Ludhiana. My friends and I would visit both of these cities on a fairly regular basis. I still remember very clearly a lot about both of these cities as they were more than fifty years ago. For example, Jalandhar’s Nehru Garden aka the Company Bagh was a very popular spot for people. The bypass to Amritsar was still non-existent. The GT Road was cutting through the centre of the city. Movie theatres like Joti, Sant, Laxmi, Minerva were thriving. I remember watching Mughal-e-Azam at the Joti theatre on Nakodar Road during the first week of its release.
Jalandhar’s Model Town with elegant kothis was sparsely populated. There were a lot of empty spaces between the city’s Model Town Chowk and Model Town. Similarly, the area between Model Town and nearby Mithapur was still farmland with farm produce storage sheds .Incidentally, Mithapur and neighbouring Sansarpur, are famous as the nursery of grass hockey players of international calibre. The district courts and offices of the top city officials were tucked along the GT Road between Model Town Chowk and Nehru Gardens. Near the Company Bagh, right on GT Road, alongside a number of stores and Jalandhar Central Cooperative Bank, was a shoe business owned by a Chinese businessman. Incidentally, for a long time, this city has been and continues to be the centre of the newspaper publications in many languages. Also, Jalandhar continues to be the headquarters for sports equipment manufacturing industry. Less than fifty kilometer to the south stands Jalandhar’s twin city Ludhiana.
Ludhiana’s Chaura Bazar (Wide Market) beginning from the Ghanta Ghar (Clock Tower) Chowk was full of stores, restaurants, bookshops and variety of other goods. I still remember a bookshop-Lyall Book Depot –where my friends and I would go at the beginning of a new school year every year to buy books and school supplies etc. It was like a yearly pilgrimage. Closeby was a prominent restaurant. I think it was called Kailash where after our book purchases we would have soft drinks and snacks. With the bypass, things have changed a lot in this vicinity. The movie theatres like Rikhi, Naulakha, Kailash and Society were thriving. Not far away was the industrial hub of Miller Ganj. The railway station and nearby Civil Lines were always a hub of activity. The college row-Arya College, Government College, Khalsa College etc. were bubbling with enthusiastic students. Ludhiana was and continues to be the centre for hosiery and is appropriately called the Manchester of Punjab. It is also home of the famous Punjab Agricultural University.
Since my arrival in Canada ,my family and I have been back to visit India in general and Punjab in particular on a fairly regular basis .I am amazed at the tremendous change that has taken place both at the village and the city level. Most of the change has been for the better. However, there also have been some disappointing developments in this regard. Regardless, India in general and Punjab in particular are still fascinating places to visit.
PART 27 Continue
March 7, 2021
Since my arrival in Canada in 1966, my family and I have been back to India many times. During the past few years we have been visiting India almost every year. Every time we visit, there are a lot of changes. Most of these changes have been for the better. The standard of living, especially in the Punjab, has improved considerably. The modes of transportation are also ample now. Some of the previous governments have done an excellent job in connecting most of the villages with paved roads. The bus service has also improved a lot. On some of the major routes, there is a lot of competition. This has greatly benefitted the consumers-the travelling public. A lot of the buses are air conditioned and have videos playing a variety of songs and movies. Also, one finds a lot of motorbikes, scooters and cars on the roads and in every village. Such changes are also evident in cities everywhere. The consumer goods available in the western countries are also easily available in India now. All of this has given a big boost to tourism in India.
Speaking of tourism, the central and state governments have done a good job in building, protecting and maintaining a large number of tourist attractions. These attractions are a great asset for the provinces and the nation. This is an integral part of India’s history. I had an opportunity to visit a lot of them during my high school and college days. Even after leaving India, it has been a passion for me to visit them. Every time my family and I visit India, in addition to visiting friends and relatives, visiting some of these historic places of worship has been on the top of my list.
On one of my recent visits, my wife, some friends and I visited Patna Sahib. It was our first visit. I was very impressed with the hospitality. Visiting this birthplace of Guru Gobind Singh ji is a pilgrimage. The old city of Patna has a number of Gurdwaras associated with Guru Gobind Singh ji, Guru Nanak Dev ji and Guru Teg Bahadur ji. Guru Teg Bahadur ji stopped over here with his family on his way to Assam. Guru Nanak ji also visited Patna during his Udasi to eastern India including Assam. Visiting all of these Gurdwaras in and around Patna was a real treat. From Patna we went over to Bodh Gaya, a four hour drive. Bodh Gaya is the place where Siddhartha, who later became famous as Buddha, meditated under a Peepal tree and attained his enlightenment. It was a very spiritual experience to visit the temple and the devotees meditating on the surrounding lush green grounds. From there it was on to the ancient Nalanda University.
Nalanda was one of three centres of higher learning in India almost two thousand years ago. The excavation and restoration work by the department of archeology was in full swing. It was an eye opener to see the vastness and reach of this ancient university. We learnt that a Chinese scholar Hiu Tsang studied at this university and then taught here for several years. His writenaccount formed most of the basis of the research and restoration of the university. It has been reported that more than ten thousand students from all over the world were in residence while going to school here. We spent many hours going around and marvelling at the way students were learning here more than two thousand years ago. Heading back to Patna we had the privilege of visiting Rajgir, a historic town in ancient times when Chandragupta Maurya and his descendants were ruling over India with their capital at Maghd/Patliputra, modern day Patna. Rajgir was a major centre of activity at that time. Buddha is believed to have delivered his first sermon here. Guru Nanak Dev ji is reported to have visited this place on his way to the east and back. A small Gurdwara here is a reminder of Guru ji’s visit.
India in general and Punjab in particular have a lot to offer the visitor. It is always a delight to visit these historic places and remember those who contributed immensely to this land.
PART 28 Continue
March 14, 2021
A visitor can spend months visiting some of the most wonderful and historical places all over India. One never gets tired of looking at both the ancient and modern tourist attractions. I always find it fascinating to visit some of these tourist sites again and again. During the last few visits to India in addition to visiting the beautiful places like the Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri, Red Fort, Jaipur, Char Minar (Hyderabad),Patna, Nalanda, Bodh Gaya, Hazoor Sahib(Nanded),Ponta Sahib, Ajmer Sharif, Pushkar and Shimla etc. it has been a pleasure to visit some of the modern wonders like the Lotus (New Delhi),Baba Banda Singh Bahadur Memorial ,Virasat-e-Khalsa (Anandpur Sahib) and Jang-e-Azadi Memorial (Kartarpur). The message and architecture of these marvels is just amazing. Take for example the Jang-e-Azadi Memorial at Kartarpur, near Jalandhar.
Recently completed Jang-e-Azadi Memorial is a memorial and museum in Kartarpur (near Jalandhar), was built by the Punjab government in memory of the contribution and sacrifices made by Punjabis in India’s independence movement. This spacious memorial spread over 25 acres cost around 200 crore rupees. It consists of an auditorium, movie hall, theatre, amphitheatre, library, and a lot more. Research and seminar halls are an integral part of the memorial galleries. The 1.5 hour long movie is an excellent illustration of the struggle of the freedom fighters. It is a very moving experience to watch this historical account of Punjabi community’s struggle and fight for independence. The movie describes in detail an account of the Sikhs in particular from 1849 to 1947. This theme is depicted by another historical monument –Virasat-e-Khalsa- Museum of Sikhism- located in the holy city of Anandpur Sahib.
Inaugurated in November, 2011, Virasat-e-Khalsa is a masterpiece of rich Sikh culture and religious history... It showcases the history and culture of Punjab. The heritage complex has been built to emphasize the eternal message of the ten Sikh Gurus. Virasat-e-Khalsa is the most visited museum on a single day in India. Nearly 5 to 6, 000 people visit this complex on any given day. It has been reported that it has set a record of 20,569 visitors in one day. So far more than ten million people have visited this museum. Not very far from here is a monument commemorating the sacrifices and accomplishment of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur at Chappar Chiri in Mohali (Punjab) near Chandigarh .It is a fitting tribute to this brave soldier, fighter and reformer.
Sikh warriors fought and won under Banda Singh Bahadur’s command the Battle of Chappar Chiri in May 1710. It was a fierce battle between the Sikhs and the Mughal Empire led by Wazir Khan. The memorial is located on a lush green lawn of 20 acres. The Fateh Burhj (Victory Tower) stands at 328 feet. It is the tallest victory tower in India .Completed in 2011 the Fateh Burj Memorial glorifies the valour and the victory of the great general. Like other memorials this one too has become a very attractive tourist site and a reminder of the contribution of Banda Singh Bahadur. In addition to these very special memorials and museums in the Punjab, many other places are also home to some of the wonderful historical and religious landmarks. The Lotus in New Delhi is one such attraction.
The Lotus, in New Delhi is a Baha’i House of worship that was dedicated in 1986.It is notable for its flower like shape. The lotus has become prominent tourist attraction in the capital city of India. This vast place of worship is spread out over 26 lush acres of greenery .It has nine sides and 27 free standing marble clad petals arranged in groups of threes. The beautifully landscaped grounds around the Lotus have a number of ponds and gardens. The solar power keeps it going .The Lotus gets more than 10,000 visitors daily and more than 4 million during the year. On my last visit to India, it was a pleasure for me to visit the Lotus. Sitting inside was so calm , peaceful and relaxing. There is so much to see and do when one visits India.
PART 29 Continue
When a person comes to a new country, he/she is very curious about everything the new environment has to offer. Upon arrival in Canada, the first thing that struck me the most was the gentle nature of Canadians and the welcoming environment. This was reinforced when I had a brief work experience while working at a lumber mill in the interior. It was reinforced again when I attended Simon Fraser University on Burnaby Mountain. Soon after that, in 1967 Canada hosted a remarkable international event known as Expo.
Every country has some significant events and/or landmarks as part of its history that stand out. In Canada, Expo 1967 was such an international event .Canada invited the world to this world fair in Montreal to celebrate the centennial of its Confederation. That was the beginning of a new chapter in its rather restrictive immigration policy. Since then, this nation has not looked back. During the last fifty plus years Canada has become as one of the most attractive and welcoming countries for immigrants from around the globe.
Going back in history, originally, it was the Aboriginal communities who inhabited Canadian landmass. Their ancestors are reported to arrive here from Central Asia/Siberia some 14,000 years ago. These First Nations/Aboriginal communities, through their very rich cultural and linguistic diversity, have made a commendable contribution to Canada. The Europeans are reported to arrive here around 1,000 A.D. British and French explorers’ facilitated settlements that later on took the form of a nation called Dominion of Canada in 1867. Gradually, Canada has become one of the most attractive countries for immigrants around the globe.
According to latest media reports there are close to 750 million people worldwide who are looking forward to put down their roots in a foreign country. Of course, their favourite countries are in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. Canada has been chosen as a favourite country to move to by 44 million of them. This country has always been popular with people of India in general and Punjabis in particular. Our pioneers set foot on Canadian soil more than 130 years ago. To-day, more than two million South Asians call Canada their home. In Metro Vancouver alone there are more than 300,000 South Asians. They are the third largest ethnic group after Caucasians and ethnic Chinese. In the Metro Vancouver and Greater Toronto area Punjabi is the third most spoken language behind English and Chinese. Cities like Surrey, Abbotsford, Calgary, Edmonton, Brampton and Mississauga have become like mini Punjabs in Canada. Speaking of Canada, this country is very special in many ways.
Canada is the second largest country in land mass after Russia. This parliamentary democracy has an area of almost 10 million square kilometers. Canada has world’s longest coastline at 243,042 kilometers. It has the longest undefended border of 8,891 kilometers with the United States. Canada is also home to the world’s most northerly settlement on the northern tip of Ellesmere Island in the Arctic. Canada has one of the most diverse landscapes in the world. It ranges from the beautiful lakes, rivers, forests and mountains of British Columbia, to Alberta’s oil fields, to Saskatchewan and Manitoba’s miles and miles of prairie wheat fields .The Canadian Shield at the western border of Canada’s largest province is just marvellous. So is Ontario vastness. Quebec’s unique French culture, its maple syrup and cities like Quebec City and Montreal are a delight to visit. Incidentally, Quebec City is still the only walled city in Canada. Then there are the Maritime Provinces with their own charm .All of these unique places are a reminder of Canada’s diverse landscape, language, people and culture.
Canada is a truly multicultural and multilinguistic country. More than 200 different communities representing every corner of the globe call Canada their home. Over the years, Canada has become as one of the most welcoming, inclusive, multicultural and multilingual countries in the world. It was the first western country to adopt the Multiculturalism Act in 1971 which made this nation a truly and officially a multicultural country. Consequently, over the years Canada has become as one of the most popular and favoured countries to live in by the rich and poor alike.
PART 30 Continue
March 27, 2021
The aviation industry in early 1960s was just growing. When I landed at Vancouver airport from New Delhi, via Tehran, London, Prestwick and Winnipeg at the end of January, 1966 our Vancouver airport was still very small. It is now the South terminal for mostly local air traffic. Since then, Vancouver International Airport (YVR) has undergone tremendous growth. It has now become one of the best airports in the world. Another interesting feature of YVR is that it is the only airport in the world that greets passengers in Punjabi along with some other languages. This is a reflection of the Punjabi community’s contribution and recognition. It has been a very tough and challenging struggle for our pioneers and their descendants to reach this point. From a few hundred of our pioneers at the beginning of the twentieth century, our community has now grown to more than a million. A recent headline in the media, including the popular Indo-Canadian community newspaper The Link, declared that 200 Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) occupy leadership positions in 15 Countries including Canada. 60 of them hold Cabinet positions.
Headlines like this are reflective of the adventurous and hard- working nature of members of the Indian diaspora including Punjabis. For a long time, western countries ,including Canada, have been the favourite emigration destinations for Punjabis in particular .In the Punjabi community, it has been a majority of Sikhs who took the initiative to try their luck in foreign lands including Canada .For example, in 1904, there were 258 Sikhs in Metro Vancouver . During the next three years 5,000 immigrants, mostly Sikhs from Punjab arrived in Canada. On January 19, 1908, the first Sikh Parade (Nagar Kirtan) took place to celebrate the opening of the Khalsa Diwan Society’s Gurdwara at 1866 West Second Avenue in Vancouver. The prevailing racism against the Asians resulted in the Asian Exclusion Act and very restrictive immigration rules by the government. Consequently, the Asian community, including ours was hit very hard. By 1918 the numbers of people of Indian heritage, mostly Sikhs, had declined to only 700. However, our pioneers led by the Khalsa Diwan Society, Vancouver never gave up. Their efforts resulted in the loosening of immigration rules and our community began to grow again.
1947 was the turning point for our community in Canada as India became independent from the British. Our pioneers regained the right to vote. This sparked gradual progress and increased immigration from India. Expo 1967 in Montreal and Canada passing the Multiculturalism Act were the other landmarks that gave a big boost to our community. The arrival of a large number of young professionals from Punjab in early 1970s completely changed the demographics and dynamics of our community. It has never looked back. Members of our community began to take active part in the political process. Also, a number of new Gurdwaras opened up. Now we have elected officials at every level-local, provincial and federal. Festivals like Vaisakhi and Diwali have become mainstream. The latest Nagar Kirtan held in Vancouver before the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic attracted more than 150,000 people. The one in Surrey is reported to be the largest Nagar Kirtan outside India as it attracted more than 500,000 people. In addition to its numerical strength, members of our community also stand out in many other ways.
In a recent report by a prominent Vancouver Sun reporter Douglas Todd, it states that there are more than two million South Asians, majority of them of Indian heritage who call Canada home. Douglas goes on to state that a vast majority of South Asians have far more educational degrees than the general population .Also, they consider home ownership as their first priority. Consequently, majority of South Asians own their homes. In short, our community has made huge strides since its arrival in Canada more than 130 years ago .In addition to other things unlike the 1950s or 1960s they can now even fly directly between India and Canada in less than14 hours. This is how far we have come.