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My Journey to Canada
Balwant Sanghera

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 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
(Balwant Sanghera is a retired School Psychologist and Community Activist)

    

 

 

 

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