Born in India, Balwant Sanghera moved to B.C. in 1966 where he has become a well-respected multicultural advocate, and a bridge builder between communities and generations. After a teaching career, Mr. Sanghera received his Master of Education from UBC and in 1990 became a school psychologist with the Burnaby School District. He developed an educational program for the Maples Adolescent Centre, which serves the province’s most difficult adolescents with mental health and behavioural problems. He has mentored and fostered similar programs province wide. In a series of articles, titled 'My Journey to Canada', he narrates his experiences ever since he landed in the country for the first time.
It has been more than 54 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 50 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 Panjab 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.
The writer with Asa Johal on the occasion of release of latter's book
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 km west of Golden right on Trans-Canada Highway about 800 km 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.
September 22, 2020
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