My Journey to Canada: Part 7……..by Balwant Sanghera
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 avolunteer 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 98th 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 Johaland 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.
Balwant Sanghera is also a member of the Gurdwara Nanak Niwas Management Committee
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