Chattar Singh Bains was 28 years old when he immigrated to Vancouver from India in 1960. His wife, Naranjan Kaur, joined him in B.C. in 1962, along with their two children.
In India, Chattar Singh's military career had taken him to various parts of India, including Darjeeling, Kashmir and Dugshai, near Chandigarh, to name just a few of his many postings. In B.C., however, career options were rather limited for Indian immigrants, he says.
"The opportunities for Indians were very different back then versus what they are now. There were many times where having long hair and a turban was an issue when it came to finding employment. Men coming from India, most of them would shave their hair within a few weeks of coming to Canada. If you didn't already know someone working at a place, it was very difficult to get hired yourself, especially with a turban. However, I never cut my hair."
"My initial plan was to stay and work for five or six years and then go back to India and raise my family. However, it didn't work out that way, as the children started school and more of our family started to immigrate here, so we ended up staying."
"I initially worked in various sawmills. However, I had a very entrepreneurial spirit and was very independent so knew that I had to work for myself eventually. I started to buy rental properties and bought a motel in 1969 and then got into the housing construction market in the early '70s at a time when there were very few Indians in that market."
"Back when we were first here, the community was very small and very tight knit. Everyone knew each other on a personal basis and attended all social functions, such as weddings, birthday parties, etc. Every time someone's relative would come from India, they would all go to the airport to receive them and get together for a party in the evening."
"At that time there were not any Indian grocery stores, and we would go to a small Italian grocery store on Hastings to buy our food supplies. The proprietor would carry lentils and wheat flour. It wasn't until around 1975 that a couple of Indian stores started on Main Street. The largest Indian temple at that time was on 2nd Avenue. Women used to wear long dresses and the men never covered their heads when going to this temple. No woman would ever think of wearing Indian suits or the elderly of wearing kurta pajamas in public the way they do now."
This interview originally appeared in the March/April 2005 edition of **Mehfil Magazine.**
Chattar Singh and Naranjan Kaur Bains, who have five children and four grandchildren, lived in New Westminster and Queensborough for many years, then went into the farming business and moved to Abbotsford. After retirement they decided to spend a part of their time in India to build an ashram in their village to help the elderly who have limited or no family support.