Gurdeep Kaur Sundher grew up watching her mother play an active role in the community, an example she herself would later follow. Sundher's mother, Bhagwant Kaur Kandola, was a prominent freedom fighter in Punjab before immigrating to Canada to join her husband, Mehan Singh, in 1929. Bhagwant Kaur quickly became an influential member of the Victoria Sikh Temple on Topaz Street. She would often read the Gurmukhi for the congregation, which was uncommon for women in those days.
Gurdeep, the eldest of three, was born in 1930, one year after her parents' reunion. She has fond memories of her childhood, which primarily revolved around the temples in both Victoria and Vancouver. "Every weekend, my life consisted of going to the gurdwara. We even slept there sometimes," she says.
Although Gurdeep's family, like most other Sikh families at the time, spent much of their time at the temples, they were in some ways quite Westernized. In fact, she says she still feels odd wearing Indian suits and saris because when she was a child, girls and women wore skirts and dresses.
Gurdeep completed Grade 8 in Vancouver. At 18, she married Nirmal Sundher at the Vancouver Sikh temple on West 2nd Ave.
Gurdeep says her life in community work began when she and Nirmal settled in Victoria after their marriage. The Sundher home quickly became a stopping ground for many new immigrant families arriving on Vancouver Island. "We had a place to give, and I just wanted to help newcomers settle in their new home, says Gurdeep. "If they were new to Victoria, they were at my house."
In fact, some new immigrants lived with the Sundhers for months and even years, says Gurdeep. "Our house was, and is, always open to everyone."
The Sundhers continue to live in Victoria, where Gurdeep is well known for her volunteer work, which includes hosting and organizing sports tournaments for youth, something she started many decades ago.