Gurdev David Singh Aulak was born in Vancouver in 1935, at a time when sawdust was used to heat homes and kindling was needed to make rotis. "Those were hard days." But Aulak also remembers the inviting atmosphere in the local Indian community. "Everyone knew everyone else. We were like a big family." The close-knit group, Aulak said, would gather at the Second Avenue Gurdwara. These weekly meetings were a gathering place for the 20 to 25 Indian families. "There was a closeness, a brother and sister type of love, I kind of miss that."
Aulak's father, Giana Singh, came to Canada in 1905, nine years before the Komagata Maru made its voyage. "Dad used to go in a rowboat and hoist up water and rotis for them," he says, referring to the passengers stranded on the freighter.
Growing up in the 1940s, Aulak recalls seeing his first television set while attending John Oliver high school. "All the kids went to the hardware store window to see the display." He also bought his first car during this time, a 1935 air-cooled Franklin for $50. "I'd take that car to school up the old Fraser Hill, it burned so much gas."
However, Aulak wasn't immune to discrimination, especially while applying for jobs after high school. He became the first Indo-Canadian to pass the Vancouver Police Department entrance exams, but was denied a position because the superintendent didn't want any Hindus in the force. "I was kind of shocked, but there was nothing I could do."
In 1952, Aulak was sent to India to build a house for the family. His father had always saved a portion of his wages to send back to his native country. "My dad always had India on his mind."
Aulak married Kirpal Kaur in 1954 while still in India. When he returned to Canada, he studied engineering at the University of British Columbia, and was offered a job by the federal government. He would later work at BC Hydro, where he stayed for 33 years. In 1996, the Khalsa Diwan Society of Vancouver recognized Aulak as being a member of the first generation of Sikh's in Canada. "We should be proud of our people," says Aulak, referring to the accomplishments of the Indo-Canadian community. "We should never forget our heritage and the sacrifices our people made."