While riding his bike to work in Adampur, Punjab, Gurdev Singh Manhas would always pass a small parcel of land where he longed to live. His dream was to travel to Canada, make enough money there, and build his own home on that slice of land. "I built my house on that very exact spot in 1970, where it is still," recalled the 84-year-old in 2007.
Manhas came to Canada in 1959, after being sponsored by his mother's sister. He stayed with his aunt for a month, then moved to Paldi on Vancouver Island to live and work at the Mayo Mill.
"I lived in a bunkhouse with all East Indian mill workers for one and a half years in Paldi," he says, recalling his days in the lumber town. The Indo-Canadian community at that time, Manhas says, consisted mainly of men, with women making up only 10 per cent of the community's population.
Soon after moving to the island, Manhas was able to buy a house in Nanaimo, a town that consisted of not much more than a shopping centre with a Fields and a Safeway.
Seven years after arriving in Canada, Manhas filed papers to have his eldest son, Swarn Singh Manhas, come to Canada. Although the officer at the immigration office advised him to sponsor his whole family, Manhas thought it was best to send for his son first. "I told the officer that I would not be able to afford to bring my whole family." It wasn't until the mid-1970s that the rest of his family made the journey to Canada, joining Manhas in Nanamio.
He continued to work at the Mayo lumber company until his retirement in 1988. He waited until the day before he was retiring to tell his bosses that he was leaving, catching them all by surprise, "They were shocked," he recalls.
He takes an annual trip to Punjab, where he stays at the home he once dreamt about building in Adampur.