Harbans Kaur Jhalli was 16 when she immigrated to B.C. from Punjab with her father in the mid 1950s. Her grandfather had arrived and settled in Abbotsford in 1908. She attended high school in Port Alberni for a few months before deciding to stay at home, where she kept busy cooking, gardening, knitting and socializing with other young women her own age. At first, she was overwhelmed at finding herself in a society where Indians were very much a minority, but she soon learned how to speak English from tenants who lived in her family's basement.
The concept of multiculturalism hadn't yet been introduced and Harbans and other women avoided going out in public in traditional Indian clothing. "We would wear pants to the gurdwara and then change into a suit," she recalls. "When it was time to leave and go home, we'd change back into pants. If we wore an Indian outfit on the street, people would stare and make comments."
Harbans was married to Hardish Singh Jhalli in Port Alberni's Sikh temple when she was 20 years old. Her wedding photo still hangs there today. "They didn't have flower girls at Indian weddings back then," she says. "But I had been to a few western weddings where they had flower girls so I decided to have three at my wedding."