Ishar Singh Banns was among the best known and most intriguing members of the Indo-Canadian community of B.C. In fact, his adventurous spirit and activism inspired numerous newspaper articles, as well as recognition by his fellow Indo-Canadians.
Banns was born in 1894 in the village of Kotla Naudh Singh in Punjab. At the age of 13, after running away from home, he boarded a ship bound for Canada. He arrived in Vancouver aboard the Monteagle in 1907. He earned a living by clearing land until he was big enough to lift a two-by-four, at which point he found work piling lumber. Apart from a stint working on a railway gang, he worked in the lumber industry until 1919, when he moved to Alberta. A year later he moved to Winnipeg and began working as a mechanic, but his true passion was airplanes. He returned to the west coast and started a logging camp with several Sikh partners before leaving Vancouver for Los Angeles in 1927 to study aviation at the Warren School of Aeronautics.
In 1929, he earned the nickname "Odaroo" (one who can fly) after making a 3,000-foot parachute jump in Stockton, California. He would later describe the experience for an article that appeared in the North Shore Press newspaper in 1945: "I was scared every inch of the way down!" he told the paper. "I suppose it's more or less commonplace now, but in those days a parachute jump was still a gamble and not many private fliers had any ambition to hit the silk!"
He made two more parachute jumps, one in Victoria and one in North Vancouver, attracting both media and public attention.
Banns eventually decided to fly from Los Angeles to Vancouver in his own airplane. He almost didn't make it. Somewhere between Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, the single engine of his open- cockpit Waco plane died. He crash landed into the branches of a tree, miraculously sustaining only a minor injury. Banns walked away with only a cut on his forehead, but the plane was a wreck. The incident did nothing to quash his love of flying. He bought his second plane as soon as he could afford to. He again decided to fly himself home, and this time made it all the way to the airport in Vancouver.
In 1939, he turned his attention to the plight of Indians facing discriminatory immigration policies and joined a committee that travelled to Ottawa to lobby the federal government for changes to immigration policy. He received a letter of thanks from Vancouver's Khalsa Diwan Society acknowledging his efforts.
Banns would go on to become president of the Canadian Sikh Welfare Association in 1954. From 1955 to 1962, he worked as a real-estate agent for seven different companies in Burnaby and Vancouver. From 1940 until her death in 1967, he was married to Ida Mongol Banns, who was well known for her public speaking, including a broadcast for the CBC entitled "My Own Mother," and for her volunteer work teaching English to new Canadians at the YWCA. The couple's two children, son Paul and daughter Chandra, were only 16 and 17 when Ida Banns passed away after a long illness.
Ishar Singh passed away in 1969 in Vancouver at the age of 74.