I love those days," Jack Uppal says of growing up in Vancouver in the 1920s and '30s. "Even though there was discrimination, it was still a lovely place to be. In our community, even though people came from different villages in India, we all lived as one family, we all respected each other as brothers and sisters."
Apart from a few trips back to India, Uppal has lived in Vancouver ever since he arrived in B.C. from Punjab in 1925, when he was six months old. There were tough times - he recalls schoolmates at Sir James Douglas Elementary School knocking his turban off - but he also has fond memories of spending long days playing in the park with his brother and on all-Indian soccer and softball teams.
Uppal's days as a carefree boy were cut short when he was only 13 and his father was killed in an automobile accident. "I was in Grade 9 at Vancouver Technical. My brother and mother tried to make a go of things but it became too difficult for me to attend school. So, finally, after about six months, I had to quit and help make a living. We got started in the sawmill business and we worked hard."
Before Uppal's father died, he had made arrangements for his two sons to marry two sisters in India. The two brothers travelled to India in 1948 to get married and Uppal's oldest daughter was born there the following year.
After returning to Vancouver, Uppal became the first Indo-Canadian bus driver in the city. "Before that, the streetcar company, the B.C. Electric Railway, would not allow anyone but Europeans to run their streetcars."
Uppal recalls that in those days "buying a house was a difficult task for Indians. My cousin was not able to buy a house in Shaughnessy directly. He had to buy a house by having a white man purchase it and then taking it over."
Since 1971, Uppal had owned and operated Goldwood Industries, a sawmill on Vancouver's Mitchell Island.
"I feel proud that our people are doing well --- they're in public service, they're professionals, they're in high society. This is our homeland. We should respect it and do whatever we can to help its progress."
This interview originally appeared in the March 2004 edition of **Mehfil Magazine.**
Jagat “Jack” Singh Uppal, who passed away in May 2014, was one of the first Sikh children to attend public school in Vancouver. In 2010 he received the BC Community Award, and, in 2012, an honorary doctorate from Simon Fraser University, where he spoke at the Spring Convocation.