When Jagir Singh Rattan arrived in Vancouver in 1959, there was no one to meet him at the airport and he would have found himself all alone in a strange land if it weren't for a fellow passenger who offered him a place to stay. Rattan was grateful to his host but soon began to wonder if his dream of establishing himself in Canada and then bringing over his wife and seven children was far-fetched.
"Initially I was very happy to be starting a new life in Canada but a few days after my arrival, I started to feel afraid because the people I was staying with started to tell me that there were no jobs available for immigrants like me," says Rattan. "There were massive strikes going on at mills and other work places and they were not hiring people at that time."
Rattan soon left the Lower Mainland for Port Alberni where two of his cousins were living. He thought things were looking up when he managed to find work at a sawmill, but then he began to experience debilitating back pain.
"I had never had any health problems prior to this so it was quite the scary situation for me," he says. "My back hurt so much that there were days that I couldn't even go to work in the morning. I remember thinking that I was better off in India. I even thought about going back. I didn't think I was going to be able to work ever again. I was afraid I was going to starve here and never see my family again."
Rattan recovered and, determined to make enough money to bring his family to Canada, took whatever work he could, including picking berries while living at the gurdwara in Abbotsford. "It was hard, being away from my family for so long and going from job to job," says Rattan, who finally found a steady, full-time job at a Vancouver sawmill in 1963.
It wasn't until 1968, almost 10 years after he first arrived in B.C., that he was finally reunited here with his wife, Dhan Kaur, and all of his children. "My dream came true," says Rattan.
Rattan, who bought his first house in 1968 for under $18,500, marvels at today's cost of living.
"I bought that property for under $20,000 and now it's worth more than $400,000," he says. "I remember being able to ride the bus for 10 cents and being able to get ice cream for the whole family from Dairy Queen for under a dollar and a pack of Lifesavers was five cents."