Mahindar Kaur Berar says that while she was growing up in Victoria during the 1940s and 1950s, most of her family's social life revolved around the gurdwara on Topaz Avenue.
"It was the focal point of our religious, social and cultural activities," recalls Berar, who was born in Victoria in 1938. "Every Sunday afternoon, we would walk to the temple for a two-hour service of **kirtan**and **prashad**… the girls always covered their heads with a kerchief but the boys were not required to."
"We attended Punjabi school at the time with some chagrin and later realized how privileged we were. We not only learned to read and write Gurmukhi, but received instruction from Giani Hira Singh in playing the harmonium, singing shabads and reading the **Guru Granth Sahib. **The Vaisakhi celebration in Victoria was the highlight of our year."
One of six children born to Ajaib Singh and Paritam Kaur Sangha, Berar says she was "exposed to a blend of both Canadian and Indian culture and was offered the opportunity to attend piano, violin, dance and sports lessons, as well as obtain a formal education."
She describes her father, who immigrated to Canada in 1923 and studied mechanical engineering at the University of British Columbia, as "an educated, liberal thinker" who stressed the importance of education.
"Generally speaking, Punjabi girls of that era were not encouraged to pursue higher education. I, however, became a primary school teacher and my sister, Gurbachan, obtained her degree in nursing."
Although she has predominantly fond memories of growing up in Victoria, Berar acknowledges her family went through some tough times. "My father struggled in the early days to raise his family as his livelihood was earned by selling truck loads of wood from door to door. Some days there were no sales and hence no income," she says. "It was in the late '50s that he and my brothers established what was later to become a successful family business known today as Island Asphalt."
Mahindar Berar, now a retired Canada Immigration interpreter, has lived in Vancouver since her marriage to Abtar Berar in 1964. They have three children and are enjoying their retirement years spending as much time as possible with their grandchildren.