Manjit Dhillon has a knack for remembering dates. For example, he left India with his father on June 2, 1948, and after stops in Hong Kong, San Francisco and Yuba City, California, he arrived in White Rock, British Columbia, on July 3, 1948.
The 18-year-old didn't have any leisure time in which to form an impression of his new country.
"My father, who had first moved to Canada in 1931, had very good connections with Kapoor Lumber Company in North Vancouver. He phoned there looking for a chance to work. They said we have work for two people. My father and I started working there on July 5. My father said to improve your English you should go to night school. So I worked eight hours in the mill, then I would go to night school in North Burnaby for two hours. I would come home at 11 o'clock, then go to work again in the morning. This went on until the spring of 1949. Then there was a wood shortage in that mill and I moved to Victoria to work."
For a year, Dhillon worked during the week at a mill and then helped his uncle make deliveries on the weekends. "My uncle had a wood and sawdust business and on the weekend we would haul sawdust. In those days, the main fuel was wood and sawdust and we would haul sacks of wood on our back and go door to door to make extra money."
Dhillon then moved to Mesachie Lake, where he lived in a bunkhouse along with about 60 mill co-workers for two years. "We would work eight hours a day, then in the evening we would have lots of time to do exercise, play volleyball and soccer," recalls Dhillon.
Next came a six-week stint working at a mill in Kamloops before Dhillon and his father moved back to Vancouver in 1952. "I started going to night school for lumber grading and lumber tallying," recalls Dhillon. "After I finished those two courses, I could work anywhere I wanted because lumber graders were in big demand."
In 1954, he landed a job at the Burke Lumber Company. That same year, Dhillon helped the India Grass Hockey Club win a championship over five other Lower Mainland teams. He has vivid memories of the deciding game, which was against a team from North Vancouver. "We started playing on a Saturday, and we had three overtimes without a goal. We decided we weren't going to quit until the game was decided. The following week, we played again in Stanley Park, I was playing goalie, and I must have been a good goalie because we won 3-nothing."
In 1955, Dhillon married Harjit Kaur, the daughter of a close friend of his grand-father's. "When I came from India, I told my grandfather he could choose my bride. In 1954 he wrote to me and said he'd found a good match for me. My grandfather and Harjit's father had both been freedom fighters and were good friends."
"Harjit came from India on July 9, 1955. She came to our home and then we got married on July 16, 1955."
In 1964, the family, which by then included Manjit and Harjit's three small children, moved into the house in which the couple still live today. "We bought it brand new and moved in on October 24." recalls Dhillon. "The price was $19,000 but I told the builder I would buy it only if he finished the basement. I gave him another $1500 to complete the basement so we would have three bedrooms upstairs and three bedroom downstairs."
"We thought about moving at one point, but my wife said this house has a big history. Many freedom fighters would come to visit my grandfather here when he lived here. We decided we will never move."