While living in Victoria in the 1930s and 1940s, Ragbier Bhandar and his family, which included five brothers and sisters, lived off the land to some degree.
Like many other families at the time, they had a cow they milked by hand and they grew their own carrots, tomatoes and potatoes - although they got their **keralas ** from the indoor greenhouses of local Chinese farmers. Bhandar recalls the strictures of rationing during the Second World War. "Our people didn't drink," he reminisces with a chuckle. "So they would trade their alcohol ration coupons for butter."
When he was only eight years old, Ragbier, who was born in Victoria's Royal Jubilee Hospital, displayed the entrepreneurial spirit that would come to stand him in good stead: he would buy daily copies of the **Victoria Times Colonist ** for two and a half cents and sell them on street corners for five.
At the age of five, Ragbier developed asthma and had to spend a year away from his parents in a local sanitarium; his father came to see him whenever he could, which wasn't easy given the spotty, part-time bus service at the time, says Ragbier.
Ragbier's health subsequently became robust and he played soccer and volleyball on the local gurdwara's sports teams.
Life was busy for young Ragbier, between his chores and attending Heera Singh's '40s-era Punjabi school, where 20 children studied after regular classes ended, fulfilling their parents' wishes that they retain links to their language and culture. Meanwhile, Mrs. Brown from up the street often offered seven-year-old Ragbier milk and cookies while she earnestly tried to convert him to Christianity.
At 17, Ragbier started work at Manning Timber Products, which was located on Victoria's Government Street, where the historic Capital Iron store is now.
"All of these guys that grew up with me," he says, referring to some of the most successful Indo-Canadian lumber barons and landowners in the province, "none of us had an inheritance. We all worked hard."
He would start work at the mill at three in the morning and then go to school at nine. By the time he went to India in 1964 to get married, he was a man of property, with income from his real-estate investments.
His family continued to value hard work and emphasized the importance of education. Two of Ragbier's daughters are academics with PhDs, the third has a Masters degree from the London School of Economics and his son is a successful property manager.
Yet he doesn't consider himself as having accomplished anything particularly noteworthy: "You should write about "Dr. Pandiya," he says, launching into his personal memories of the man who helped win East Indians the right to vote by travelling to Ottawa and camping out on Parliament Hill. "What he did was really something."