When Ran Singh Koka left his village in the Punjab in 1905, he knew that he wouldn't be returning any time soon. Ran was a teenager, travelling alone to a country with an alien language and culture to make a better life for himself and the family he one day hoped to have.
After landing on the west coast of Canada, Ran Singh began working on the railways. He worked and saved until he had enough money to buy a small farm in Agassiz, B.C. It took him 20 years.
The year 1925 was a prosperous one for Ran Singh. It was the year he acquired the small dairy farm in Agassiz and went back to India, met Harnam Kaur and returned with her as his wife. In two years, the couple had two girls, Karm and Tej, both born at the Chilliwack hospital.
Wanting to expand his dairy farm and needing equipment to do so, Ran leased over 200 acres of land from the Catholic Church in Chilliwack and sold his Agassiz farm to buy machinery. (The Koka family's second farm would eventually become the site of the Cottonwood shopping centre in Chilliwack.)
Over the following years, Ran and Harnam had five more children. Meanwhile, their herd of cattle grew to 200. The Koka kids would start and end their days milking 120 cows - with a full day of school in between.
For entertainment, the siblings would gather in one sister's room, where they were able to see the screen of the nearby drive-in movie from the window. "We'd all pile in there and watch a movie until they caught us and made us go to bed because we had to get up at 4 o'clock in the morning!" recalls Ran's son George Koka, 67, with a booming laugh.
By the early 1950s, Ran Singh owned three farms in Ladner, and several of the Koka children had married and started farms of their own.
But while the family's fortunes grew, Ran Singh's health began to falter. Suffering from arthritis, he broke one of his legs in 1952. After breaking the other in 1954, he was never able to walk again. In 1967, after more than a decade confined to a wheelchair, Ran Singh passed away, leaving a tremendous legacy.
"If you pulled our whole family together from Grandpa down, there would be about 200 people," says Ran's grandson, Jack Koka. "If you look at how many people came out [to Canada from India] because of Grandpa, either sponsored or in his family here, there would be hundreds and hundreds of people out here because that one person came out here. One person with a dream."