Sardul Singh Gill was 16 years old when Canadians of Indian descent won the right to vote in 1947. "Up to that point in time, I think most Asians didn't feel secure here at all," says Gill, who was born and raised in Victoria.
"They worked here but purchased land in India or other places because they were afraid the day would come when the same thing that happened to the Japanese - who were packed up in trains and sent to camps in the Interior during the war - could happen to Indians. Up to that point in time, very few people in the Indian community built any property around here because they felt they would be left high and dry if they were asked to leave. When we got our voting rights, people felt more secure and I myself encouraged my father, who had been living here since 1906, not to buy more property in India but to establish himself here."
After graduating from high school in Victoria, Gill opted not to get a job in a sawmill, which was the route taken by many of his Indo-Canadian peers, but to go to college to pursue a degree in commerce. (Gill's sister, Birinder, also attended university, eventually becoming a teacher). Although Gill's parents encouraged his ambitions, others were less supportive.
"I remember one counsellor in high school telling me I should go into mechanics instead." recalls Gill. "And some friends and relatives tried to discourage my father from sending me to school. I think they thought I'd end up back in the sawmill anyway because that's where most people ended up."
After graduating from the University of British Columbia in 1956 with a BA, Gill found a job with Revenue Canada. "There were better jobs in the oil industry and other places but there was less discrimination in the government," says Gill. "Private industry wasn't much of an option when I was young. I remember one company telling me straight to my face that I might not fit in. I got the gist of that - they didn't want to hire me because of my colour."
Gill says he's happy to see that Indo-Canadians no longer face the level of discrimination that he did. "There was racial discrimination back then much more so than there is now. It was overt, whereas now it's probably more subtle.
"People today have much more opportunity. You can pretty well get a job anywhere and a lot more people have their own businesses in different areas. In my time, there was just the lumber industry."
Sardul Gill left his job as a supervisor at Revenue Canada in 1986, after 30 years, to focus on managing his apartment blocks and commercial properties. He recently donated $5 million to the University of Victoria. The naming of the Sardul S. Gill Graduate School at the university represents the first time in Canada that such an institution has been named after a philanthropist of Sikh Indian descent.