Tara Singh Johal

"It was a rough life for our people."

"It was a rough life for our people," says Tara Singh Johal as he looks back on his experiences as a new immigrant in B.C. in the late 1940s. Tara Singh had to leave his wife, Harbans, behind in India when he travelled from Punjab to B.C. in 1948. He worked in a mill and lived in a bunkhouse with up to 30 other mill workers.

"We didn't have proper houses back then; the money wasn't there," he says, but adds that what members of the Indian community lacked in material wealth, they made up for in camaraderie and "love for each other. Every door was open and everyone was welcome," he says. "Today, we all have cars, land and houses, and life is undoubtedly better in that respect. But while we've gained in material possessions and now we have everything we only dreamed of back then, we've lost the sense of community that we used to have. And the problems we had back then were manageable; they were mostly money problems and people were always willing to help each other. The problems we have today, like the violence you see on the news, are much worse."

After travelling back and forth between B.C. and Punjab in the 1950s, Tara Singh brought his wife and children to Canada in 1961 and also helped more than a dozen members of his extended family to immigrate. Once his wife and children had arrived, Tara Singh moved the family from Vancouver to Surrey. "It was a small community back then and I wanted my family to live in a safe, quite place."

Tara Singh adds that he was always proud to be part of a community whose members had earned a reputation for being hard-working, law-abiding citizens. "We considered it a gift to be in this country and we never took it for granted."