Tok Herar

"I was selected to go with the Punjab Soccer Team to play in Canada."

Tok Herar remembers spending hours pouring over books about Canada while he was studying sciences in Jandiala, India. He was fascinated by the vast country and yearned to travel there.

In 1951, the 19-year-old soccer player got the opportunity to compete in the country he dreamed of visiting. "I was selected to go with the Punjab Soccer Team to play in Canada," he says.

By the time he returned to Punjab, he knew he wanted to make Canada his permanent home. However, Herar's parents were not keen on him moving abroad.

"They expected me to take over the family clothing business," says the 77-year-old, who was the second of five siblings. "But right away, after I returned from competing in Canada, I started the immigration process."

As the captain of an elite soccer team in Jandiala, the soccer star hoped his athleticism would sway the Canadian High Commission in his favour.

It did.

"The immigration officer played soccer in Victoria," he says with a laugh. "Our commonality won him over."

In April 1952, Herar was bound for British Columbia.

Herar recalls the advice the immigration officer gave him. He conveyed to Herar the importance of involving himself in all aspects of Canadian way of life, including volunteer work.

Herar's first job in his adopted country was with Dharney Fuel, delivering firewood to households across the Fraser Valley for $1.20 an hour. "At the time, I was so happy to be in Canada and I was making money, so I didn't care how much money they paid me," he says.

Herar was offered room and board in the Vancouver home of a family friend from India. "I lived with him and his family for a few years before I got on my own feet," he says.

During those early years, Herar played soccer for Mission, scoring goals and winning friends. "I used to train wearing only anklets and no shoes in India, a practice I continued in Canada," says Herar.

He played soccer alongside Mennonites, First Nations, Dutch and Hungarians. "I had friends of all cultures and I have never experienced racism."

Herar hadn't forgotten the advice of the Canadian immigration officer who had approved his application. As soon as he'd established his livelihood, Herar soon began a lifelong commitment to community service in both sports and civic affairs.

Over the ensuing years, Herar coached soccer, tennis and badminton. He also got involved in the Boy Scouts of Canada, and in 1957 he joined the local Rotary Club. Decades later, the City of Mission would recognize Herar's 50 years of service to his community by naming a street, Herar Lane, after him.

In 1957, he and his friend, Floyd Harris, decided to travel the world for one year. It was a trip that took him to the United States, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and eventually back home to India. It was on that trip that the 24-year-old Herar met and married his first wife, Kandi. Tragically, she died of throat cancer shortly after giving birth to the couple's son Daljit, in India.

"Because of Kandi's health issues, the Canadian authorities wouldn't allow her to immigrate here."

Herar returned to B.C. a year later, and it would be nine years before he could bring his son Daljit to Canada.

Herar was offered a job with North American Life as an insurance agent. He worked hard during the day and studied at night, learning all he could about the insurance industry and taking public speaking courses to "improve" himself.

Herar remarried and he and his wife, Kuldip, bought a three-bedroom house in Mission, where they raised three sons, including Herar's firstborn, Daljit.