I am really glad to know and feel very good that on Nov. 24 at Quest University there is a seminar going to be held on first Sikh Pioneer in Squamish area, presented by two young Sikh boys, Rajkaran Singh Hans and Navdeep Singh Tatla. It is easy to understand a person or a community’s present or to make any decision about it, one should be familiar with their past and history or in other words we can say that only knowledge can get rid of ignorance, otherwise ignorance can lead to many social and criminal problems. So there is no doubt that in this area and the people who do not know about what Sikh community contributed in this society, there is no better effort to let them know about this community through this seminar and it should continue in future.
I received immigration for this beautiful and fascinating Canada in November 2005. Before this I served as a political science professor in Punjab. Luckily, after coming to Canada, Squamish became my first destination in this country. The very first thing I did was I bought a Burger King Restaurant located on Highway 99 and then I bought a nice house in the Highlands (which is situated in lap of nature) on very quiet and peaceful cul-de-sac and started a new beginning of my life. Nov. 18, 2005 became a memorable day in my life as I saw a turbaned Sikh photo on municipal election board alongside the road. I stopped and read the name of Rajinder Singh Kahlon and then a few minutes later I saw a turbaned Sikh man driving a public transit bus. I have only read about this religious freedom in the books and taught my students about this but saw it only for the first time in my life. Right then I decided to grow my beard and start wearing a turban, which is primary identity of a Sikh. And the second question that came into my mind was when did the first Sikh came into this region? So I decided to do some research on this.
The first accomplishment for my attempt was when I approached Squamish Historical Society website. It stated that the small number of Sikh families started living in this area around 1892. According to this website, the first Europeans settled in this region in 1874 and two decades later about 35 families started living in today’s Brackendale area. Sikhs worked in sawmills and their families lived in houses situated at waterfront area currently known as Squamish downtown. The second proof of my research is Pal Singh Dhaliwal who now is his 90s and presently lives in Abbotsford. According to him, in 1932, from his port of landing in Victoria, he took a small boat to come to Vancouver then got a ride to Abbotsford where he joined his uncle for a month. He came to know that the owner of a Mission sawmill was looking for workers for his new mill around Green Lake in current Whistler. He worked in this mill for long time along with other Sikh workers. He went back to Punjab in 1947 to get married.
Former mayor Mr. Greg Gardner in his article on Sikh pioneers in the Sea to Sky region in Chief newspaper on June 5, 2009, stated that a number of Sikh families were settled in Squamish region in 60s which included the Lallis, the Bilns and the Mehngers. Apart from logging and sawmills, they started working in mining and CN railways as well. After this, a Sikh Gurdwara (place of worship) was established in Squamish which represents the Sikh community’s long contribution in the development and growth of this region. As everyone knows, the Sikhs believes in one God. Human equality, welfare for all and helps every needy person without any distinction are fundamental principles of Sikhism.
In 2011 census, the Sikh community become Squamish’s second largest community and the Punjabi language spoken by them is also the second most prominent language in sea to sky region. So currently it’s not wrong to say that Sikhs are playing a role as a backbone in every field or profession for the growth and development of this region. For example, Mr. Rajinder Singh Kahlon and Mr. Paul Lalli served this region as elected representatives for municipality for two terms. Every year in June, there is a parade held by Sikhs in the memory of first martyr of Sikhism — that’s fifth master Guru Arjan Dev Ji in which Sikhs demonstrate the long contribution done by them in this region. In the end, I pray that from almighty that all of us together make an effort for prosperity and development of our beloved Squamish and Whistler.
Amrinder Singh Ghangas