Becoming Canadian: Pioneer Sikhs In Their Own Words


Section 3

In 1918, the two men established the Mayo Lumber Company, a much larger Mill near Duncan. A small mill town, called Paldi after Mayo’s village in India, developed around this mill. Several hundred people worked there, and Mayo built a small Sikh temple for this community in 1918 and a much larger temple in 1928. By the mid-1930s there was a fair-sized a Sikh community in Paldi, with many women and children.

Another mill, the Kapoor Mill Company, was started at Sooke Lake in the late 1920’s. This mill also had a logging camp at Shawnigan Lake , which employed about 300 men. The work force was divided into four groups, each of which occupied a separate camp: white men, Sikhs, Chinese and Japanese A one-room schoolhouse served the whole school community. In the late 1930’s, according to Mr. Kuldeep S. Bains, only two Sikh families resided there. The rest were single men.

" Going to the mill was quite an experience, " recalls Mr. Dedar S. Sihota. " It took practically a whole day from Victoria, to go
Sikh millworkers
Sikh millworkers
by a rickety old vehicle, over logging roads, up and down, twisting, with big boulders in the way, before you would arrive at the mill. It was very isolated but there was a community right there. A lot of our people, Punjabis working in the mill, some Canadian people, some Chinese. There was a store, a little one-room school and in the school they had grades one to ten. We moved into a bunkhouse, about three of us in one small room. Two of us boys would be in bed. The rooms would be 12 feet by 12 feet in the bunkhouses. In a long bunkhouse there might be eight or ten such rooms, with a central area. A drum stove would keep the place warm in the wintertime. The washrooms, they’d be detached, away from the main bunkhouse. There would be a cookhouse nearby where all the food was prepared. There was a cook who prepared all the food and looked after purchasing and so on. The cost to each individual was shared, it was sort of a democratic household, run on that basis.

Mayo and Kapoor Singh used their wealth for the benefit of their community. They provided jobs for the men, led the fight for equal rights, and financed many delegations to Ottawa to explain their problems to government officials. And they brought in speakers to inform and inspire the men. Kuldeep Bains says: " Once in a while in the cookhouse they’d have speeches about politics and all that, what’s happening in India and who’s right and what the congress party and British are doing. Sadhu Singh Dhami used to come there and people from the Victoria and Vancouver gurdwaras would come as well. Sometimes to collect money. We’d give one or two dollars, it was big deal in those days. If anything came up in India, some disaster, they’d raise money in this way. "

These were two community leaders who cared for their workers. They would later be instrumental in getting the franchise for East Indians in Canada.

Agriculture was the other main enterprise, besides lumbering, that the Sikhs engaged in. They had come from a farming background in the Punjab; so they came here knowing how to farm and how to live off the land. Most of them worked on rented land until they could afford to buy their own farms, which were mostly partnerships or co-operative ventures. They worked on vegetable farms in Ladner, Abbotsford, Agassiz, Kamloops, Saanich and Pitt Meadows, among other communities.



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