Becoming Canadian: Pioneer Sikhs In Their Own Words


Section 3

Mr. Manga S. Jagpal got his start in farming by working as a gardener for Colonel Victor Spencer in 1930. " After landing, all of us were taken to the gurdwara by the temple people. They contacted our relatives and then my uncle came and took me to
Mr.Manga Singh Jagpal
Mr.Manga Singh Jagpal
the Spencer home at 1750 Trimble Street. He had been their gardener for the last thirteen years and I lived with him in the separate gardener’s quarters. It was a little lonely at first, being fifteen years old, and away from home for the first time. "

" We worked for very good people. Sometimes white men would make fun of my turban as they passed by on the road. They would make weird noises and I got into a few fights, until Mr. Spencer had a talk with them. He had been in India in World War One and knew the meaning of the turban to the Sikhs. He told the neighborhood people to treat us with respect, and they did after that. He was a very powerful man. He even told his own children to be careful when playing with me so as not to touch my turban. His children were about the same age as me and we often played together. "

" When I started working there I got paid 45 dollars a month, with no living costs. This was good money, these were Depression times, and some millworkers only made a dollar a day then. Then work was very easy, we worked according to our own schedule. He had a ten-acre estate and we looked after all the gardening. He also had his own carpenter and greenhouse man. "

" I worked there for three years, then Mrs. Spencer got me a job at the Jericho Golf and Country Club, at my request. The wages were better there, 35 cents an hour, nine hours a day. I worked there from 1933 to 1941. We had our own on-site housing here as well. Many of our old-timers worked here, my villagers. Harnam Singh was the boss of thirteen or fourteen people there, it was a huge golf course. Our people were the ones that originally built it. In 1936, I got the foreman’s job from Harnam Singh, the others were all getting too old and I was younger and could do all the work. "

" In 1941, this golf course sold out and moved to the British Properties. That was too far for me to go, so I tried to get a job with the Parks Board as a gardener. I remember going to their office, in Stanley Park and asking for a job. When I told the fellow at the front desk about my experiences working for the Spencer family and the golf course, he was astonished. He said, " How did you get such good work? " I answered that I got the good jobs because I was capable and could do the work. He said that he’d never hire me there because I was a foreigner. So I started looking for work in a sawmill. "

Mr. Manga S. Jagpal later owned farms in Chilliwack, Mission and Pitt Meadows.

For the Sikhs in British Columbia the 1920s and 1930s was also a time for family reunification and community building with the arrival of the wives and children, and during this period the first Sikhs were born in Canada. The community had to battle hard economic times, prejudice in the job market and poor working conditions. But the strong family and community network helped them achieve better jobs, pay and accommodations. The Sikhs were highly mobile and sensitive to the fluctuations in the job market. They worked hard, lived frugally, saved their money and co-operated with one another.

Sikh men and women who lived through the Depression years attribute their success to their strong sense of community and their social and religious network. It was the key to their survival during the 1930s, when many mills closed and other jobs were hard to get. " Our people did not want relief or handouts., " says Mr. Lachman S. Thandi. " Our temple committee openly stated that Sikhs will not ask for relief, as the other people are asking. We will take care of our own people, we don’t need your handouts. We looked after our people first class. We never let the food supplies run out at the gurdwara. I know that. There were piles of flour sacks. The wood was always piled high . There was plenty of tea, cans of milk, boxes of butter, salt, spices, peppers. There was one man, Chinta, and whenever he would come to the Gurdwara he’d bring two pounds of hot peppers. He’d say, " I only have these peppers, that’s all I can give. I hope you’ll remember me for that. " That’s how we managed during those rough times, by sticking together. "

Mr. Ranjit S. Hall says that wherever you went, " all you had to do was look up a Singh and they would help. "

" The old-timers were always there for one another. " Mr. Manga S. Jagpal adds. " If someone got a bad letter from India, everyone laid their paycheques on the table. If they were in trouble and needed money or someone in their family got hurt or damage to crops happened back home, we all helped. We’d say pay us back when you can, just send the money now. "

Sardara S. Gill (Punjabi): The Depression Years

As always, the temple played an important role during these years. It was the base of operations, the headquarters for whatever action took place. All communications with India, within the province and with Ottawa went through the temple committee, the Khalsa Diwan Society. Housing, employment, health and welfare could all be taken care of at the Gurdwara. Thanks to the efforts of the temple committees and the work ethic of the community, the Sikhs’ economic fortunes began to change for the better.

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