Canadian Sikh Heritage | Bachan Kaur Alamwala
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Bachan Kaur Alamwala

Bachan Kaur Alamwala came to Canada in 1960 from the village of Alamwala, Punjab. Before her marriage, she grew up in the village of Chupkiti near District Moga. In 1948, Bachan Kaur was married to Sarwan Singh Alamwala. Sarwan Singh was born in Canada on September 7, 1932 to parents Kishan Singh and Harnam Kaur at the Vancouver General Hospital, but moved back to India with his mother at the age of five due to his mother’s health problems. Seventeen years later in 1949, Sarwan Singh was the first in the family to return to Canada and was married at this point. He then sponsored Bachan Kaur and his children after his arrival. Bachan Kaur arrived in 1960 with her eleven year eldest daughter, Surinder and her six year old son Jasvir. Bachan Kaur recalls traveling to Canada on an airplane and how Sarwan Singh came to receive his family at the airport.

When they first arrived, the Alamwala family lived in Lake Cowichan along with Sarwan Singh’s brother, Daljit Singh and his family. Upon arrival, Bachan Kaur found Canada to be a great place with many Indian families living near them. At first she wore traditional Punjabi suits, however she began wearing dresses and pants because the community in Lake Cowichan were mostly Caucasian. At the time there were two mills in the area and all the Indian men worked there. Sarwan Singh worked at a mill in Honeymoon Bay. Sarwan Singh and his brother shared one car during the days in Lake Cowichan. Later on, Bachan Kaur gave birth to two more children, Avtar and Jagtar at the Duncan Hospital. In total, Bachan Kaur’s family had four children, one daughter and three sons.

In 1968, the mills in Honeymoon Bay shut down and the Alamwala family decided to work and live on a farm in Abbotsford. They purchased a ten acre farm and Bachan Kaur began working in a cannery while her children went to school. The cannery was owned by a Caucasian man who paid Bachan Kaur one dollar per hour. During this time, Sarwan Singh and his brother found work in a mill located in Squamish so they moved out there. However, they would always return back home in Abbotsford on the weekends and leave again at the start of the week. Sarwan Singh only worked at the mill for about four or five years and started his own farm work after that. Bachan Kaur also worked approximately two years at the cannery until she decided to work on the family farm. She explains how the work at the cannery and farms was very strict. It was said that if all the bushes were picked thoroughly, the picker would receive 75 cents and if even a little berry were left behind, the rate would be 60 cents.

Bachan Kaur remembers wearing Punjabi suits when they would visit the Gurdwara. They only attended on special occasions because due to its distance it took time to travel there. Routine errands such as grocery shopping would be done at the Funks Food store, Super Value, or Co-op located near the Clearbrook area at the time. Bachan Kaur describes how when she went shopping everytime they were out of stock because the stores were all within a walking distance. She would go and put the groceries on her tab and later her husband would pay the bill. Indians did not own many stores at the time, most of the stores were run by Caucasians. Bachan Kaur recalls that to communicate, they would simply place the items on the counter and pay the price they were told. The average cost of groceries for their family was $100-$150 per month. She would go and get about $15 worth at one time. Sometimes she would even go to the Overwaitea store and purchase three to four loaves of bread for only a dollar.

Later, Bachan Kaur sponsored her brother, Mehr Singh, to come to Canada. At the time there was a law that allowed an individual to sponsor their siblings. Since her brother was a teacher and quite educated, he was able to apply for himself. However, immigration told him to apply for work in Canada first and once he found a job, he would be given a visa. Because of this stipulation, Mehr Singh found work in Edmonton but since Bachan Kaur’s letter was accepted first, he arrived in Canada around 1967. Upon arrival, Mehr Singh received a certificate to teach here and after completing a six month course, he pursued a teaching job in Edmonton. Later, Bachan Kaur went on to sponsor her other siblings and family as well.

The first time Bachan Kaur returned to India was in 1975 for her son, Jasvir’s wedding. Instead of the entire family, it was her two sons, Jasvir and Jagtar whoaccompanied her on the trip for the four months.

Today, the Alamwala’s continue to live on their farm in Abbotsford and remain a prominent fixture in the Sikh pioneering history in the Valley.