Canadian Sikh Heritage | Bhan Singh Randhawa
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Bhan Singh Randhawa

Ranjit Singh Randhawa was born in 1959 in Village Randhawa Masandan, district Jalandhar. Ranjit’s father, Bhan Singh Randhawa was born on January 10, 1901 at the same village and was married to Pritam Kaur Randhawa who belonged to village Cheemakalan, district NoorMehal. Bhan Singh and Pritam Kaur had five daughters: Simar Kaur, Mohinder Kaur, Gurbaksh Kaur, Santokh Kaur, Narinder Kaur and three sons: Harbhajan Singh, Gurmail Singh and Ranjit Singh. According to Ranjit Singh, his father Bhan Singh was an incredibly talented being. In addition to being the 6’’2 striding and strong person that he was, he was also highly intelligent. Certainly, apart from speaking English fluently, Bhan Singh also spoke in Spanish and Mandarin, and knew Urdu and Farsi as well.

Bhan Singh’s decision to leave his family and migrate to Canada was based on a quarrel he had with his family. Bhan Singh and his brother had a quarrel with their mother and Bhan Singh left the house. It was this quarrel that led Bhan Singh to pursue a life in Canada. At that time Bhan Singh used to work at an army station as an importer; and after working there for a few years he became more and more fascinated with the large ships which came from abroad. He wanted to work on those ships and so in 1920, he and his friend boarded a ship and jumped off the said ship when they reached the USA-hiding somewhere in the meantime.

During this time there was no communication between Bhan Singh and his parents. It wasn’t until the year 1925 when Bhan Singh and his friend boarded a cargo train from Yuba City to Sumas, jumped off the train in Sumas and came to Abbotsford. Bhan Singh was 19 years old at the time. Five years went by without having a contact with his parents, when Bhan Singh finally sent a letter home on getting permanent residency in Canada. He was 19 when he came abroad to Canada and returned to India at the age of 35 to get married. Another reason for his going back to India was that Bhan Singh wanted to meet his parents after getting a permanent residency in Canada. Upon his return to India, Bhan Singh married Pritam Kaur from the Village Cheemakalan, located in District NoorMehal.

He came back to Canada after five years of marriage in India and would subsequently go back and forth after every five years. Even after travelling frequently between India and Canada, he earned his profits by farming on the land he owned in India. In Canada, he used to work at the very famous Paldi mill and even once worked at a gold mine. He had to leave his home in Abbotsford to work in Paldi, as no jobs were available at that time in Abbotsford. Ranjit Singh remembers the layout of the city of Abbotsford as told by his father Bhan Singh, saying that South Fraser way used to be a freeway to Hope and there used to a potato farm instead of the Gur Sikh Temple Gurudwara.

As single men without their wives in Canada, all the Indian men like Bhan Singh used to live together in bunkhouses. Bhan Singh had also shared some interesting stories with his children about his stay in such bunkhouses. For example, he would tell them that in the bunkhouse, one person prepared food for all the people and Bhan Singh wrote letters back to their families in India because the other people couldn’t read and write. Being more educated, Bhan Singh also helped in the construction of the historic Gur Sikh temple in Abbotsford. Interestingly, Bhan Singh also knew many pioneers who came to Canada at that time such as: Sucha Singh Thandi, Sunder Singh Thandi and Inder Singh Gill.

Bhan Singh had shared his experience and stories of racism with his children, one of which was recalled by his son Ranjit Singh. Ranjit Singh said that when his father used to go out at night, he had to be very cautious of the Caucasian people. Even if four or five people were out together at night, they used to carry a kirpan or stick with themselves in defence. Out of concern for each other, they all used to be in contact with each other every day just to make sure that the others were okay. Ranjit Singh recalls his own experiences of racism, adding that because he was the only Punjabi child at Abbotsford High School, when he used to sit on a chair, other children used to pull his chair back and make him fall. Likewise if he went to use his locker, other students banged his head into the locker. Certainly, racism existed well into the 70’s and 80’s in the community of Abbotsford. But still pioneers such as Bhan Singh and Ranjit Singh persevered on. Even when others suggested Bhan Singh cut his hair, he refused to do so, adhering strongly to his Sikh faith and never giving up on reciting his Gurbani.

Wherever Bhan Singh went it seemed he forged great friendships and allies. Indeed, while he worked at Snowcrest packers, the manager trusted him so much that he signed the papers for Bhan Singh to apply for his sons to come to Canada. Another anecdote as told by Ranjit Singh about Bhan Singh really demonstrates the kind of man the ladder was. Ranjit’s grandmother wasn’t happy when his sister was born which made Bhan Singh angry. Bhan Singh went on to say that ‘my daughters are dearer to me than my sons and even if you don’t give food to me you shouldn’t feel bad about the girl being born.’ Such was the mind of Bhan Singh.  Bhan Singh was also an honest and generous person as he always gave $10 or $20 to any child who came to his house, or even if he (Bhan Singh) would drink a glass of water in someone else’s house, he would return the favour my gifting monies to the children in the house.

Bhan Singh had a very good and understanding relationship with his wife Pritam Kaur. According to son Ranjit Singh and daughter Narinder Kaur, neither had ever witnessed the couple ardue, and they both were glad to have had such lovely parents in their lives. Bhan Singh’s legacy also superseded him in his village back in India as he built himself a reputation in his village Randhawa Masandan as being such a generous human being.

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