Canadian Sikh Heritage | Giani Harnam Singh
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Giani Harnam Singh

Giani Harnam Singh was a kind and gentle man who always thought of others and was considerate of their feelings. He offered people spiritual guidance. He was a Granthie, an Akandphati and a fine family man who loved and guided his family, who still to this day practice their religion. He was known as Singh through all of our lives in trucking, contracting and farming.  The loving memories of those precious years will guide me through my lonely days. Your unconditional love, laughter and dedication to humanity have made the world a better place. I will miss you forever. My Dad – Family Man and Akandphati.

Even when I was small I considered my father my hero. I always looked up to him, supported him, loved him, appreciated him and most of all respected him.  I remember that he always had kind words to say for every situation. From what I remember, he related everything with our religion and our Par Matma. He would always refer to sayings and teachings from the Guru Granth Sahib Ji. The first time I remember an example of this was when I was a child. I had fallen and I had cut my left hand in the process.  My father told me to say Waheguru repeatedly while my mother was busy bandaging up my left hand. My father always spoke to me in Punjabi as he knew little English. When I started school in Paldi, which is located on Vancouver Island, I failed grade one. This was the consequence of speaking little or no English at home.  While I was in Paldi some women commented how nice a boy I was and that I should thumb my nose to my dad. And so I did. Until this day, my ears feel very hot and funny because when I did, my dad grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and told me that I had just thumbed my nose to our Baba and that I have just disrespected Waheguru. He sat me closer to the front of the Gurdwara so that I could become closer to God and so that I could pay attention to the Phat. To this day I still sit very close to the front of the Gurdwara. I’m easy to find in Gurdwara because my family knows where I will be seated. I remember coming home from the Paldi Gurdwara with a very bad stomach ache. My mom was worried sick about me while my dad was still at the Gurdwara speaking to the mill owner, Mayo Singh, Kartar Singh and Granthie Munsha Singh about the sawmill, the logging train, and shareholders. My mom sent a message to the Gurdwara to inform my dad about my ailment. When my father arrived home, a Japanese man by the name of Choy had driven my mother father and me to the Duncan Hospital. It was my first time in an automobile. At the hospital, the doctor, Dr. Bissett diagnosed me as having had a burst appendix. I was admitted into the hospital and kept on prescription drugs and intravenous. A month later, the doctor said that if I made it through the upcoming weekend I would be alright. He also said that I would be operated on later on down the road. By this time, my dad’s good friend Bisa Singh Johal had just bought a brand new car. Mr. Johal informed Battan Singh and Mahinder Singh Dhutt, both from Victoria, about my illness. They came to visit me and my parents at Duncan hospital and shared their concerns and best wishes. After visiting, they all returned to Victoria. Battan Singh announced the fact that l was in the hospital in the Victoria Gurdwara. A special Ardass was held for me meanwhile, Mayo Singh and Kartar Singh also held an Ardass for me at the Paldi Gurdwara. I survived the crisis even though I was hospitalized for seven months. My mom would come to the hospital about three times a week to visit me. She would often come with Anna Singh, who regularly delivered wood to Duncan. I’ll never forget the fact that my dad had put a specially wrapped Ghutka under my pillow while I was at the hospital. Today, I have five children and I’ve continued that sacred tradition of placing a specially wrapped Ghutka under their pillows. This thoughtful gesture started by my father has always helped me and my family throughout my life. After I had an operation on my appendix my father told me it was Waheguru who saved me. I then proceeded to learn the first Pauri of the Mool Mantar. I never forgot it and have taught all my children this prayer which has always helped me and always will.   My father was a very learned man. He was a man of the cloth. He was looked upon and was well respected by others all his life. Mayo Singh of Paldi respected my father the most. When Mayo Singh received forest land a few miles from Duncan, Mayo and his relatives raised money and started the Mayo Lumbar Company and Mayo railroad. However, some relatives of Mayo Singh wanted shares and some didn’t. Because Mayo Singh trusted and respected my father he called upon my father to act as the arbitrator to end the animosity.   My dad’s education and the understanding between people and my father was that he was a God-loving man of the cloth and was respected to the highest extent.  I witnessed this when we went anywhere in the Sikh community and when participating in Sikh functions such as gatherings, weddings, funerals, receptions and Akhandphats. I was proud of my dad. Everywhere he went he would take me with him. The highlights of these outings were when dad entered any room and people would stand and my father would shake hands with everybody. In those days everyone was very close and cared about each other with the highest regard.   My father would always share and relate with other people. He prayed for everyone, whether they were in happiness or in sickness or if they had problems. He told everyone to have faith in our Gurus.   In 1938 while we were still in Paldi my father started teaching me to read and write Punjabi under the guidance of a lone lantern. This was the first time I was introduced in depth to the Guru Granth Sahib and to this day I am thankful to him for introducing me to the Holy Granth. My father had the utmost patience and understanding while he was teaching me. He would teach me about God, life, humanity, goodness, kindness, thoughtfulness, and helping others. He would say that everybody can do things for themselves, and that the act of kindness is to do something for somebody else, for God is always looking on you. He would say don’t look for rewards or for compensation for kindness or for helping as God will guide you and give you strength as long as you are honest and fair. I remember that dad would always take a bath in the morning, and would say the full prayer before eating breakfast. In the evening, we would wash up and say the Rehras phat before dinner. We would pray together. I didn’t know all the prayers, but could understand all the points from the Gurbani, which of course kept me on the right path as l grew older.   The old Ross St. Gurdwara, on West 2nd Avenue, otherwise known as the Khalsa Diwan Society was the place where elections were held and differences were sorted out. During the early 20th century, Bhai Soran Singh Meham would come to or Sumas and Agassiz farm with Bhai Monsha Singh, Bhai Gurdit Singh, Bhai Sham Singh, and Bhai Nana Singh. They would come to our farm to discuss all of their differences while having some tea and sweets followed by a grand feast afterwards. My father was always the first to settle any of the differences. He would come upon arrangements which everyone agreed on; for example, he would make their team the executive committee and then choose men for the next year’s office. This way, everyone could voice their opinions and be happy at the same time. Mr. Battan Singh Dhutt, the chairman of the Gurdwara’s Deputation Committee would go to Ottawa in order to speak with immigration ministers about matters which related to South Asian families, relatives, etc. One of the major concerns during the early 20th century was the issue especially of the wives and relatives who couldn’t come to Canada until the men folk had stable jobs and were settled. This was an ongoing battle with the Canadian government at that time.   The main reasons why my Dad was visited by people had to do with issues including settling differences of opinion, financial problems, domestic problems, and also grieving problems, which my Dad would assist the families financially. He would also give a lot of moral support and was there for anyone, anytime. Not only did he assist them through their crisis, but he would also have an ardas or akhand path kirtan. He would wish well for everyone. That was the kind of man my father was and I will always love him for it.

-Written by Sewak Singh Dhaliwal in his manuscript titled: “My Lonely Early Thoughts”.