Canadian Sikh Heritage | Santokh Singh and Prakash Kaur Mann
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Santokh Singh and Prakash Kaur Mann

Santokh Singh’s father, Pritam Singh, was the first in his family to immigrate to Canada in 1905 from the village of Tuto Mazara, district Hoshiarpur. He arrived in Victoria and worked there on the railroads and selling wood. Pritam Singh and other Indian workers would take wood and sell it to the mills with carts and horses. Later, he returned to India to marry and brought his wife, Nand Kaur, to Canada in 1926. On September 8, 1928, Nand Kaur gave birth to Santokh Singh Mann in Victoria, BC. She later passed away so Pritam Singh took his son to India in 1931.

Santokh Singh remained in India while his father returned to Canada in 1933. In Tuto Mazara, Santokh Singh was raised by his grandmother until the age of six, when she passed away. He was then raised by his relatives and married Prakash Kaur on September 5, 1948. A month later, he travelled to Canada and reached in October of 1948.

However, he came to his father’s cousin on Vancouver Island because Pritam Singh had passed away on October 5th, 1946. His father’s cousin, Sohan Singh Mann, lived in Great Central Lake near Port Alberni. He had arranged for Santokh Singh’s ticket to Canada which was $2800 at the time! It took him about four days to reach Canada because of the various stopovers in America. Santokh Singh remembers arriving to Canada with very minimum luggage: two shirts, one pair of pajamas, one pair of pants, and a turban in his little suitcase.

Before her marriage, in 1947, Prakash Kaur was in Lahore for a year and a half to complete her training for social work. This included things like working in backward villages in Punjab and teaching skills such as; educating people, nursing, planting and various other life skills. She recalls this as a very terrifying time with the feelings of partition going around India. After coming back to India, she pursued a government job in Gurgaon near Delhi. Then in 1950, she finished her job and Bachelors in Arts before coming to Canada.

After her husband sponsored her, Prakash Kaur arrived to Victoria in 1951. She remembers that at the time it was snowing a lot and she found it very strange because it was her first time witnessing snowfall. She packed only a couple of Punjabi suits with her and describes how she only wore them at home and wore pants or dresses to town.

Santokh Singh had rotated through many different jobs. Before coming to Canada, he had been in the Indian Military for a little while in 1946-1947. Later when he arrived, he worked at a mill in Port Alberni where the initial pay was $0.65/hr, but once it was unionized the pay increased to $1.00/hr. He then worked in Youbou for a year, then Honeymoon Bay, and also in Paldi at Mayo’s Lumber mill. In 1960, Santokh Singh started working for Doman.

According to Santokh Singh, the community was very close-knit and supportive in those days. He remembers when he first arrived, one day all the mill workers sat down for dinner and everyone there gave him five dollars out of their pockets. They wanted to help him out so he did not feel alone. Even though the daily pay was a mere five dollars, they were generous and raised $600 for him.

Upon receiving work at Mayo’s mill, Santokh Singh and Prakash Kaur moved to Paldi. They explain how Mayo wanted Prakash Kaur to teach Punjabi to the children at the gurdwara and was very helpful to them. He had a house fixed and cleaned for them which they rented. Due to Prakash Kaur’s teaching job, they paid $15/month rent although the regular rate was $25-30/month.

During their time in Paldi, Santokh Singh and Prakash Kaur had three children: Kulminder Singh, Kuldeep Kaur, and Kuljinder Singh. They describe how they kept their own cows and the children would take the milk and they also made their butter at home. Later when they moved to Duncan, Kuljit Kaur was born. Before her last child, Prakash Kaur worked in a kitchen at Queen Margaret’s School (girl’s boarding school).

Prakash Kaur describes how the family used to visit the Abbotsford gurdwara too. At the time, all major events would be shared by the different gurdwaras in B.C. and Abbotsford celebrated Guru Hargobind Singh Ji’s langar. Whenever there was a major event, the whole community went together and attended.

An interesting thing Santokh Singh explains is that when he was in India and used to send letters to his father, he would address them to the different gurdwaras. When he did not know his father’s address, someone had told him to send a letter to any of the gurdwaras and it would surely reach his father. So when everyone got together at an event at one of the gurdwaras, Pritam Singh would receive the letter. He was known to go by the name “Leader Singh Leader” in those days because of all the seva (work) he did at the Victoria gurdwara.

The Mann family continues to live in Duncan today and are blessed with nine grandchildren and five great grandchildren. Santokh Singh and Prakash Kaur Mann enjoy spending time with their family and are happily blessed with all that God has provided them with.

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