31 Oct Santokh Singh Gill (village Chuhar Chakk)
The Humble Pioneer with an Entrepreneurial Vision
Mehar Singh Gill recalls the humbleness and success achieved by his father, Santokh Singh Gill, as we sit in the living room of his home in Coquitlam. Santokh Singh Gill was a humble Sikh pioneer, who helped his community selflessly, and devoted his time to the Gurdwara and his family. Mehar Singh recalls, “[m]y father, Santokh Singh Gill, arrived in 1907 by boat. He didn’t know what to expect.” Santokh Singh was advised upon arrival that sawmill work was available and so, following the advice he was successful in acquiring an “Edgermans” position at a sawmill in Queensborough. The local sawmills preferred to employ South Asian workers as they proved to be very hard workers but would also be paid at a fraction of what their Caucasian counterparts were paid.
After a short time, Santokh Singh established himself as a dependable worker and so once he had attained steady employment he decided he would return to India in order to get married. Many other young Sikh men followed suit. Immigration laws were very stringent, especially from 1906 until the 1930’s- this was especially so for South Asians, Chinese, and other East Asians. It was necessary to apply to the Immigration department upon your return- acceptance was sporatic and time consuming. A majority of immigrants settled into areas where jobs were more available with the more popular areas being in: Vancouver Island, Queensborough, Fraser Mills, Abbotsford (farming), and Vancouver.
Sikhs established Sri Gurdwara Sahibs in these areas: Fraser Mills, Abbotsford, Queensborough, Vancouver, and Victoria. Most of these Gurdwaras were older homes renovated to accommodate the Sangat. It was a community co-operative effort. One of the first Sri Gurdwara Sahibs was in Abbotsford. Streetcars were still in existence for transportation back in those days, and the whole family would pack up and spend most of a day on the occasion at the Gurdwara Sahib.
Life was quite difficult in those earlier years. The majority of Sikh families owned at best one cow or two and a fair size garden to subsidize family expenses. Milk from the cows was used at home and in the instance of excessive milk it was sold in the neighborhood. Santokh Singh Gill owned chickens, and the extra eggs were sold to neighbors.
The average house was quite small. The whole family would share one bathroom and it was fairly common for two or three families to share one home. The homes were heated by firewood which was used for cooking in stoves or wood furnaces for heating. The wood was normally acquired from the local sawmills at a very reasonable cost.
In the late 1930’s Santokh Singh Gill had his own Wood Fuel Delivery Transport company. In the 1940’s he expanded his business and hauled lumber in Vancouver and Mitchell Island. By the 1950’s Santokh Singh Gill and his sons further expanded the business by establishing a freight transport company. As such, Gill Interprovincial Lines Ltd was formed to haul freight to and from Eastern Canada. The company had many trucks in the fleet and it was a great accomplishment that Santokh Singh’s company was the first to transport frozen and refrigerated items in cool containers.
Santokh Singh Gill was married to Sham Kaur Gill (Kingra) from village Samadh Bhai located in district Moga. Togther they had four sons: Ajaib Singh Gill, Dalip Singh Gill, Mehar Singh Gill, and Piara Singh Gill. All four sons were born in New Westminster BC. Today, Santokh Singh and Sham Kaur Gill’s many grandchildren and great-grandchildren live in the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, and U.S.A.
*This interview was given by Mehar Singh Gill on behalf of his father late Sardar Santokh Singh Gill.09