07 Nov Gurbakhsh S. Narang
Battan Singh Beadall was born in 1884 in the village of Dhut Klan, District Hoshiarpur, Punjab. Later on, Battan Singh joined the Indian Army as a part of the Cavalry forces. In 1908, he married Rukhman Kaur and they had a son named Mahinder Singh in 1912. A year later, Battan Singh immigrated to Canada on a freighter ship called the Jardini. Overall, there were thirty-nine passengers from Punjab and Battan Singh was accompanied by two of his villagers on the three month journey overseas. The freighter docked in the Lower Mainland where Battan Singh and his companions worked on farms for a few years before going to Victoria in a CPR boat.
During those days, it was common for Indian men to live and work together. Battan Singh and his companions lived in a house together and worked to build the now infamous Victoria Empress Hotel using manual labour, horses, and wagons. Battan Singh was also very involved in the Indian community and at the time, he helped establish the Sikh Temple on Topaz Avenue in Victoria. The gurdwara took about six years to complete and during that time, he worked as a Secretary on the Temple committee and then a Treasurer. Battan Singh worked hard in the sawmills and as a labourer on farms until he put a share into a small sawmill with Doman Singh in the Vancouver area. However since it was a portable mill, when the supply of timber finished they were out of business. Thereafter, Battan Singh started his own business and bought a horse wagon to sell cordwood. He worked hard selling it door to door until he saved enough money to visit his family back home in India in 1923.
Battan Singh continued to live in India until 1928. During that time his second son, Naranjan Singh, was born in 1926. In 1928, Battan Singh’s eldest son, Mahinder Singh married Karm Kaur. Then in 1929, Mahinder Singh set out to join his father in Victoria. His ticket cost around 600 rupees from Punjab to Canada and 100 rupees from Punjab to Calcutta with 400 rupees for the freighter passageway. Upon arrival, Battan Singh bought his first cordwood truck and Mahinder Singh helped his father sell wood while starting night school to improve his English. At that time, the Sikh population was around five hundred people. Mahinder Singh quickly picked up on English and was able to do liaison work between the Indian community and Immigration Department in addition to working at a travel agency. He worked as a sub-agent and for every client, he would receive a five percent commission which he would turn over to the Temple. In 1931, Mahinder Singh returned to India and stayed there for two years before bringing his mother, wife and brother, Naranjan Singh back with him. The family arrived on November 11, 1933 and a month later Mahinder Singh’s first child, Ajeat Kaur, was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital.
In 1935, Mahinder Singh was able to purchase his first box car from the Hillcrest Lumber Company for one hundred dollars and with that, he started the Hillcrest Fuel Company. He would receive three freight cars of wood a week and employed Chinese labourers to help unload the wood from the truck to the boxcar. During that time, Mahinder Singh’s son, Jeat Singh was born on October 4, 1935. Slowly the Beadall’s became more successful as they bought larger trucks and Mahinder Singh obtained a kindling contract from Chemainus and opened an office in Victoria. After that, he received a sawdust contract from Shawinigan Lumber and a coal contract from Nanaimo via C.P.R.
On April 3, 1937, Mahinder Singh’s second daughter Bindo Kaur was born in Victoria. During this time there was about 700-800 Indians living in Victoria. Mahinder Singh became very involved in the gurdwara and worked on the committee. All Executive members were full Sikhs with turbans at the time. In 1938, Mahinder Singh started the first Punjabi School in the gurdwara. Knowing the importance of education, Mahinder Singh wanted to extend the benefit and help the Indians who could speak their language but not read it.
A short while after, World War Two broke out and throughout these years, Mahinder Singh gave his services to the Immigration Department even if someone needed financial help. It was also during this time on November 17, 1941 Belbant (Buncy) Kaur was born. This time was very hard for society because of the war. Goods bcame very cheap- for instance, a pound of butter was fifteen cents and a fifty pound sack of flour was $1.50. Rations were also allotted for gas, sugar, and butter.
It was predominantly in 1939 that the South Asian community began to fight for their rights- particularly those who were living as illegal migrants in Canada. At the time, Battan Singh and his companions headed a delegation which consisted of Dr. D.P. Pandia, Isher S. Sundher, and Nana Singh to speak with the Ministers of Immigration in Ottawa. Mahinder Singh, in addition to Battan Singh and Doman Singh helped finance the trip. During one of the many trips, Battan Singh also accompanied Dr. Pandia where they stayed for three months at the Chateau Laurel at his expense. However, the group was told to return and inform the Sikh people that no more could come into Canada; but they refused to give up. During this time, Mahinder Singh sent letters of support from the community to help the government realize that people were sincere in their request to not deport the illegal Indians. After many months of negotiations, the Sikh people were given legal status after registering with Immigration. Mahinder Singh volunteered and spent countless hours helping five-hundred Indians in Victoria to become registered. Even when the Immigration Department offered payment, he refused the monies, stating that he simply wanted to help his people. Approximately 2500 people were registered and were then allowed to bring their wives and families from India.
On August 15, 1947, India became a republic which greatly impacted the Sikh people in Canada. Now that their native country was part of the Commonwealth, they were allowed to vote. After a long struggle, they were given a franchise which enabled them to become citizens and vote in 1948. Mahinder Singh was the first Indian in Victoria to cast a ballot and appeared in the newspaper.
In 1949, the first American-Canadian Punjabi Conference was put together by various gurdwaras in North America. Approximately 500 delegates attended this conference in Stockton, California and one of the delegates was Mahinder Singh. This conference was a real success as it dealt with problems within the Sikh communities in both countries. It was also in the same year that Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, visited Vancouver with his daughter, Indira Gandhi. A large parade was held for them in which girls from the Punjabi School in Victoria participated. One of them was Mahinder Singh’s eldest daughter, Ajeat.
At this time, Mahinder Singh and Naginder Singh of the Vancouver Sikh Temple started a petition on the status of Indians in Canada. They questioned whether they were first or second class citizens. The answer they received was that they were considered first class and allowed all the rights that went along with that status. Another petition was sent to the government for the citizen’s rights to bring their blood relatives from India. The Government then asked the 2nd High Commissioner about this status. His reply was to give the Indians the right which would allow further Sikh immigration and not disable other Indians from coming to Canada.
In 1950, a quota system started in which one hundred- fifty Indians of any religion could apply to come to Canada as long as they were sponsored by Indo- Canadian citizens. Later, this quota was doubled to three hundred which included blood relatives and fiancé status. During this time, in the early 1950’s Battan Singh’s wife, Rukhman Kaur passed away from cancer at St. Joseph’s hospital.
As the years went by, the community needed to expand so they acquired an old church building on Graham Street to set up a Temple. Battan Singh purchased it for $8000 and was later reimbursed by the Temple. It was called the Punjabi Akali Singh Temple and was affiliated with the Akali Singh in Vancouver. The first official event was the wedding of Mahinder Singh’s daughter Ajeat Kaur in 1954.
In 1961, the Beadall family patriarch, Battan Singh passed away. Unfortunately ten years later, Mahinder Singh’s wife, Karm Kaur who had been ill for many years also passed away. However, Mahinder carried on his work with a heavy heart and later re-married Balbir Kaur in India. In 1985, Mahinder Singh was awarded the Honourary Citizen Award from Mayor Peter Pollen for his fifty years of community service. His friends and family were extremely proud of this accomplishment as it was certainly deserved.
As the years went by, the Beadall family kept growing with grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Mahinder Singh enjoyed spending time with all his loved ones. It was on February 28, 1989 Mahinder Singh passed away. In present day, the legacy of Battan Singh and Mahinder Singh Beadall continues in Victoria. They are remembered for all their hard work and effort in establishing a foundation for the South Asian community. The Beadalls believe the highest honour for their family was to have been able to help so many Sikhs stay in Canada and become the prominent force that they are. Truly, it is a contribution that will not be forgotten.