07 Nov Gurbakhsh S. Narang
Gurbakhsh Singh Narang’s father, Bhagat Singh Narang, was born on January 4, 1901 in the village of Dhudike, District Moga. Bhagat Singh first arrived to Canada in the estimated year of 1918 to advance his education at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Later, he started work in the Fraser Sawmill near New Westminster. Bhagat Singh only worked there for a short time before moving to Alberta and then the United States. After that, Bhagat Singh returned to India in 1929 and married Harnam Kaur. A year later when he returned to Canada in 1930, he brought Harnam Kaur alongside him. Bhagat Singh worked for the Mayo Lumber Company on Vancouver Island. However when the recession hit in the 1930’s, the mill was forced to shut down so he and Harnam Kaur moved to Sidney, BC. This is the city where Gurbakhsh Singh Narang was born on August 11, 1931. After some time, the family moved back to Paldi and Bhagat Singh worked at the Mayo Lumber Mill again. It was during this time that Gurbakhsh Singh’s sister, Jaswant Kaur, was born in 1933. In those days it was common for Punjabi immigrants to work without work permits or reside illegally in Canada. It was also common for the police to come by Paldi and try to arrest them. Gurbakhsh Singh recalls his father telling him how the immigrants used to hide from the police when they would come searching during the night. All the men would go to the mill and jump into the river, holding onto the logs floating there. They would hide amongst the logs for hours, sometimes even up to six hours waiting for the police to leave.
It was in 1935 that the Great Depression finally forced the family to move to India. During the ‘Dirty Thirties,’ work was hard to find enough as it was but food was even harder to obtain. It was difficult for people to survive; during those times, people would often threaten the illegal immigrants saying they would get captured. In India, the family moved to Paharganj, New Delhi where Bhagat Singh bought a truck in New Delhi starting his own hauling business. He had a contracted business where he would pick up and deliver items to construction yards or wherever needed. The family continued to grow as Gurbakhsh Singh’s brother Hardial Singh was born in 1942 and his sister, Hardial Kaur, only a few years later. As time went on, Bhagat Singh became very ill and the family returned to reside in their village Dhudike in Punjab. While living in Punjab, Gurbakhsh Singh was only a teenager at the time of partition between India and Pakistan in 1947. He recalls those days as being particularly horrifying and tense. During this time, he would take roti (bread) and other food and travel to the nearby railway station in the village of Ajitwal. There, he would serve the refugees aboard the trains coming from Pakistan and feed them. Then in 1947, he graduated high school and began pestering his parents to send him to Canada. Although the family’s initial plan was not to return to Canada, due to Bhagat Singh’s declining health, they decided to send Gurbaksh to Canada instead. Gurbakhsh Singh explains his detailed and hard journey in struggling to reach Canada. He recalls that in those days they did not have enough money to buy a ticket from India, so he had to borrow 2500 rupees from a lender. His ticket was 200 rupees for the ship, Sardana which travelled from Calcutta to Hong Kong. He explains that during the journey to Singapore he was travelling with other Punjabi families so they made their own food. Once they arrived at Singapore however, he was left on his own with no food because he was not allowed to step off the ship. Gurbakhsh Singh then came into contact with one of the workers in the company office and that man went and informed Gurbakhsh Singh’s villagers about his situation. Upon hearing this, his villagers immediately came to visit him and brought him food continuously for the few days the ship was docked there. From there, the ship stopped at Hong Kong where Gurbakhsh Singh stayed at the gurdwara for thirteen days. After that, he boarded the ship “General Gordon” owned by the company American President Lines. The ‘General Gordon’ ship took him to San Francisco where he and others were arrested immediately for not having sufficient documents to prove their reason of travel. They did not accept his passport as enough proof and the only other document he had was a letter from his mother with her picture. Gurbakhsh Singh remembers how the authorities were planning to send them to the Alcatraz prison but luckily he remembered the ticket his uncle from Port Alberni had sent him and showed it as proof and was released. From there, he caught a train with other families headed to Canada. It was finally on November 26, 1949 that he reached White Rock, B.C. He had departed India on October 5th, almost one year later, for this long and arduous journey. Once in Canada Gurbakhsh Singh went to Port Alberni to live with his chachaji (father’s younger brother). He started work at the sawmill “Bloedel Stewart and Welch Limited” in Great Central Lake, B.C. At the mill, he earned 87 cents per hour on the green chain. At the time, Gurbakhsh Singh and about 25-30 other Punjabi men lived in the bunkhouse provided by the mill. Although he only knew a bit of English at the time, it was not hard to communicate with these men because everyone spoke Punjabi and everyone was comfortable with one another. There was one cook for the entire bunkhouse who would be paid at the end of the month. His wages were split between the 30 men and equaled to one day’s wage per person. The rent for the bunkhouse was cut from the pay cheques totaling to $3.50 a month per person. Gurbakhsh Singh recalls they would send one person to Port Alberni to get the requested groceries. At the time, there were no Indian stores so they used to shop at a Chinese store. The store would then deliver all the grocery to the bunkhouse on a truck. There were also Chinese workers at the mill in addition to the Punjabis and everyone had equal wages because of the union. It was in 1952 that Gurbakhsh Singh was reunited with his father when Bhagat Singh moved back to Canada. Bhagat Singh started worked at a mill in Port Alberni at the time. In 1953, the family was able to purchase their first home for $3500. This home included a basement and was shared by their friends who helped share in the payment. One year later, in 1954, Gurbakhsh Singh went to India and married Balbir Kaur on March 20, 1954. He stayed for a year and returned to Canada in 1955 but continued to travel back and forth to India. During this time, he and Balbir had three children; Paramjit Kaur, Sharanjit Kaur, and Rajinder Singh. Also during this time, Gurbakhsh Singh found work at the Sumas Lumber Company in Port Alberni. In 1965, his wife and their three children immigrated to Canada. Later, Bhagat Singh also returned to India and lived there with his wife and family until his death in 1972. On April 7, 1972, Gurbakhsh Singh’s youngest daughter Kiran was born in Port Alberni. The Narang family lived in Port Alberni until 1990 when they moved to Abbotsford. Presently, the family is very well- known in the community and they continue to live in Abbotsford. Gurbakhsh Singh’s family is still growing and maintaining the history of Bhagat Singh Narang.