Canadian Sikh Heritage | Nachhattar (Norm) Singh Sangha
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Nachhattar (Norm) Singh Sangha

Norm Singh Sangha’s contribution to the community of Abbotsford and the preservation of its Sikh heritage has been immense. Norm Singh was born on May 27, 1948 in the Village of Daroli Bhai, District Moga, Punjab, India. His parents’ names were Sardar Gurdial Singh Sangha and Tan Kaur. Norm Singh first came to Canada as a visitor in 1972 but a few years later was able to gain permanent status in 1974. In 1971 Norm Singh had married Harpal Kaur but didn’t sponsor his wife originally until he became a permanent citizen of Canada in 1974. Thus, Harpal Kaur came and joined Norm Singh in 1974.

When he arrived in Canada, Norm Singh had no relatives in Vancouver to support him although he had a few friends who had come to Canada just a few months earlier than him. As a man who had attained a high education (he had a Master’s degree in Political Science from Punjabi University, Patiala) Norm Singh continued that trajectory by taking his vocational training via night school in Vancouver. During this time, Norm Singh and Harpal Kaur were living in New Westminster. Upon completion of his training in welding, Norm Singh became a certified mill right and worked at the Timberland Sawmill from 1974-1982. In 1979, Norm Singh and Harpal Kaur moved to Abbotsford where they have been living ever since. In 1982 Norm Singh switched occupations to become a realtor as well as businessman when he purchased some farming property in Aldergrove (this was purchased in 1978). Although he later sold the Aldergrove property, he would end up purchasing farming property in the United States soon after in 1985.

Norm Singh’s role in designating Abbotsford’s Gur Sikh Temple as a National Historic Site is immense. Norm Singh worked laboriously in order to make that historic day of April 1, 2007, a reality. Norm Singh became the elected President of the Khalsa Diwan Society, Abbotsford in 2000 when he formed his own slate and won by a unanimous decision.  With the support of the Khalsa Diwan Society, Norm Singh and the committee realized the community’s desire to bring the Gur Sikh Temple back to its pristine glory as it had now been declared a national historic site of Canada. Thus, he and his committee decided to renovate the Gur Sikh Temple.

In the words of Norm Singh, “For our committee we had meetings and we decided that we should preserve our heritage, the Gur Sikh Temple is our heritage, our pioneers worked very hard to build this temple. At that time they were being paid pennies per hour but they preserved the ethos of our culture and our religion and established the Sikh temple at that time. It made sense to us to renovate it and preserve it for the future generations.” To begin with, the committee members began examining the potential of the site and also requested that the Canadian government assist by providing a grant for the renovation of the Gur Sikh Temple, with the condition that the Khalsa Diwan Society would thoroughly foresee all renovations. During this time, Norm Singh came to know that Sheila Copps, the then Minister of the Canadian Heritage, was visiting Richmond. It thus struck him to share the idea of the Sikh Heritage site with the Canadian Heritage Minister.

Norm Singh’s meeting with Sheila Copps proved to be fruitful as he expressed his desires and his visions on the future of the Gur Sikh Temple in which he urged her to visit. In addition, Sheila Copps also assured Norm Singh that even with the support of the Canadian government in terms of funding, that the site would remain under the control of the Khalsa Diwan Society.

After a meeting with the senior members of the Gur Sikh Temple, in which their formal approvals were given, the Khalsa Diwan Society and committee proceeded to formally apply for a grant from the Canadian government. Following the application, the committee members invited the minister to visit the site. Many people from Abbotsford supported the cause. Sheila Copps visited the site and observed the site closely. The committee members also showed pictures of the early Sikhs to the Honourable minister. After observing every aspect of the Gur Sikh temple, Sheila suggested to the committee to apply for the National Heritage Status for the temple. This committee supported the idea and agreed to apply for the historic site status for the Gur Sikh Temple. Also, Paul Singh Gill and Balwant Singh Gill from the Guru Nanak Sikh temple, Jarnail Singh Kendal from the Ross Street Gurdwara, and Rattan Singh from the Akali Singh temple came forward in support of this good cause. The committee received supporting letters from the Federal Government, BC Government, a number of MLAs, MPs, as well as community members urging that this site be declared as the Canadian National Historic site. The approval from the Ministry came forth soon and the news was communicated through a phone call to the committee. Fortunately then, Prime Minister Jean Chretien heard of this wonderful development and his office suggested to Sheila Copps that he wanted to take part in the designation of the temple. And so he did, when on April 1, 2007, the Prime Minister of Canada, the honorable Jean Chretien became the first Prime Minister of Canada to visit the newly inaugurated National Historic Site of Canada.

In recognition of his dedication and tireless work to have the Gur Sikh Temple designated as a National Historic Site, Norm Singh Sangha received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal on June 18, presented to him by immigration minister Jason Kenney in Surrey. Norm Singh, as the past president of the Khalsa Diwan Society, was instrumental in securing national historic site designation for the Gur Sikh Temple on South Fraser Way. He also worked to establish the Fraser River Community Crematorium Society, and was on the fundraising committee for the Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies at the University of the Fraser Valley. The medal was created to mark the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s accession to the throne. A total of 60,000 people across Canada will receive the award, which requires the recipient to have made a significant contribution to a particular province, territory, region on community within Canada, or an achievement abroad that brings credit to Canada.

In 2013 at the age of 65, Norm Singh retired and continues to live happily in Abbotsford where he is very proud of his son and daughter and many grandchildren.