Canadian Sikh Heritage | Amerjeet Kaur and Chanchal Singh Thiara
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Amerjeet Kaur and Chanchal Singh Thiara

Amerjeet Kaur Thiara’s family history dates back to the mid 1900’s, when her nana (maternal grandfather), Baboo Singh Dhaliwal first came to California in 1926. He hailed from the village of Dhaliwal, district Jalandhar, Punjab. From California, Baboo Singh moved to the Cowichan Valley for work. He worked in sawmills in Youbou and Mesachie Lake. In the late 1930’s Amerjeet Kaur’s dhadha (paternal grandfather), Udham Singh Sall came to Canada from the village of Palahi, district Kapurthala, Punjab. Udham Singh arrived to the island and also worked at a sawmill in Mesachie Lake. It was while working at Mesachie Lake that Udham Singh and Baboo Singh became friends. They then decided to go back to India and arranged a marriage between their children, ie. Amerjeet Kaur’s parents, Gurmej Singh Sall and Baksho Kaur Dhaliwal.

It was in January 1951 that Amerjeet Kaur’s father, Gurmej Singh Sall  first arrived to Canada with his brother Sohan Singh Sall, his mother in-law, Nasib Kaur Dhaliwal, and her three children; Pritam Singh, Jagdish Kaur and Giano Kaur.  Although Amerjeet Kaur’s parents were married in India, they officially wedded in December 1954 in a western ceremony. They went on to have five children; Amerjeet Kaur, Kindi Kaur, Kuldeep Singh, Ranjit Kaur, and Manjit Kaur. Amerjeet Kaur Thiara was born on August 15, 1955 at King’s Daughters’ Hospital in Duncan BC.  She was brought up in Lake Cowichan. In 1971, Amerjeet Kaur’s mother obtained a job as a full-time dishwasher at the Village Green Inn in Duncan earning $1.25 an hour. On the weekends, Amerjeet Kaur also worked with her mother and earned $1.35 an hour. She graduated from high school in Lake Cowichan in 1974. When her siblings grew older, they also worked at the Village Green Inn on the weekends to help their mother.

In 1974, Amerjeet Kaur’s marriage was arranged and she sponsored her husband to-be, Chanchal Singh Thiara from the village of Muradpur Naryal, district Hoshiarpur. He arrived on June 30, 1974 and then on July 21, 1974, Amerjeet Kaur married Chanchal Singh Thiara. Chanchal Singh Thiara worked at the Village Green Inn earning $2.50 an hour for a year until he was hired at BC Forest Products in Youbou earning $4.50. They rented an upper portion of a home in Duncan and paid $130 per month for rent.  In total, Amerjeet Kaur worked at the Village Green Inn for 20 years and Chanchal Singh worked at the sawmill until it shut down on January 31, 2001, when he was earning $26 an hour.

Later on Amerjeet Kaur and Chanchal Singh Thiara bought a rancher with a down payment of $2000 on 1051 Chester Street.  She  had three children; her eldest son Kuljit Singh was born December 23, 1977, Sukhjeet Singh, born on November 12, 1980 died suddenly on September 22, 1986 due to a heart disease. After that, she had a daughter Sukhjot Kaur who was born on October 13, 1987.  The Thiara family continued to live in their rancher home until 1977. When Amerjeet Kaur’s in-laws, Manta Singh and Jag Kaur Thiara arrived from India in 1976, the family bought a bigger home on 6243 Ox Boulevard.

Amerjeet Kaur left her job after her son, Sukhjeet passed away in 1986 and stayed home for five years raising her daughter. She mentions that it was always her dream to become a nurse. So then she started work at the King’s Daughters’ Hospital doing housekeeping and laundry until 2004 when the government privatized housekeeping.  Then she went back to school and completed her resident, long term care aid course.

Life in Canada came as a bit of a shock for Amerjeet’s husband Chanchal Singh Thiara when he first arrived. In India, he had completed a Master’s degree in English. Therefore upon arrival, he thought he would be eligible to obtain a job in teaching here.  However, he discovered that his degree and foreign credentials were not recognized in Canada.  So when he was hired at the sawmills as a labourer, it was disappointing and unexpected for him.

Back in India, Chanchal Singh’s father was very educated and held a Bachelor’s degree in 1922. He taught until he was almost 70 years old in India.  When Chanchal Thiara left India in 1974, his father was still teaching even after retirement. He finally retired his position as principal of a high school when he arrived to Canada in 1976 after Chanchal Singh sponsored both his parents. Later on, Chanchal Singh sponsored almost all of his family members to Canada.

Chanchal Singh recalls that when he went to the gurdwaras for the first time in Canada, he found it very different from the whole religious system in India. He mentions how it was a culture and religious shock for him to see people enter the gurdwara with bare heads.  He said that the community was not very religious at the time and this could be due to the fact that, being a minority, they were always considered inferior in society and probably found it easier to follow the culture of the West. They wanted to fit in society so the ladies would wear dresses to the temple, and going bare headed was allowed as well as sitting on chairs. Women used to wear skirts instead of traditional Indian clothes but in the temple they covered their legs with a cloth. However when looking at the modern day Punjabi community, he feels that people are getting closer to their tradition and both the parents and the youth are trying their best to keep connected to their culture.

Chanchal Singh Thiara went on to become involved with community projects and helped establish the Vancouver Island Sikh Culture Society temple in Duncan. At first, there were only two temples; one in Paldi and another in Lake Cowichan. Chanchal Singh became a founding member of the Duncan gurdwara which officially opened on August 25, 1985. He also served as the President and Secretary in the Vancouver Island Sikh Culture Society of Duncan. While he was involved, he also started the task of free Punjabi classes for the Canadian children in the gurdwara. After a few years, he also started gurbani and music classes.

To this day, Amerjeet Kaur and Chanchal Singh Thiara continue to reside in Duncan, BC and are grandparents now. Chanchal Singh describes that his future commitment now is to look after his children and grandchildren as the years go by.