07 Nov Mohinder Kaur Thandi
Mohinder Kaur Thandi was a philanthropist and volunteer for the community all her life in Canada. She was the wife of Sunder Singh Thandi and was also known as “Mrs. Boss,” “Bossni,” or “Tayee Ji.” Both husband and wife continue to be recognized and honoured for their many contributions to the community.
Mohinder Kaur Thandi migrated to Abbotsford, BC with her husband Sunder Singh Thandi in the early 1940’s after their marriage in India in 1943. At the onset, Mrs. Thandi’s story is unlike that of other pioneering Sikh women of the time. Because from the get-go, Mrs. Thandi took an active interest in two very male dominated and patriarchal areas of the time: the family business and the Gurdwara.
By the time Mohinder Kaur arrived in Abbotsford, her husband Sunder Singh had already built for himself a very well established farm and dairy business which consisted of some 300 acres. To assist with the family business Mohinder Kaur received her driving license and drove the workers around. Ben Ratzlaff, who worked for over ten years for Sundar Singh and Mohinder Kaur recounts ‘Mrs. Boss’s very regal and elegant manner, saying that she always wore the most beautiful dresses and expensive coats when going out to cities such as Vancouver.
According to Ossie Thandi, who married Sundar Singh and Mohinder Kaur’s nephew Sucha Singh- while she (Ossie) worked on the family farm, Mohinder Kaur drove the workers to and from work. Ossi Thandi explains that Mohinder Kaur’s life was quite difficult as she wanted children badly but was unable to have any. This prompted her to adopt two young girls and raise them as her own. Ossie also notes that both Mohinder Kaur and Sunder Singh cared deeply for each other and did many things as a couple. In addition to her unusual role within the business setting, Mohinder Thandi also exerted and demonstrated her power through her political role within the Gurdwara. Both Sundar Singh’s and Mohinder Kaur’s devotion and efforts in building the first Sikh Gurdwara in the Valley is truly a story worth of legends. Because of efforts such as theirs, to this day this Gurdwara still stands more than one hundred years later, and has been designated as a National Historic Site by Parks Canada. It is the oldest standing Sikh Gurdwara in the Americas.
Mohinder Kaur did not relegate herself solely in the Guru Ka Langar role in terms of preparing food, serving food, etc. She actually was relegated the political title of Treasurer, and ended up serving as one of the longest serving treasurers for the Khalsa Diwan Society, Abbotsford. This is significant because very few, if no women during this time period of the mid-20th century ventured outward into the political scope of the Gurdwara’s. Mohinder Kaur had the foresight, independence and power to do so.
As the years rolled on, both Sundar Singh and Moninder Kaur together maintained a formidable presence within the Gurdwara. Together, as a united pair, Mr. and Mrs. Thandi contributed to the construction of the stairs at the temple and helped put up the new Nishaan Sahib at the Gur Sikh Temple when the original wooden one had to be replaced. The stairs at the front of the temple were made of wood but later, through Mohinder Kaur’s generous donation, they were reconstructed in concrete.
Mohinder Kaur was an individualist-her political role within the community and the Gurdwara did not end with the passing of her husband Sunder Singh Thandi. She very much continued to exert her power, independence and passion for Sikhi as noted by another pioneer who said of Mohinder Kaur: “She gave up herself a lot after her husband Sunder Singh died. It was her mission in life here that she was going to do as best as she possibly could for the temple.”
Mohinder Kaur’s role was very well established within the community. She was notably known through her nicknames of “Boss Ji,” “Tayee Ji,” or “Bossni,” indicative of the immense respect she was accorded in the community. Several Sikh pioneers have been interviewed using such terms to describe Mrs. Thandi, including Sikh pioneers such as: Mohinder Kaur’s own husband Sucha Singh Thandi, Ben Ratzlaff (who as mentioned earlier worked on the Thandi’s farm) as well as community members in present day who still associate Mrs. Thandi with the word “Bossni.”