Canadian Sikh Heritage | Mohinder Singh Gill
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Mohinder Singh Gill

Mohindar (‘Moe’) Singh Gill was born on November 12, 1943 in the village of Chananwal, Punjab, India. He came to Canada as a young boy in October 1955 with his mother and younger sister. They took a plane from Calcutta and came through Hawaii and onwards directly to Vancouver. Moe’s father, Major Singh Gill had already been in Canada for four years before Moe’s arrived with his mother and sister. Originally, Moe’s grandfather Puran Singh Gill had come to Canada in 1923 to attend the University of British Columbia as a business student. He was one of the only two Indo-Canadian students that arrived in Canada who were given permission to take courses at the University. Puran Singh, along with the other student had travelled by boat from Calcutta to Hong Kong and from Hong Kong to San Francisco and then they had taken a train up the westcoast to Vancouver. Puran Singh took business courses but was unable to complete his education due to a lack of funding.  Puran Singh lived in Vancouver during this time but after leaving University he moved to Vancouver Island.

Puran Singh sponsored his wife Prem Kaur and three sons, Takur, Harnek and Modhun in 1950 to join him in Canada. Moe Gill’s father, Major Singh was not one of them as he was over the age limit of dependent children who could travel with a mother. Puran Singh later filed an application for his son Major Singh to join them under a special circumstance law. The immigration department in Ottawa had fifty two pending applications of the people who had applied but weren’t allowed to join their family in Canada. The Gills were lucky because at that time Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of India had made an official delegation trip to Canada in 1949.  At this time a delegation from Vancouver went to Ottawa by train to have a meeting with Nehru requesting him to convince the Federal Government to release these applications and process them. The talks were successful and as a result Major Singh, among scores of others were allowed to come to Canada.  Puran Singh also served as President of the Khalsa Diwan Society Abbotsford’s heritage gurdwara for 10 years. Puran Singh had become known for his writing skills when he used to live in a “cook house” (bunk room style housing on mill sites) on Vancouver Island with other bachelor men.  It was Puran Singh who did much of the letter writing for all the other men that lived in the cook house.  As a result, when he became the President of the Gur Sikh Temple in Abbotsford, he did much of the same thing, like the paperwork for the society, etc.

In 1955 the Gill family moved to Mission because Puran Singh got a new job, while Major Singh began working for Paul Dhaliwal, another prominent pioneer at the time. Moe and his younger uncle went to the same elementary school because they had only a four year difference between them. Both Moe and his Uncle were joined at school by Surjit, Moe’s younger sister. Surjit was four years younger than Moe and in 1956 his sister, Amar Kaur was born in Mission hospital.

Although Moe should have been in grade five according to his Indian schooling records, the school in Mission enrolled him back to grade two. This was a common occurrence within the Canadian educational system where the underlying assumption was that people educated abroad don’t meet Canadian standards. Moe remembers enjoying his time playing in the playground in Mission located at 7th Avenue. One day, Moe came to know that the baseball team in the local playground was one person short so they asked him to join in. There were only European decent children in the game and he was the only Indo-Canadian child. In fact, the entire school had only six Indo-Canadian boys and two Indo-Canadian girls. After completing elementary school Moe attended high school but was unable to finish his schooling because he became ill with a chronic cough. Although he left school at this time, Moe still completed his Grade 11 through correspondence.

For his first job, Moe worked for two years at the ‘Harman Sawmill’ as a stack boy where he was paid $0.90cents an hour, which was later was raised to $1.10. Moe then worked for twelve years for the Whonnock Lumber Company located in nearby Maple Ridge. At the time, the Whonnock Lumber Company wasn’t hiring any Indo-Canadians because earlier one of the Indo-Canadian employees had gotten into a confrontation with the superintendent. The superintendent, being very upset refused to hire any more Indo-Canadians. By hiring Moe, this unwritten rule was now broken. Moe did almost everything at the Whonnock sawmill except sawing lumber; his tasks included training and working as a grader. Interestingly enough, both Major Singh and Puran Singh had worked in the same company prior to Moe, making it as a site for three generations of the Gill family’s employment.

In January 1969, Moe and his mother went back to India where he married Jagdish Cheema in April. He came back and filled an application for his wife and she arrived in Canada soon after in September 1969. They had a son Paul in 1974, who formerly worked with BCTV as a film editor, and a daughter Pala in 1976, who is a school teacher at Eugene Reimer Middle School in Abbotsford. In the same year that Pala was born, Puran Singh, the Gill family patriarch passed away.

In 1975 Moe and Major Singh purchased a 10 acre raspberry farm located on Huntington road in Abbotsford which was worth $115,000 at that time. Moe quit his job at this time and began working on the farm alongside his father Major Singh.  A few years later the entire family moved to Abbotsford from Mission and in 1978 built a new house on their farm. Because of his ownership of a vibrant local farm, Moe also became involved in the local agricultural associations. The first of these was called the Cole Crop Growers Association. In his role at the Association, Moe was eventually able to bring the Association into the BC Marketing Board.

Whilst Moe’s children attended Abby Senior School after finishing their elementary schooling at South Popular School, George Perry (former Mayor of Abbotsford) was their Principal. Moe became good friends with George and eventually decided to run in the local Abbotsford municipal election for first time in 1986 but did not win. From this point on, local community members began rallying around Moe and encouraging him to try again in the next election. As a result, Moe ran four more times but lost each time. Despite these initial losses, Moe refused to lose his spirit and eventually won the sixth time.  During this time in Moe’s life just as he was beginning to see such immense success, his mentor, guide, and father, Major Singh passed away in 1993. Soon after, after Moe won his first election, his mother also passed away. Moe Singh Gill was elected in December 1995 as the first Indo-Canadian councillor in the City of Abbotsford, BC. Since 1995 he has successfully run for office and won a seat every time. His last term on Council was before the 2018 election. Moe has always been an influential community member and advocate for the City of Abbotsford.

When reflecting on his wonderful family history and the family’s contribution to community, Moe Gill says “I look at the community to be the ‘whole’ community, being the best community in Canada and the best community in BC.  That’s what you want from your community. You want your community to be successful not only in one area, but all areas they venture into.  That’s what you want.” Certainly, the family legacy of Puran Singh Gill, Major Singh Gill, and Mohan Singh Gill is testament to the contributions of the Gill family in building better communities for all.