Far more Canadians are becoming aware of the inclusive community of Paldi on Vancouver Island in the early to mid 20th century. It’s thanks to a Heritage Minute, which has attracted more than 325,000 views on YouTube and 4.7 million views on all of Historica Canada’s platforms.
Historica Canada unveiled the video in April during Sikh Heritage Month. It features a Punjabi woman immigrating to B.C. in 1927.
“When I arrived in Canada, there were not a lot of women who looked like me,” Bishan Kaur (played by Mannu Sandhu) says. “But my husband made a new life here, in this distant country.”
Kaur married Mayo Singh Minhas, one of three businessmen from Punjab who founded the mill town. His partners were his brother Ganea Singh Minhas and his cousin Doman Singh.
Watch the Paldi Heritage Minute.
“Women like Bishan immigrated to Canada during an era of uncertainty for Asian Canadians. In the face of anti-Asian sentiments and policies, the Mayo Lumber Company was established by Sikh lumbermen in 1917 and employed South Asian, Chinese, Japanese, and white Canadian workers,” Historica Canada states on YouTube. “The workers and their families called Paldi home until the 1980s.”
Paldi’s population peaked at around 1,500. Thanks to Joan Mayo, who married Kaur and Mayo Singh Minhas’s oldest son, many photos from the town’s history survived. They reveal a community in which people of different races worked, played, and attended school together.
Paldi history available in print and on film
The South Asian Post article, which was provided by MOSAIC B.C., noted that Bishan Kaur spoke no English when she arrived in Canada. However, she “soon picked up the international dialect unique to Paldi’s various nationalities”. Bishan Kaur and her husband had eight children, though sadly, one died from burns in a fire and another passed away after contracting spinal meningitis.
Moreover, that article pointed out that Bishan Kaur and her husband were generous donors to health charities.
Another interesting insight into Paldi was provided by Nimrit Basra in 5X Press. Her mother’s family immigrated to Crofton on Vancouver Island in the 1960s and would travel to the gurdwara in Paldi. While there were happy memories, it wasn’t all sweetness and light.
“The fears and experiences of racism that were faced by new immigrant families did not disappear when they entered Paldi, especially considering how many families resided in neighbouring towns,” Basra wrote.
In addition, she pointed out that immigrants worked dangerous jobs in the mill for far less compensation than what Canadian-born workers were paid for the same type of work.
One who’s worked hard to elevate awareness of Paldi is Satwinder Kaur Bains, director of the South Asian Studies Institute at the University of the Fraser Valley. She wants people to know that South Asiams have deep roots in the province. Yet they’ve largely been overlooked in official histories.
“We were everywhere in B.C….but we were seen nowhere,” Bains says in Unarchived. “I’m an optimist so I don’t sit and wait for someone to do this work.”
The Paldi Heritage Minute is also available in Punjabi.