Chattar Singh Bains
Chattar Singh Bains was born on July 19, 1931, to father Basant Singh and mother Swarn Kaur in village Sarhara Khurd, District Mahalpur, Hoshiarpur, Punjab, India. He grew up in a large family consisting of five brothers (Tara Singh, Pyara Singh, Mohinder Singh, Jagjit Singh, Santokh Singh) and three sisters (Karam Kaur, Ajit Kaur, Avtar Kaur). He spent his childhood at his village and was educated until the fourth grade at which time he started working in the fields of Punjab with his father. At the age of 18 he joined the Indian army.
Chattar Singh’s work in the Indian army revolved around the post of a military soldier. Although he did not see active duty in any war, he did go to conflict areas including Kashmir. He recalls this time period as being very difficult, for example providing night duty with only a military picket between the territory. He remembers the enemy standing on the opposite side from him. He worked with the army for eight years, until the age of 26. Upon his mother’s sudden passing away, he returned to his village where he continued to do farm work alongside father Basant Singh. He remained there for two years until his sister Karam Kaur applied for him to travel to Canada and his Canadian permit was approved.
Chattar Singh did not personally make the decision to come to Canada. His older brother Tara Singh and sister Karam Kaur were already settled there and, his sister applied for him to come as well. This was during the time period when the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had visited Canada (1949), and Canada opened up its doors to allow more people from India to immigrate.
In 1950 Chattar Singh had married Naranjan Kaur who was from the village of Chak Vendal, District Nakodar, Jullundur, Punjab. They lived together with his family in Sarhala for eight years and in that time had two children – the eldest was a son (Parmjit Singh) and a daughter (Harmit Kaur). Later when the family moved to Canada they had three daugthers – all of whom were born in New Westminster, BC (Rijindar Kaur, Surrinder Kaur and Daljit Kaur).
When Chattar Singh arrived in Vancouver on January 20, 1960 he was picked up at the Vancouver International Airport by his sister Karam Kaur and her family. When he first arrived, he thought that the countryside and the city was very pretty. His primary goal was to work and make money for his family back home. His original plan was to stay in Canada for five years and after working for this time period, he would return back to India. However, after three years, Canada made a law that enabled him to sponsor his remaining family that he had left behind in India to come to Canada and join him. Chattar Singh took this opportunity and worked t bring his wife and two children to Canada. The arrived in Vancouver in 1962.
Chattar Singh’s family’s migration roots to North America go back to 1910. First, his father, Basant Singh had migrated to California in the USA, where he stayed for twelve years. Here, he worked as a farmer and developed his own farm. After twelves years in 1922, Basant Singh decided to return back to India as part of the Gadhar movement to force the British to end colonial rule.
When Chattar Singh first came to Canada, certain circumstances had caused him to ‘slow down’ quite a bit. In the beginning he worked in the local saw mills where many other men from India also worked. He recalls working for four months in the heat and was unable to find work as the weather became colder, due to a lack of available jobs. After he found permanent work, unfortunately, the New Westminster mill he worked at burned down, forcing him to search for work in other mills.
When Chattar Singh came to Canada, he took some English language courses to help him better accustom himself to the new land. In 1974, after he stopped working in the saw mill industry, he decided to start his own business. He bought a motel which he ran for approximately five years in Surrey. After that, he began building houses for two years all over the lower mainland. Shortly after that he bought a farm and settled down in California, not far from where his father Basant Singh had lived and worked in the early 1900’s.
Chattar Singh remembers some of the racist acts he faced – perhaps he suggests, due to him wearing a turban. He remembers people would ‘send hate’ towards him, and sometimes even spit towards his direction. Chattar Singh proudly recalls that he has never cut his hair or removed his turban since he first moved to Canada. Although European descent people would make comments about his turban, he felt fortunate that he was never physically attacked.
Since moving to Canada Chattar Singh has returned to India many times. The first time was in 1970, where he recalls that there were few significant changes. His primary purpose of that trip was to visit his elderly father. He stayed in India for four months, leaving his family back in Canada and travelling alone to the mother land. Six years later, in 1976, he returned again with his entire family. It wasn’t until Chattar Singh returned in 1995 that he noticed a lot more had changed in the country around him. For example, work in the fields was largely manual before this and when he returned he saw that tractors were more prevalent. As well, the road infrastructure had become better developed, particularly in comparison to before and there were more schools as well. The changes were very noticeable starting in the 1990s. Currently, Chattar Singh has no immediate family left in India- they have all migrated to Canada.
Chattar Singh has also seen many changes in Canada. For example, the weather has drastically changed in comparison to before. When he first came to Canada, there was a lot more snow; he recalls going to sleep at night, and waking up in the morning to go to work with snow covering the door. He would have to shovel the snow to make a pathway that would allow him to leave. He also believes it rains more and the patterns have changed.
Chattar Singh recalls the way that the majority of people worked in the saw mills. The starting pay during the time he worked at the mills was $1.80 per hour. As time went on, it continued to increase. Meanwhile, in the farms, it was $0.95 and hour. So, the saw mill workers felt like they were paid a lot more. As more people started immigrating to Canada, businesses started opening and farm lands were being further developed. Later on, many immigrants joined the trucking industry.
Chattar Singh also recalls the lack of Indian grocery stores when he first came. Until 1970, there were no South Asian grocery stores. He would go to an Italian store in Vancouver, which was the only place that had a section of South Asian groceries. During this time, he resided in New Westminster. He recalls that people commonly travelled in buses. Chattar Singh himself obtained his first car in 1965.
He also recalls seeing the development of Vancouver Main Street, from the bazaars and stores opening. During this time, a lot of Punjabi people went into businesses. In 1989 his son Parmjit bought a farm in Abbotsford BC and now father and son run the farm together.
When Chattar Singh had any free time, he would sometimes travel. For example, he has been around BC as well as India, Calgary, Toronto, and Hawaii, and he’s also been on cruises. He recalls the places he has visited to be very beautiful.
Nowadays, Chattar Singh is fully retired. Sometimes, he will walk around the family farm and relax. He hopes to send the message to the new generation about the importance of being involved in good things and not getting involved with the wrong crowd. He hopes the youth will do good work, and remain humble throughout their lives.