Darshan Singh Khera
Darshan Singh Khera was born in the Village Khera, Mahilpur, District Hoshiarpur, Punjab on July 8, 1948. He has a rich family history in Canada as his grandfather Mela Singh first arrived in 1908 for employment purposes. His grandfather boarded a ship in Calcutta alongside his older brother Kirpa Singh and were able to come to Victoria, British Columbia. During this time period, they did not require a visa because they were British subjects.
Darshan Singh recalls being told a variety of different stories from his grandfather about the hardships they faced when they first came. They came without any money, and they didn’t know anybody in Canada. They found an abandoned horse barn which was where they stayed, sleeping on wooden planks. Once they returned home to the barn they found their wood was missing and so they had to go out and collect more wood to sleep on. Mela Singh and Kirpa Singh first worked on a potato farm earning ten cents per hour. They would work ten hours a day, earning a dollar each day. Despite the pay and conditions, Darshan Singh explains that they were very joyful that they were able to find work.
The pair had to make-do in their new environment. For example, they would collect rainwater to use for their daily necessities. They had very few belongings with them- only a couple of shirts and a blanket and they would use wood to for cooking purposes.
Darshan Singh’s father came to Canada in 1924 at the age of fifteen. He returned to India alongside his uncle, Kirpa Singh, who had to return to India due to an injury. Kirpa Singh was employed to fight a forest fire, where he heavily injured his eye. He decided it would be best to return to India where he would spend the remainder of his life. Mela Singh passed away in the fifties, here in Canada.
Darshan Singh recalls the houses were smaller during his grandfather’s time. The mills would have sleeping rooms, with two people sharing a space and only a foot of space between them in the middle. Sometimes there were holes in the facilities and so they would take cloth to cover the holes and avoid the cold.
Furthermore, the community life was a lot different according to Darshan Singh. For example, his sister had made four dresses for their mother prior to arrival, as they recognized that the women within the community did not wear traditional Indian attire. People who would go to the local Gurdwara did not cover their heads and ladies who sat on the floor would have cloths placed over them to cover their legs (as they were wearing dresses). This occurred until 1980.
During this time, Darshan Singh was born in India. His father would later return to India alone where he began to work in the mills. Darshan Singh’s sister immigrated to Canada two years before him at the age of fourteen. Darshan Singh and his mother moved to Canada on June 10, 1961, to complete the family once again. He left his eighth grade class in India, finding it easier to integrate into Canada because he already had settled family here. While he recalls his first five years to be easy it was very difficult for his parents, particularly because his parents did not have an adequate knowledge of English.
Darshan Singh was enrolled in high school upon moving to Canada. During this time he recalls facing name-calling and being taunted by fellow students and having to persevere through difficult times. He worked at a mill on the side where he would help clean it. Darshan Singh recalls having to fight for his rights- he was underpaid for working overtime and he consulted his father about it. His father told Darshan Singh that he would never speak to him again if he told the mill administration for fear of losing their jobs. Still, after consulting with a friend, Darshan Singh confronted the secretary to which the secretary apologized, telling him it was a mistake. He received his overtime pay shortly after, which he showed his dad. His dad was very proud of him, telling him that he would make it somewhere in his life.
Darshan Singh’s next job was working as a mail carrier at the local post office. His father was ecstatic because the majority of the Port Alberni South Asian community at the time worked at lumber mills. However, this job did not come easy. He faced discrimination during the hiring process- although he passed the exam and the interview, the supervisor was not happy with him. His supervisor used to live across the street from him, and he had three sons and one daughter that would drink and smoke. The supervisor would tell his children that he was going to try and purposefully make Darshan Singh’s life difficult so he would quit on his own. However, Darshan Singh persevered through this difficult time, even being promoted to a supervisor role. Darshan Singh recalls facing discrimination even after he was promoted to the supervisor role. For example, three years after he obtained this position, a junior employee told him that he was a very good supervisor but he was unable to accept him. When Darshan Singh inquired further he was told that due to his skin colour he would not be accepted.
Darshan Singh continued to remain involved in the local community at Port Alberni. He was heavily involved with the local soccer teams and acted as both a referee and a coach to youth from a variety of age ranges, beginning at around six years old.
Darshan Singh was married in 1969 in Port Alberni, Canada. He had an arranged marriage-with his wife coming from India. He recalls the first time he met his wife, Nasib, was when he picked her up at the airport. They had two children together, one daughter and one son.
Darshan Singh decided to leave Port Alberni later on. The final and deciding factor occurred when his son injured his hip. Access to medical treatment was difficult, which made him move to the lower mainland the next day, on January 26, 1980. Here, he purchased a car wash in Burnaby. He noticed many differences after he moved. For example, Port Alberni was a small town and the majority of people knew him. He continued to run the car wash for two years after which he went into land development. He already had prior experience in land development as he had built around thirty houses during his time in Port Alberni.
Since moving to Canada, Darshan Singh has returned to India a handful of times. He has seen many different changes such as improved appliances and electricity as well as improved water systems. He recalls getting water from the well as a child.
He has also seen Canada change in many different ways as well including it becoming more multicultural. When he first came, there was only one South Asian person who had a vehicle in Port Alberni amongst approximately 350 people. He was able to make many good friends in Port Alberni due to the small community environment which he continues to remain in touch with.
Nowadays, Darshan Singh is involved in a local church, the Punjabi Masihi Church where he has been a member for four years. He became a member of the church after his neighbour invited him to a Bible study. He runs and founded a senior centre which meets every Tuesday and Thursday. There are exercise machines, pool tables and more fun activities to promote healthy lifestyles. He also organizes trips to take the seniors travelling to different locations across BC. On Thursday he helps facilitate a diabetic centre to help teach individuals how to manage and take care of diabetes. He is proud of the church’s diversity- for example, there are Fijian, Muslim, Punjabi, etc. attendees. Translating services help cater to the wider community.
Currently, he is also involved in humanitarian work, and is working on a project to provide aid to poorer individuals. There are 209 countries signed onto this project already, and he is working to have it approved.