Sadhu Binning

Dr. Sadhu Binning was born on May 10, 1947 to mother Gurmej Kaur and father Jeet Singh Binning. Because of a lack of proper records management at the time, it is believed that he was actually born sometime in December of 1947. He grew up alongside two brothers and one sister in a village located in Kapurthala, Punjab. He stayed in this village until he was nineteen and a half years old, attending secondary school.

Dr. Binning attended secondary school in the nearby city of Phagwara, Punjab although he did not complete his education. Throughout his childhood, he enjoyed reading- he would read both Punjabi and Hindi novels, and learned how to read Urdu as well.

When he was nineteen and a half years old, Dr. Binning moved to Canada. This was not his decision; rather, it was a family decision. His uncle, Dhana Singh had immigrated to Canada in 1933, coming back to India in 1953. He then returned to Canada in 1957 and sponsored Jeet Singh Binning to come to Canada. Dhana Singh co-owned a few saw mills in British Columbia and also worked in the truck driving industry.

Dr. Binning remembers that some people who had lived in Canada would visit their village. He remembers thinking these people were very strong and healthy and looked happy. He also remembers noting that they would eat meat, so whenever they would visit there would be meat available.

Dr. Binning first came to Canada on November 14, 1967. He remembers being surprised coming here, having a different expectation in mind in comparison to what he saw. His uncle, father, and his uncle’s friend arrived to pick him up at the airport. During his first few days, Dr. Binning made the decision to remove his turban and beard upon receiving advice from his uncle. Although in a way, this was emotional, he notes that he does not remember being upset with this.

Initially, Dr. Binning went alongside with his mother to work in the farms of Abbotsford. He also joined an English class located around Nanaimo Street in Vancouver. Meanwhile, Dhana Singh worked in a saw mill located in Vancouver. In the spring of 1968 he tried to get a job for his nephew but the job market was very slow at the time. However, there was a mill located in Avola that had more job vacancies. Dr. Binning drove to Avola alongside an acquaintance where they were hired the same day and began work in the afternoon. At the end of summer, he returned to Vancouver to visit, where a friend found a job for him at North Vancouver and so Dr. Binning did not return to Avola. During his free time, he enjoyed going on camping trips with his friends.

In 1970, a friend at the mill encouraged Dr. Binning to apply to a job at the post office. So he did and he received a job offer after being interviewed. He recalls the interviewer enquired about why he wanted to work in the post office because at this time people who worked in the saw mills earned more than the post office. He told the interviewer it was because he wanted to become educated. Dr. Binning worked as a postman here. He recalls facing a lot of discrimination and racism- people would call him ‘Paki’ nearly every shift, even multiple times a day. There were even racist people amongst his co-workers, but he persevered through.

He was married in 1973 to wife Jagdish. The two met one another in Canada but were from nearby villages in India. Dr. Binning describes this as a ‘semi-arranged marriage.’ Jagdish worked at the Royal Bank of Canada for thirty years until her retirement, as well as looking after the household and raising their children (one son and one daughter). She also handwrote a magazine, ‘Watno Dur’, or ‘away from homeland’, distributed to the community. Dr. Binning became the editor of this magazine in 1976. The magazine’s name was later changed to ‘Watan’, as they had accepted their new homeland. He recalls that when his father passed away, rather than taking the ashes back to India they took the ashes to Squamish River.

Alongside his work at the post office he also attended night school beginning from the eighth grade. Upon completion of high school, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, double majoring in Anthropology and Sociology from Simon Fraser University. He decided he wanted to further his education and so he joined a master’s program at SFU, graduating in 1986. During this time, he was part of a variety of movements and was very active within the community. He always wanted to work to change society, so he felt that he would go back to India to improve the society in his homeland. However, upon seeing the prevalence of the movements in Canada, he realized that work needed to be done here too.

From 1983 to 1995 Dr. Binning was also an integral part of a theatrical group known as ‘Vancouver Sath.’ Here, they produced plays that represented societal issues. They were invited to perform at multiple conferences throughout BC, as well as Canada. The main purpose of the group was to acknowledge that there were problems in Punjab but there are also problems happening within Canada. For example, they produced a play surrounding Punjabi women that focused on farm work. Many Punjabi women who worked on the farms were not aware of their rights and unions, particularly as they had owned their own farms in India. As a result, many were exploited.

During his free time, he enjoys biking, as well as watercolor painting. He also enjoys going on road trips. He has driven throughout Canada twice and has taken a road trip to Alaska. He has also driven south of the border– all the way down to Mexico. His goal was to travel to Belize but due to some dangerous circumstances they were forced to head back.

Dr. Binning strongly lobbied for Punjabi language education and it was this involvement that helped him become a Punjabi instructor at the University of British Columbia from 1988 to 2008. Initially, he worked as a teaching assistant at UBC under Dr. Harjot Oberoi where he received $5400 for teaching two terms. Due to these low wages, he simultaneously continued his work at the post office during his time as a teaching assistant.

He has visited India a few times since his initial migration. He has seen a variety of changes since his childhood there, noting that it doesn’t feel like the same place. He has also noted many changes in Canada. For example, the new generation is working many different kinds of fields. Back when he came, people used to ask him how he was able to get his job in the post office. Places like Surrey were considerably more dangerous back then- individuals would spit at them and have physical altercations.

Recently, in May, 2019, Dr. Binning received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from UBC, recognizing his hard work. He notes that he did not work for the purpose of being awarded; however, it was nice to be recognized for his work. He has lived in Burnaby since 1973 and resides in the same house he purchased in 1987. This house is over a century old. Nowadays, he enjoys spending time with his grandchildren. His daughter lives nearby and his son and daughter-in-law reside with him.

Dr. Binning hopes to convey the message of the importance of the connection between us and society and that we are who we are due to the surrounding society and the interactions with those around us. As a result of this, it is important to leave a positive impact on society for future generations to come, no matter what field or profession an individual is in.