Piara Singh Bassan
Piara Singh Bassan was born near Phagwara to father Baljit Singh and mother Indy Kaur on August 11, 1932. He grew up alongside one brother and two sisters. In India he studied until the eighth grade and upon completion he began to work in Phagwara. He recalls that he would bicycle from his village every day in the morning to work, returning in the evening. Here, he worked with machine tools and dye makers.
Piara Singh’s connections to Canada began over a century ago. His uncle, Giani Naranjan Singh came to Canada and worked in the farms in 1906. He also later worked in the mills. His aunt (Naranjan Singh’s wife), Bibi Rattan Kaur joined him in 1924. Upon settling and having children the couple decided to purchase a farm where they shifted their focus into the agricultural field.
Piara Singh was married in the mid-fifties to Jaswinder Kaur in Phagwara, India. They were introduced through their parents and were engaged for ten years prior to their marriage. Jaswinder Kaur was a housewife in India where she also took care of the children. They have four children- two sons and two daughters, all of whom were born in India.
Piara Singh moved to Canada on January 30, 1970, arriving on a visitor’s visa. He arrived alone, having been sponsored by his bhua (dad’s sister) and fufar (dad’s sister’s husband). When he first came to Canada his heart was not set in the new land because he was all alone and in a new place with new people. There was also a communication problem because Piara Singh did not learn English back in India.
He recalls that he never actually made the decision to come to Canada- rather, his aunt and uncle decided to sponsor him upon returning on a trip back to India. His aunt had returned to India after living in Canada for 45 years. She lived with Piara Singh in their village for six months and after one year, the aunt and uncle sent Piara Singh a ticket, letter and money, telling him to come to Canada, where he then arrived.
Piara Singh resided with his aunt and uncle alongside their children on their farm in Ladner. Here, he didn’t work until he had received a permanent resident status from Canada. He applied in February, receiving it in March. Soon after receiving his permanent status he headed north to 100 Mile House, where he proceeded to work on the mill plainer. He found out about this job through relatives. He recalls that the South Asian community in 100 Mile House primarily resided in the cabins. These cabins were provided by the mill they worked for. Life here was very difficult- he recalls going outside for water and if they wanted to use the washroom they would have to go outside. When they wanted to cook food, such as traditional South Asian foods like rotis, they would have to burn wood outside and make it. During this time there was no Gurdwara in the region and the Gurdwara was constructed after Piara Singh had already left.
During this time, he remembers that people would spit towards his direction because he wore a turban and kept a beard. Due to the job’s requirement of wearing hard hats, Piara Singh proceeded to cut his hair off, where he recalls that people no longer spit in his direction. Unfortunately, he became sick, and had to return back home to Ladner where he proceeded to have a medical operation.
When his health began to improve Piara Singh found out about work available in a North Vancouver machine factory. Here, he did tool and dye maker work. He worked here for two years until he obtained work at a big factory, called Canadian Pacific. Piara Singh continued to work here from 1972 until 1993, where he was in charge of building parts for mill machines. During the first couple of years, Piara Singh lived alone in North Vancouver, renting out a basement. It was through his work in the factories that Piara Singh was able to build up his knowledge of English and communicate with others. Upon his family arriving, Piara Singh decided to purchase a house which he continues to reside in to this day. The house has been refurbished since.
After two years, in 1972, Piara Singh was able to sponsor his wife and four children who joined him in North Vancouver. Piara Singh’s wife Jaswinder Kaur worked in the sewing industry for ten years, while his young children were enrolled in local schools. Piara Singh recalls that his children never came to him with stories of discrimination they may have faced in schools. Piara Singh attributes this to his children’s knowledge of English.
During the early years of his job Piara Singh remained busy with the Akali Sikh Temple Society, a Gurdwara which opened in 1972. Although Piara Singh was not a founding member, his aunt and uncle were. He has seen the Gurdwara develop over the years and has many connections with it. At the current location, he helped oversee the expansion to two darbars. He continues to remain busy, serving as the secretary of the Gurdwara committee which means spending a large portion of his day at the Gurdwara helping to ensure everything runs smoothly and to schedule the weddings that run weekly.
Piara Singh has returned to India a variety of time and has seen many changes since his childhood. The roads are more developed, there are more vehicles running and land has become more expensive. Villages were further developed to accommodate new modes of transportation.
Within the Canadian South Asian community, he recalls it being tight-knit and very close when he first arrived. He felt that there was a lot of love whereas nowadays, he feels as though the community has grown apart because people are involved in their own work. When he first arrived much of the South Asian community worked in the mills and as time went on, he feels as though the South Asian community has become prosperous in a variety of different fields.
Throughout his life he has visited England as his sisters reside there and he used to frequent Seattle back when his children were younger. Although he no longer goes to Seattle –particularly due to the long journey from Vancouver- his children continue to go there often.
Piara Singh hopes to send the message to the new generation about the importance of staying away from drugs. He believes it is important to study well, and to represent Canada in a positive way- particularly as Canada has provided them with a lot of resources and help. Upon studying well, he hopes that the new generation will find good jobs.