Dr. Shattar (Andy) Sidhu was born on May 5, 1940 to father Gurdial Singh and mother Gurnam Kaur. He was born in Malaysia where he grew up alongside his two younger sisters. He recalls Malaysia as a tropical country and as a result, the daily way of life was much different than colder climate countries such as Canada. Malaysia is a diverse country with a mixture of individuals from nearly every country in the world.
Andy’s roots lead back to Punjab, India where both of his parents were born. His father Gurdial Singh immigrated to Malaysia in the early 1900s and was approximately 17 or 18 years old during his time of migration. At the time, Gurdial Singh’s older brother had already established himself in Malaysia. The reasoning behind this was due to increased financial difficulties in Punjab and so moving to Malaysia would mean increased work opportunities and money could be sent over back to Punjab.
Growing up, Andy received a very ‘British’ education because Malaysia followed the British curriculum. He graduated from secondary school in 1958 after which he headed over to Melbourne, Australia to complete post-secondary education. During this time he decided to study accounting and management. Unfortunately, in 1961 his father became ill and so Andy had no choice but to head back- particularly as he was the only son in the family. He tried to see if he could finish his studies somehow but became busy in the realities of life.
Andy soon began working for an office equipment firm in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. While he was working there he noted that some of his friends moved to Canada. These friends would write glowing remarks about Canada and how it was easy to obtain jobs. So Andy decided to try and move to Canada. He went to the Canadian High Commission to create an application and after about three months he received a letter requesting him to attend an interview. Upon completion of the interview Andy asked the interviewer what his chances were. The interviewer noted that due to his educational background and work experience he had a 75% chance of approval. A month or so after the interview he received good news noting that he had passed his interview and that he had three months to obtain his visa. Being young at the time he ignored the letter and the three months had passed. So the Canada High Commission mailed him a reminder letter which Andy also ignored. Finally, they issued a final reminder and so Andy finally decided that he might as well get his visa.
His parents were against the prospect of Andy moving to Canada, particularly as he was the only son of the family. As such he gave himself two years, arriving in Canada at the Vancouver Airport on September 30, 1974. He arrived alone, but he had some friends who lived in Mission. Andy settled down in Mission where he tried to get a job. Andy wore a turban and beard before moving to Canada- he had kept it throughout his time in Australia; however, in Canada he decided to remove it and cut his hair when he was told that it would be a hindrance to receiving a job. The employment counselor had also told him that his chances of getting good employment without a turban would have been better. He recalls making 264 applications within two months- and all of them being handwritten. Out of all of them he received eight replies- all of which were rejections because he didn’t have enough Canadian experience.
One day, Andy was speaking with a neighbour who told him about a job opportunity at a dairy farm. This was a labour job opportunity- a job he’d never done in his life. When Andy headed over to the dairy farm he remembers that the owner Jim McLelland was shocked at his knowledge of English. The owner had thought that South Asians were unable to speak English fluently. He hired Andy immediately and told him to come in the next day wearing work clothes. He regularly referred to Andy as his ‘Hawaiian friend’ because of Andy’s skin colour and the way he spoke English fluently. He was also the one who gave Andy his nickname from his real full name, Shattar. One day, Andy was at the far end of the barn cleaning the stalls. A man was standing at the other end shouting ‘Andy, Andy’. Dr. Sidhu looked around, realizing that there was nobody else standing there. McLelland said to Andy, ‘No, you come.’ And so, upon receiving instructions, Andy mentioned that his name was not ‘Andy’. And McLelland said ‘Oh no, no, you’re Andy. From now on, your name is Andy.’ From then on, the name stuck.
After seven to eight months from his initial employment, the manager of the Canada Farm Labour Pool visited the farm that Dr. Sidhu worked at. The two began talking whereupon the manager inquired what he was doing on a farm, working as a labourer. The manager informed him that a sub-office would be opening up in Cloverdale soon and that they would be taking applications. Andy applied to the job with the help of a counselor at the manpower office, who helped him to create a resume. There were 56 individuals who applied to the job, of which 6 were short-listed to interview- one being Andy. Dr. Sidhu thoroughly did his research prior to attending this interview, going around farms in Cloverdale to gain more information. Upon completing the interview, the manager followed him out the door, telling him that if he had his choice, he would hire Andy today. But, the only reason he may not receive the job would be due to the colour of the skin. Unfortunately, Andy did not receive the job.
On June 4th, 1976, Andy received a call in the farm one morning. He picked up this phone where he was told to go visit the manager on Monday morning, wearing his best suit. He visited the manager as directed, whereupon he was offered a job as a bookkeeper, with a wage of $800 per month. Andy decided to take the job- particularly as he was able to get a ‘foot’ into the industry he wanted to be in. Throughout the years he continued to be promoted. Due to his ability to speak Punjabi and English fluently he was often called-on by local departments- including the local police and immigration centres, for interpretative roles.
In 1982 Andy went back to Malaysia where he married his wife, Pritam Sidhu. Andy’s cousin was Pritam’s good friend. By this time, Andy had already sponsored his parents to Canada and they were settled in Abbotsford, British Columbia. His parents agreed to come to Canada as they were getting older and his mother had chronic asthma. Andy and Pritam headed over to Canada two weeks after their wedding where Pritam began to establish herself as a newcomer to Canada. Pritam and Andy raised two children- Dave and Ronnie, continuing to stay in Abbotsford.
After 21 years of work, in 1995, Dr. Sidhu was laid off after a new federal government came into power, laying off 40,000 civil servants. He was able to maintain an income through his accounting background and because of his contacts with the farming community, he was hired to do their payroll and income taxes.
One day, as Andy and Pritam were sitting at home Andy had an idea to start a bi-lingual newspaper. His wife was very surprised asking Andy if he knew anything about newspapers. Although Andy did not, he worked hard to make the newspaper ‘Punjabi Patrika’ become a well-established paper within Abbotsford. For the first eighteen years, the business was home-based. The business was truly a strong, family effort. His wife, Pritam played an integral role in the success of the paper, doing a variety of different jobs to keep it running. Although there were many setbacks they continued to persevere.
He continues to go back to Malaysia quite often. After his marriage he has returned to Malaysia almost every year for a variety of reasons- from celebrating weddings to celebrating birthdays. He has noted a lot of change in Malaysia- he is unable to go anywhere now because he would easily get lost. There are lots of new buildings and Malaysia has become a different country compared to when they left.
There is a large South Asian community in Malaysia with many prosperous individuals. Dr. Sidhu continues to have many connections with Malaysia, particularly due to his in-laws that continue to stay there. There are also many Gurdwaras there- Kuala Lumpur alone has more than half a dozen.
Dr. Sidhu feels that throughout the years, Canada has become more open than before. He notes that the true people of this country are the Indigenous people- all others are migrants. He recalls that the South Asian community used to be a lot more close-knit than it currently is.
Nowadays, Andy continues to stay busy. He is the first Punjabi Chancellor of the University of the Fraser Valley and he continues to remain involved in his newspaper, which his two sons currently run. He enjoys his chancellorship role and the opportunity to meet new people and learn a variety of things. During his free time, he enjoys reading.
He hopes to send the message to the new generation that anything is possible to achieve but one must work hard. He recalls the saying ‘Failures are the pillars of success,’ and notes that if one fails, they must learn something from that failure to go forward. He also hopes to send the message of the importance of being truthful and honest to attain success.