Gurmit Singh Tiwana

Gurmit Singh Tiwana was born on August 2nd, 1932 to mother Sham Kaur Tiwana and father Varyam Singh Tiwana, in Hathur, District Ludhiana, Punjab. He resided in Hathur for eleven years alongside his sister who was also named Gurmit (now deceased) and brother Ajit Singh.

Gurmit Singh attended a high school in Moga Tehsil, specialized in English speaking and he completed his tenth grade in 1945. This school was particularly unique because other schools focused on Urdu education at the time. Upon completion of his tenth grade he completed his basic teaching education training, known as JBT, at the Basic Training College in Jagraon and started to teach at his local village in district Firozpur. Here, he was paid 75 rupees per month.

Gurmit Singh was married in 1947 at the age of eighteen to his wife Surjit Kaur Tiwana. Their villages were approximately five miles away from each other. He has three children, two sons and one daughter (eldest Gurcharan Singh, younger son Parminder Singh and daughter Paramjit Kaur).

Soon after marriage he accepted a position that paid more- 120 rupees per month- in Delhi. He moved in with his wife’s relatives. In Delhi, he used to take evening classes to complete his M.A. degree at Punjabi University while teaching in primary schools during the day. Upon completion of this degree he was promoted to teaching at a middle school. Gurmit Singh then decided to move to Chandigarh to complete his post-graduation Bachelor of Education which was an advanced teaching course. Upon completing this, he went back to teaching at his school in Delhi where he lived for sixteen years. Later on, his family began to rent their own house until they were able to build one.  

Through a connection Gurmit Singh was able to speak with Mr. Jaswant Singh Kanwal, a renowned novelist, and was subsequently offered a job to teach both Punjabi and English at a local college in district Moga, Punjab. He taught at this school for twelve years before deciding to come to Canada.

His son, Gurcharan Singh, also known as Gary, came to Canada alone in 1972. Prior to his journey, he had to wait six months for his passport to arrive. He was interviewed at the airport about his intentions for coming to Canada, alongside thirty-five other candidates, and he was the only one who was able to come to Canada, primarily due to his English knowledge. Gurcharan Singh then headed over to Toronto, Canada, with only eight dollars in hand from the government, alongside twenty dollars his family managed to collect from other sources.  He studied for his citizenship test, passed, and received Canadian citizenship.

During this time period, Gurmit Singh continued to teach at the local college in India where he was very well respected. Gurcharan Singh decided to come back to India in 1976 for marriage purposes. Later on, he and his wife came to Canada, where they had a small child. Gurcharan Singh soon after sponsored his parents and younger sister to move to Canada, which also provided extra help in raising the child while Gurcharan Singh and his wife worked. However, during this time period, Gurmit Singh experienced a dilemma. His daughter was completing her final year of her undergraduate degree at Punjab University. If they were to head over to Canada, her degree would remain unfinished. They asked the Canadian immigration office to extend their visa by one more year, but this request was not acknowledged. Luckily, one of Gurmit Singh’s friends informed him that it would be possible for her daughter to take her remaining examinations in Toronto if he paid 500 rupees to the university, which he then proceeded to do. His younger son, Parminder Tiwana was able to come one year after his sister and parents, in 1981, as a permanent resident on marriage basis. 

Once Gurmit Singh and his family arrived in Toronto, they settled in at his son, Gurcharan Singh’s house, alongside Gurcharan Singh’s wife, and newly born daughter, Jasdeep. Gurmit Singh recalls having to stay strong during his first year in Canada, for the sake of his daughter and his wife, who did not enjoy it there. He recalls being held in high regard in India because of his position as a professor. Furthermore, his family was also held in a high regard where people would salute them if they passed by.

Gurmit Singh first worked at a factory responsible for making copper utensils, receiving the job from one of his son’s acquaintances. One day at his work, he was told to clean the factory to which Gurmit Singh refused to do. Soon after, he left that job. Gurmit Singh continued to work at a parking booth as a parking lot attendant, marking how long vehicles would stay in parking lots and receiving the appropriate amount of money for the time they stayed for his remaining seven years in Toronto.

Gurmit Singh remembers that there was a lot of discrimination surrounding jobs. For example, when his experienced son, Gurcharan Singh applied to a clerical job, he was rejected whereas a twelfth grade high school student received the job over him. Finally however, he was able to receive a clerical job. Meanwhile, Gurcharan Singh’s wife worked as a quality controller at Sears.

Later the family decided to move to Vancouver because of its better climate. Gurcharan Singh had to leave his job in order to move over to the west. Upon doing so, he was able to receive welfare for one year because he had worked for his company for a long period of time. First, Gurcharan Singh was a berry picker. He then applied with the city hall but was unable to receive a job due to his educational background. Gurcharan Singh then followed his passion of creating movies and began to specialize in wedding coverage. He charged $75 for each wedding movie. Gurmit Singh recalls travelling alongside his son as a videographer and even heading over to Oliver, B.C.

Soon after Gurcharan Singh decided to purchase a house from a prominent local real estate agent. This real estate agent was known to be the only Indian origin individual to sell properties at that time. Once the house was purchased, Gurcharan Singh asked the real estate agent for $500 to help paint and polish the house. This realtor refused to help any further. This incident made Gurcharan Singh want to become a real estate agent. As such, after studying in the real estate program, he indeed passed and began working as a real estate agent. Within two years, Gurcharan Singh was able to beat this other prominent realtor as the leading real estate agent in the industry and he became famous all over Abbotsford. Since then, he has consistently won medallions. During his retirement he even received a letter issued by the head of the medallion committee in real estate acknowledging his hard work.

Gurmit Singh has been involved in the local Abbotsford community in a variety of ways. He used to attend the University of Fraser Valley’s interfaith meetings held either yearly or bi-annually. He also gave lectures at Columbia Bible College, Abbotsford, BC, to individuals enrolled in the three year program to become a priest. Here, he taught about Sikhism, earning $75 for one hour.

He frequently travelled back to India where at one point, he would reside six months in Canada and six months in India for a few years. He feels strongly about climate change, noting that the water has gone down in his home state of Punjab and believing that Punjab may become a desert twenty years from now.

Gurmit Singh recalls travelling twice- the first being a fifteen days cruise for his fiftieth wedding anniversary with his wife, Surjit Kaur, to Hawaii, and the second trip was travelling to Alaska on one of his birthdays through his son, Gurcharan Singh.

Nowadays, Gurmit Singh enjoys spending his time writing as he has written seven books of his own. He has also edited a variety of books. Currently, he has two books that are going to the press. He hopes to send the message to the youth that they should study, and ‘not waste time on the internet.’