Pritam Kaur Sidhu
Pritam Sidhu was born on November 29, 1947 in Port Klang, Malaysia. She grew up in a large family with six siblings. Life in Malaysia was quite multicultural- Pritam recalls growing up alongside a sizeable Sikh community. In Malaysia, she grew up speaking multiple languages including attaining a high level of fluency in Punjabi, English, Malay, and Hindi.
Pritam’s father Chadar Singh was a policeman and Pritam recalls that this was part of the reason he immigrated to Malaysia because the country was recruiting people from India (the country was colonized by the British) to join the police force. As such, Chadar Singh packed up his bags and moved from his home region of Jalandhar, Punjab, India to Malaysia. Meanwhile, Pritam’s mother Surjit Kaur, was born and raised in Malaysia.
Her parents met as her dad’s younger brother was married to her mom’s sister. Through this, Pritam’s father had seen her mother who, as Pritam recalls is ‘very pretty.’ Even though Surjit Kaur’s parents did not approve of the marriage they still married after Surjit Kaur’s father had passed away.
Her father Chadar Singh was the president of the local Gurdwara for Sikh policemen. The government of Malaysia provided land for Sikh policemen to build their own Gurdwara. At one point, the Malaysian police forces consisted of at least 75% Sikh. Every Sunday Pritam would go to the Gurdwara which was a space where everybody knew each other- it was a small community life, particularly as they all lived in the police proximity.
Pritam grew up in Malaysia, completing her high school there. Upon completion, she worked for the Malaysian government as an examination syndicate role. This meant that she was in charge of the exams and subsequent marking that were set out by Cambridge, England.
Pritam was married on January 27, 1982 to Andy Sidhu- who was the cousin of Pritam’s good friend. Andy Sidhu was also originally from Malaysia but at that point he had already settled down in Canada. Two weeks after her marriage, she flew over to Vancouver, Canada- her brother convincing her to go. She arrived on a tourist visa and then the next day her husband sponsored her. He had connections with the Ministry of Immigration because of his ability to speak Punjabi and provide translation services. Andy became good friends with the manager where he was able to explain his situation prior to marriage with Pritam.
Upon landing in Vancouver from Kuala Lumpur, Pritam and Andy immediately headed over to Abbotsford. Here, she moved in with Andy’s family. Pritam initially did not enjoy her life in Canada. She was all alone- away from her family, who continued to reside in Malaysia and felt that it was very cold. However, she did not experience culture shock because Pritam had travelled to England beforehand. She described Abbotsford as ‘moving to the boonies.’ She remembers her initial year being very difficult- every time they would go somewhere, she would cry. Her parents would call and her dad would ask if her new family was being difficult to her; however, this wasn’t the case- it was simply due to the way that her heart was not set in Canada.
Despite this, Pritam continued to persevere in order to make her new life in Canada successful. Initially, she had a clerk job where she worked for about five months until she became pregnant with her first child. Pritam has two children and she used to take them to McMillan Park. One day, she saw some kids from a pre-school at the park and noticed one child walking away. She alerted the teachers where she was then asked if she held a job or not. She was offered a volunteer opportunity with them which she took. When Pritam’s children were a bit older, she was offered a job and training at the pre-school. She continued working there for ten years.
Soon after this, in 1995, her husband had decided to start a newspaper, Punjabi Patrika. To support this newspaper she quit her job at the pre-school. During this time the pre-school was also experiencing some financial hardships. The newspaper was home-based for about eighteen years.
Pritam recalls that her family worked very hard to make the newspaper successful and that it required a lot of courage. She did everything related to the paper business- she did not hold one particular job. She would take her children to work, pick them up, come home, help them with their homework and then continue to work on the paper. Some days, she would only sleep for two hours. This was further topped with the fear of the paper not being successful, as this had become their family’s livelihood. Pritam believes that success takes time and that the Punjabi Patrika is a good example of this.
Her children were also an integral part of the paper right from the beginning. The older one (Dave) used to write while the younger one (Ronnie) would draw for the paper. At this time, there were only a handful of staff members, whom the Sidhu’s treated like family. They would provide them with lunch and tea and it was very much considered to be a family environment- which it continues to be so.
Pritam has noticed many changes throughout the years. For example, in Malaysia, the population has grown- there are more vehicles and buildings, and most of the roads are one-way. As a result, it is very difficult to drive compared to before. In Canada, now it is a lot more difficult to build a house due to the lack of property. As well as this, the Punjabi population has grown. She remembers that when she first came she would know many of the individuals who would frequent the Gurdwara. Nowadays, though, if you know about ten families, one would feel as they know a lot.
Currently, Pritam continues to reside in Abbotsford. She continues to remain busy and goes to the Punjabi Patrika office from Monday to Wednesday where she is a familiar face. She treats the family working there like family. Pritam hopes to send this message to the youth of today: “Think positive, be grateful for what you have. Don’t be greedy.”