Rewal Kaur Gill
Rewal Kaur Gill was born on April 30, 1961, in village Khurd, District Hoshiarpur, Punjab, as the eldest child to mother Naranjan Kaur and father Gurdas Singh. Rewal Kaur was born at her mom’s side’s home- in those days, it was common for the first born child to be born at their mother’s village. She stayed there for one year and then she travelled to her father’s village which was the village she grew up in, located nearby (Raipur, District Hoshiarpur). She grew up alongside two brothers (Balbir Singh and Gurmit Singh) and one sister (Kewal Kaur). Her father Gurdas Singh had passed away when she was a child and so she grew up with her mother and three siblings.
In India she studied until the tenth grade. Afterwards she did housework which consisted of work in the kitchen. She would help her mom and look after buffalos, milking them and feeding them. In the mornings she would make chai. She would also clean the house with a broom and do similar types of work.
Her marriage was arranged by her thiya ji (dad’s brother) when she was in the seventh grade. She was not even aware about this arrangement for some time. Her thiya ji was good friends with her husband, Taranjit Singh’s father. Her husband first came to Canada in the 1970’s, arriving as a visitor after his brother sponsored him. He returned to India, moving back in 1982 as a permanent resident. Here, he had to work at a mill but he did not receive much pay.
Although Rewal Kaur never really made the decision to come to Canada, her journey to move to this new country did not come easily. She was engaged for 12 years before she was married. Meanwhile, her soon-to-be husband resided in Canada at that time. As such, her husband had sponsored her to move to Canada, where the plan was to then get married. However, Rewal Kaur’s visa was rejected, as the Canadian officials did not believe it to be a true marriage.
Taranjit Singh came to India in 1986, where they were married in March. He returned to Canada, where he then proceeded to sponsor Rewal Kaur. She was able to move to Canada the following year in March, 1987, on a permanent residence visa. She arrived from Delhi to Canada on a plane. Rewal Kaur was the first of her family to move to Canada.
During the time of her migration to Canada, her husband lived in Surrey at that time with his older brother. The newly married couple resided with them for around six months; however, soon after that, she had to start work. Her husband worked in the mills and didn’t have sufficient contacts for work in Surrey. Rewal Kaur’s aunt from her mother’s village lived in Abbotsford and soon they connected with one another. Through her, Rewal Kaur began working in the farms.
Her time in Canada consisted of hard work. She recalls being surprised that she had to find a job once she came to Canada- she thought she would be free all day. She picked up work at a local farm as a berry picker where she picked all different types of berries. On her first day at work she didn’t know how to put the gloves on and she arrived wearing white-coloured clothes. By the end of the day, her clothes were covered in dirt and her legs were swollen. She is grateful for her massi (mom’s sister) who helped her out a lot. For example, at the beginning Rewal Kaur was slow to work in the farms. Her maasi would quickly finish her work and then help Rewal Kaur to ensure her job remained safe and that the farm owners wouldn’t say anything.
After working in the farm for a few years, she moved on to a new position at a nursery. Here, she helped pack small plants and water them. She would also prepare shipments for local stores, earning $9.00 an hour. Soon after she learned how to work in the greenhouse and took up a position in Ladner. She would drive with four other co-workers to Ladner and they would take turns driving each day.
She recalls one day, it had snowed, and when she and her co-workers got off work at 4:30 pm it was her turn to drive. She had an old car and it had snowed so much that it took four hours to return home to Abbotsford. And then, she had to go back to work early the following day. Rewal Kaur describes these days as being very difficult, further exacerbated by the way that there were no cell phones.
After this she started to work in a chicken factory where she continues to work to this day. Here, she ensures that the meat is not spoiled and works alongside a specialized veterinarian to ensure that spoiled meat does not go through. Back when she first started working she had to cut away spoiled parts of the chicken. However, nowadays, the machine is responsible for the cutting, so her role is to ensure that there is no skin or bone left that the machine didn’t cut off. She recalls that the production pace has become much faster than before, primarily due to the machinery.
Rewal Kaur was unable to focus on receiving an education in Canada as she had to do labour to generate an income. She felt that if she started studying she would have been unable to sponsor her mom and two younger brothers to come to Canada, particularly as her brothers were getting older. If they were over the age of eighteen, she would no longer be eligible to sponsor them. Because of this, she started to work so she could generate an income.
Rewal Kaur remembers being fearful during her sponsorship application due to her low income. She felt that perhaps her application would be rejected and her two brothers and mother would be unable to come. However her family was not interviewed and the application was successful. As such, they were able to join her in Canada in 1990. Rewal Kaur was unable to sponsor her younger sister to come to Canada as she had already been married in India.
Her mother and two brothers stayed with Rewal Kaur for about 1 ½ months. This time was joyous, as they had re-united but it was also very difficult. Rewal Kaur was living in a basement suite with her two daughters and husband, so there were already multiple people living in a small space. Furthermore, her two brothers had to find work as well as her mother. After 1 ½ months, they moved away from each other as her brothers and mother had gotten on their own two feet.
Rewal Kaur first returned to India twelve years later. She was amazed to see all the changes. She returned as her close relative had passed away. She remembers that her house felt different and it didn’t feel like her house. She then returned again four years later. Her last two trips happened very close to each other due to her daughter’s weddings.
Rewal Kaur has also noticed many changes in Canada- primarily technological changes. When she came, it was uncommon for people to have cell phones. Those who did tended to work in the business field. There was just a house phone and all the calls would go there. It was also difficult to find people’s houses. There were no networking applications, such as WhatsApp or Facebook, which make communication a lot easier these days.
Meanwhile, in the apna community, she feels as though a lot has changed as well. Back when she first came, it was a small community, and there were no fights. Everyone lived with a lot of love. Individuals would gather at one house when a relative came from India and they would get together and eat food.
She enjoyed travelling to Mexico recently, for the first time, to attend her son’s wedding. When she first came to Canada, she remembers that her entire family would travel to Prince George- Rewal Kaur, her husband, two daughters, mother and two brothers would gather in one vehicle and make the eight-hour long journey up to Prince George. Nobody would wear seatbelts- there was not nearly as much fear back then as there was now and no one would say anything.
She hopes to send the message to the younger generation about the importance of studying. Although they were not able to get an education and had to work in labour, the newer generation has a better opportunity-particularly as their parents have already settled here. She hopes today’s youth will get a good education and have a steady job, particularly as she feels there is a greater need for education in today’s society.