Bhai Vir Singh Pannu
Bhai Vir Singh Pannu was born on April 1, 1945, in Panwal Tha Kot, Pakistan, to parents Sardar Palda Singh and Sardarni Preetam Kaur. After the India-Pakistan Partition of 1947, Bhai Vir Singh and his family crossed the border and headed towards Punjab, India where he grew up. After finishing his grade ten exam, he decided to enroll in a teaching course known as the Junior Basic Training (JBT). Upon completion, he became a high school teacher as well as completing special training to be a Giani (scholars of the Sikh scriptures) in Amritsar, Punjab.
Bhai Vir Singh was married in India but his life as a Sikh priest has taken him all over the world. He had to leave behind his wife in India as well as five of his six children, bringing only his eldest son Sarup Singh, with him to eastern Malaysia. During this time he lived at a local Gurdwara in Labuan, Malaysia for seven years and then headed over Canada in 1989 alongside his elder son. The father and son were brought to Canada after being sponsored by the Akali Singh Society Gurdwara in Vancouver, BC. Both father and son proceeded to reside there with Bhair Vir Singh serving as the Sikh priest for six months whereupon they then headed over to Mission, BC, a little while after the opening of a new Gurdwara in November, 1989. There, Bhai Vir Singh became the Gurdwara’s Sikh priest. He received his permanent residency after the Mission Gur Sikh Society Gurdwara applied for it. He was unable to travel much in Canada due to his complete devotion to the local Gurdwara and the duties he was assigned to take care of. Meanwhile, Sarup Singh aided his father in performing Kirtan and later also worked at a lumber mill. Currently, he works as a truck driver.
Later on Bhai Vir Singh was able to sponsor his wife, Harvinder Kaur, and their three children (two daughters and one son) to come to Canada. All six of his children were born in India. Currently, four of them remain in Canada and two reside in India (one daughter and one son), as they prefer it there. He highly praises his wife for all the hard work she had to do. Harvinder Kaur had to take care of the household and the children and she resided alone with the remaining children in India for a number of years. Due to all her hard work and strong resilience, Bhai Vir Singh believes that her work was harder than his.
Bhai Vir Singh remembers the community being very supportive when he first moved to Mission. The local Sikh community recognized that he left his family and home back in India to serve as a Sikh priest. Due to the support he received, he does not recall facing very many difficulties. As well as this, he had already experienced living in a new country by living in Malaysia before coming to Canada. In Mission, he became friends with a local Christian priest where they taught each other their mother tongues. Although Bhai Vir Singh no longer remains in close contact with this Christian priest, as he has since moved to America, they send each other cards for New Year’s.
Although Bhai Vir Singh had a lot of community support, he also recalls some difficult situations faced while being a Sikh priest at the Mission Gurdwara. For example, one day, as he was sitting outside, a group of people near the road by the Gurdwara started shouting at him. Furthermore, once, a man tried to rob him with a knife by the Gurdwara. Overall however Bhai Vir Singh believes that the community has improved their understanding of Sikhism. He believes that this is due to the education that the Gurdwara provides which include providing tours and ‘langar’ (food) to a variety of people from schoolchildren to teachers.
Bhai Vir Singh has watched Mission grow in a variety of different ways. He recalls the development of not only the city, but also the increase in numbers of the Punjabi Sikh community. He has been recognized for his community devoted life, even being awarded the Queen Diamond Jubilee medal in 2012. Although he recently suffered a stroke in 2017, he remains strong and completely dependent. He continues to reside in Mission, and visits India approximately every two years.