Harnek Singh


Date of Birth:
Village Mahian Wala, District Ferozepur, Punjab
Current City:
Abbotsford, BC

Harnek Singh was born on January 11, 1950 in Village Mahian Wala, District Ferozpur, in Punjab. He was nineteen years old when he came to Canada along with his wife. As a young person he was always intrigued by the life of living abroad and so his father-in-law applied for their permanent residency. Unfortunately, it was refused and Harnek Singh lost all hopes of fulfilling his dream of living abroad. During the 1970’s, Canada had allowed visas on arrival for Indian passport holders, so Harnek Singh decided to travel through this government policy. He landed in Vancouver on May 5, 1971 along with his wife and was given a visa for six months. His uncle came to receive them at the airport and they travelled to Langley, BC with him.

It was a different feeling for Harnek and his wife living in Canada as it was cold and the environment was so radically different than what he was used to. Also, he wasn’t fluent in English. Harnek and his wife stayed in Langley for two weeks, after which, they spent four months living with his brother-in-law in Prince Rupert, BC. Harnek’s wife was pregnant and they had their child in August, the same year of their travel to Canada. They filed for their residency and got permanent resident status the following year. In order to pay for his family expenses, Harnek Singh started working in a welding shop. At the same time, he was very interested in working at the mills; however, he could not get a job. He would wait outside the office of the mill in a chance to fill in for a person who would call in sick. This proved to be unsuccessful and so he continued working at the welding shop. Harnek felt that he was being exploited at the welding shop as he was only being paid $0.50 per hour. After three years, he finally got a job at the mill and worked in the green chain area.

During his night shift work, Harnek Singh felt that he was being discriminated against by his co-workers and he couldn’t complain as he felt unheard and he did not speak English well. After seeing his diligence, the foreman employed him in the cleanup area and then later in the log cutting area. Later, he moved from Terrance to Prince Rupert with his family to work in the mill in Prince Rupert. He worked in the mills for two years and was paid well for his work. His wife also worked at the fish processing plant. Later, the mill shutdown and he approached the Manpower counsel of the city to allow him to attend a vocational course or a training program. He was interested in a tire repair course near Vancouver but he wasn’t allowed to go for that because the consular thought that he wouldn’t be able to cope up with this training program. He applied for a welding course and with the help of the union at the mill he worked in, he had the opportunity to attend the training program.

As a part of the course, he had to finish his practicum and he decided to complete it at the welding shop in Prince Rupert. Seeing his diligence and hard work, the owner asked him to join his shop immediately after finishing his studies. Harnek accepted this job offer after getting his certification and joined the welding shop in Prince Rupert. He worked there for twelve years and in the meantime, finished a four year program at BCIT and other diplomas related to his field. During his life in Prince Rupert, he experienced a lot of racism and discrimination. Harnek Singh was a baptised as a Sikh in 1986, and being a true Sikh meant keeping a beard and wearing a turban as a Sikh man. Seeing his new appearance, the shop owner started disliking him and came up with reasons that would deter Harnek from wearing a turban and keeping a beard.

Seeing the shop owner’s attitude, Harnek left the job and moved to Abbotsford in the year 1989. He felt more comfortable in Abbotsford because of the prominent Sikh population. He worked for a year and started his own welding business in Abbotsford. Now, his son and grandson look after the business he started years back. His grandson received the welding skill award and represented British Columbia at the national level.

Harnek Singh is also the founding member of Gurmat Center, which was established in the year 1993. He sacrificed and put in a lot of hard work to make Gurmat Centre a success it is today. Harnek and his family experienced hardships in the initial years of coming to Canada and was a victim of racism and discrimination. Harnek Singh was an exceptional welder with the highest certifications possible for welding in British Columbia. Harnek and his wife have retired now and live in Abbotsford, continuing to serve the community.