Dogar Singh Bains

Date of Birth:
October, 1940
Village Palahi, District Kapurthala,  Punjab, India
Current City:
Sannich, British Columbia
Date of Interview:
February 10th, 2015

To listen to audio interview please click on link below:

Part 1

Dogar Singh Bains was born on October, 1940 in the village of Palahi, district Kapurthala, Punjab, India. He came to Canada on the 22nd of July, 1959 when he was approximately 19 years old. Before he left for Canada he had mostly done farming along with his father in India, and he did not have much formal education. He went to school only up to grade three or four and does not remember much about his schooling years. He came to Canada because his grand-father’s brother had come to Canada in 1906; and his father’s brother (uncle) had come in 1932. Dogar Singh’s uncle then sponsored him to migrate to Canada in 1959.

Dogar Singh’s uncle lived in Victoria on Mark Street alongside his grandfather, whose name was Rattan Singh Bains. Dogar Singh was able to immigrate to Canada by way of the quota system when there used to be an immigration quota for relatives. He remembers at that time approximately 150 men came as a result of that quota. Later, with new laws and changes to immigration, many immigrants started coming to Canada and the number of people arriving in BC started increasing. Previous to the 1970’s there were very few people in BC of Indian origin and very few had been coming since the 1920’s when immigration laws restricted their arrival. Dogar Singh sponsored the rest of his family to come join him in Canada after 7 years of his own arrival when he was financially stable. Dogar Singh was already married when he migrated to Canada, as he was married at 17 years old. His wife and two children migrated to Canada together and he and his wife had a third child in Canada.

Dogar Singh worked in the lumber industry all his life as did the Uncle who sponsored him. Dogar Singh looked for work in the mills soon after arriving as it seemed readily accessible other type of work was limited. After not finding any work immediately, Dogar Singh went to Vancouver and worked on a farm for some time. When he finally found work in the mills he started working part time as he was also working part time on the farms. After around four years of unstable employment, he finally found steady work in a mill. He preferred working at a mill because the wages were better and it was a union job. Though working in the mill was very heavy work, he was young and he knew what he needed to do as a young father and husband.

Dogar Singh worked at the Plumber Bay Sawmill located in Victoria for three years and then the Hillcrest Masachi Mill located in Duncan for one year. Later, he worked in Sooke sawmill, after which the town was later named. He worked at the Sooke mill for 26 years, which was the longest period of time he worked at one place. Sooke is around 22 kilometers from Victoria and some of the men used to carpool together when they had the same shift. His first job at the mill was on the green chain to pull the lumber. Dogar Singh would also work on the planer feeder, as a trim sawyer and as a spare man helping the foreman in the end.

Dogar Singh was never a supervisor or a grader because he did not take the necessary training, though his seniority kept on accruing. The supervisors were mostly people of European origin. According to Dogar Singh there was no conflict with them as all the men worked together in harmony. The Plumper Mill was owned by people of Indian origin and the supervisors were also Indians, but there was always supervisors of European origin.

Dogar Singh started working at a wage of $2.00 per hour as there was a large number of new employees in 1959. But after working for two to three years, the salary would increase. When he was forced to leave the Sooke mill which was shutting down due to its bankruptcy, some of the employees began a co-op, running it on their own, but eventually this shut down completely. Due to the closure, Dogar Singh took the retirement package to retire at 55 years because he was not entitled for old age pension or any other pension. It was his choice to retire and to take the limited pension package. After retirement, he bought his own strawberry farm in 1992, near the ferry in Victoria where he is living presently with his family.

In the mills there was a mixed demographics of people – there were people of Indian origin, European origin, Japanese origin, Chinese origin and members of First Nations Aboriginal people. Dogar Singh suggests that everyone was courteous with one another, and that there were no ethnic or racial differences expressed in the day- to- day work at the mill.  Dogar Singh mostly lived in the house with his uncle when he worked in Victoria, but he lived in a bunk house for approximately one year while he worked in Mesachie Lake. He would stay there for five working days and come back to his uncle’s house on the weekends. Dogar Singh said that he had a very good experience living in the bunk house at the Hillcrest lumber mill. It was owned by a Chinese company that also allowed for the construction of a Gurdwara on the property. The Indians assisted in the payment of the Gurdwara although the company would maintain the Gurdwara and paid for the Granthi (Priest). The Granthi was in charge of the general upkeep and seva (selfless service) of the Gurdwara. The lumber mill was quite a powerful employer in the area.

Dogar Singh says that the Indians lived in a bunk house that was separate from the Chinese and Europeans, although they were close to each other. Both bunk houses had their own ethnic cooks as there were lots of men living in those bunk houses. There was a total of 300 workers employed in that mill, although some men lived in their homes too with their families. One bunk house could hold as many as forty Indian workers at a time. Their cook was Punjabi and he would cook proper Punjabi food. There was a robust menu and directions given by the men for what was to be cooked in the cookhouse. At breakfast, they would eat Sewiyan or kheer (vermicelli noodles in milk or rice pudding) with lots of ghee (butter) which gave them stamina. Dogar Singh remembers eating Kheer at breakfast, pulling lumber all day and wiping the sweat off his forehead and wringing the same sweat off from their clothes.