Kashmir Singh Bains
Kashmir Singh Bains was born on 10th September, 1942 in the village of Bilga in Punjab, India. He immigrated to Canada on March 24th, 1970 when he was 27 years old and unmarried at the time. Kashmir Singh first went to England on a tourist visa for ten months and then took a three month extension to stay further due to a family emergency. Kashmir Singh’s sister’s husband had passed away suddenly, so he needed to be with her.
Kashmir Singh had studied until grade twelve in India and then tried to join the Indian Army but there were many challenges and he had to give up that career path. Then he came back to his village and started farming which he was happy to do. He was socially active and was trying to do worthwhile things for the community and enjoying his work and community life in his village between the years 1966 to 1969. He played a role in bringing electricity to the village and he worked hard to get the road paved leading towards his village and he also upgraded his school to a high school. His life changed when he and his family received news that his brother-in-law (sister’s husband) had died in a plane crash when he was about to land at Heathrow Airport. His sister was alone and was less educated and she had five small children to support. Someone needed to go to England from home (India) to support his sister and it looked like Kashmir Singh was the only logical one who could go, even though he was happily enjoying farming life in India in his village.
Kashmir Singh went to England to support his sister. While in England, his nephew’s suggested that he start to work there to financially support the family and he tried to work in a plastic factory on cash for some time but this only lasted a short time as he felt it was wrong to work illegally while he was on a visitor visa. When he worked in the plastic factory for the short time, the foreman handed him a broom and a flipper to clean the floor which was a big cultural shock for him because he had never done that before – sweeping had always been the work of others designated with that kind of labor. He did not want to work without a work permit and at that time he made up his mind to move to Canada. Shortly thereafter he started communicating with his relatives in Canada. He learned about the point system and how you got the visa at the airport. He bought a ticket because he was very fascinated by the idea of visiting Canada before he went back to India. Kashmir Singh had always heard stories about Canada and was fascinated by life in Canada. He decided to come to Toronto first and then from there he travelled to BC by train.
Kashmir Singh had some family connections from his father’s side in Youbou, BC and the first thing he did was to visit them by ferry and then by bus to Youbou. During the train ride he recalls not seeing anyone from his home country as he was the only one with a turban on the entire train. As such, he felt isolated and as though he was being critiqued by those around him. One day however, after passing Winnipeg, Kashmir Singh saw an Indian couple sitting in the corner of the train compartment. The lady looked at him with a friendly smile and said that she knew him, but Kashmir Singh had no clue who she was. He came back with his cup of coffee and sat on his seat and the lady asked him once again if his mother’s name was Banti? He was shocked to hear this, so far from home, but she told him that she was from the same village as his maternal grand-parents’ house and she had seen him with his mother many times when they used to visit India. That was the first Indian contact he had in the train after reaching Canada, and in the ensuing conversation he came to know that she was related on his mother side. Later he found out that the lady had two daughters living in Victoria and her husband, named Ajaib Singh was a teacher in Winnipeg. They were visiting their daughters and were on their way to Victoria at the time. Later, Ajaib Singh helped Kashmir Singh get tickets for the bus from Vancouver to the ferry in Nanaimo and the bus to Duncan. Kashmir Singh remembers being amazed by the beauty of British Columbia, the mountains, the beautiful skies and the surroundings.
Kashmir Singh knew his uncle’s daughter’s son, Mr. Harbans Singh Sandhu, who lived in Youbou and when he visited some relatives in Toronto they gave him the address of his BC relatives. Kashmir Singh had many experiences and many stories to share about his first few experiences in Canada. For example, his first job was as a laborer in a warehouse, which was also a cultural shock to him as he worked to mix cement and make blocks, etc. It was a block building warehouse, where blocks were built that were used to make buildings.
Kashmir Singh did not mind working as a laborer as he came from a farming background and he was used to working hard in India too. In addition, his army training meant he was physically fit and athletic. Kashmir Singh was engaged to his wife, which was arranged by his father’s friend, on March 24th, 1970.
Kashmir Singh worked only for two months in the warehouse and then he moved to another company where they were building fireplaces. There was also a big construction company that was building a school in Portland and he found work with them. At that time he was attached to a logging tent for his shelter and food. He lived in that tent for three to four months when he was working in the contract of building the school. Mostly people of European origin were living in the cookhouse attached to the mill operation, and there was a French person too. He lived in that cookhouse because he wanted to learn English and he was also the cook. The French man became his friend because both of them knew little English and learnt English together.
After working in the warehouse and then building a school, Kashmir Singh worked at a farm picking daffodils for short period of time. At that time he had already applied for a mill job in Youbou and he received a call from there. He applied at BC Forest Products as his nephew was working at that mill too. Kashmir Singh’s nephew introduced Kashmir Singh to the personnel manager and he went personally to apply for the job. Soon after, he got the job and began working in the graveyard shift. Kashmir Singh quit the warehouse job and preferred to work in the mill because that was the most popular job in those days. According to him, no other jobs were available for the Punjabi migrants.
Kashmir Singh worked at a very large unionized mill that employed 750 people. He worked in dry cutting, lumber cutting, and molding cutting and in the plywood plant. He did different jobs and then worked in the wiener plant where they make wiener or plywood. It was a separate plant at the same facility.
Since Kashmir Singh was the only Indian man working in the wiener plant out of 75 people working there, he recognized that he was the minority. He was also seen as a threat because he was very experienced. Kashmir Singh remembers a story where one man of European origin used to spit on the lumber that Kashmir Singh was pulling. When Kashmir Singh told the foreman about the man’s behaviour he (the foreman) apologized on behalf of the culprit even though the same thing happened the very next day. In fact, the man was conspiring with other new men to also engage in the same gross behaviour. Finally, after nine months of this ongoing abuse, Kashmir Singh had enough. One day, he grabbed him from the neck and lifted him up a couple of times off the ground and threw him down. The two men had a physical fight and the man got so scared that he resigned from that job. This incident was in 1971.
Later, Kashmir Singh obtained a forklift driver job after he received training for that kind of work. But his unit shut down and he had to move over to work in the mill again. He did different odd jobs and also attained his First Aid Ticket in 1973. Again discrimination occurred against him when it was time to get the First Aid job. Instead of him, a very junior girl who also had her first aid ticket, earned the job. He felt bad and never took the ticket course again. Later, the wiener plant shut down and they had to close the mill also. The owners had to lay off some of the workers but due to the union they could not bump people doing the same jobs because of seniority. By this time, Kashmir Singh had earned his grading ticket, tallying ticket and at that time they offered him the first Aid Ticket as well.
Initially, Kashmir Singh was the only Indian man working in the wiener mill but later many Indians joined the mill as well, after which there was fewer problem. Even then the Indian people were the main workers, the staff were all of European origin. The other people who knew little English were in the same situation as all other new immigrants, no matter which country they migrated from. The cook came from Quebec to learn English as he was French Speaking. He used to cook Canadian food, which was boiled eggs, meat, potatoes, etc., the foods that Kashmir Singh did not enjoy. It was different but he had no choice, he had to eat.
Kashmir Singh returned to India in 1976 in order to build a house for his parents. During this time, he also bought some land to increase his family’s land holdings and then came back to Canada. He had worked in the mills for a total of 27 years. He retired from the Youbou Saw mill in 2011, the year it closed down for good. The mill changed from BC Forest Products to Fletcher Challenge and then to Timber West. They segregated different units and made different mills for Timber mill, pulp mill and paper mill, as well as a logging division and Saw mill, separately. Thus, from one company they made four companies to undertake different operations. The owners wanted to break the union in the mills and they succeeded. The company where he started was gone and they could not fight for their union rights.
After the company break down, Kashmir Singh worked at the Youbou Saw mill. They offered him a job because he had his First Aid Instructor Ticket. He could teach the First Aid Course for workers to get their First Aid Ticket. After the mill shut down, he was there for an additional year for the security plan because the demolition company did not bring their own First aid staff. After that he did not work, and rather he retired and received his severance pay. By that time, Kashmir Singh had already established his business as a land developer. He owned a 30 unit townhouse complex in Duncan and he had rental property. He did not want to go anywhere to work because he was looking after his property in Duncan.