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, Jaswant Kaur Brar. 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 to join him in Canada. Unfortunately, this initial application 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 Jaswant Kaur and was given a visa for six months. Jaswant Kaur’s uncle came to receive them at the airport and they all travelled to Langley, BC.

It was a different feeling for Harnek Singh and Jaswant Kaur living in Canada as it was cold and the environment was so radically different than what he was used to. In addition, he wasn’t fluent in English which made communication difficult on many fronts. Harnek Singh and Jaswant Kaur stayed in Langley for two weeks after which they spent four months living with his brother-in-law in Prince Rupert, BC. During this time, Jaswant Kaur was pregnant and they had their first child, a son, on August, the same year of their travel to Canada. The couple filed for their residency and got permanent resident status the following year. In order to pay for his family expenses, Harnek Singh began 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 initially and thus would wait outside the office of the mill for the opportunity 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 Singh 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 and Jaswant Kaur moved from Terrace 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 while Jaswant Kaur 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 Singh 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 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 and growing Sikh population. He worked for a year and eventually begain his own welding business in Abbotsford. Now, his son and grandson look after the business he started years back. His grandson even 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 the Gurmat Centre the success it is today. Harnek Singh and his family experienced hardships in the initial years of coming to Canada and was he was also a victim of racism and discrimination. Harnek Singh was an exceptional welder with the highest certifications possible for welding in British Columbia. Harnek Singh and Jaswant Kaur have retired now and live in Abbotsford, all the while continuing to serve the community.