Atma Sandher

Date of Birth:
Jalandhar, Punjab
Current City:
Golden, BC

Atma Singh Sandher was born on 1st November 1945 in Jalandhar, Punjab, India.  Atma always had a desire to visit Canada and because of his career and education he was able to move to Canada on April 13, 1970. He travelled with his wife Jasbir and son on Japan airlines where they stayed overnight in Tokyo. Upon arrival the family was received by his aunt at the Vancouver airport.

When he landed, he fell in love with Canada because he felt it was a new place and new experience. Atma Singh looked for jobs in Vancouver in the computer sector for four months but due to the recession not many companies were hiring. He once also received an opportunity to work with CNR and cleared two interviews and was supposed to start the next day; however, they unfortunately gave the position away. Atma Singh was really disappointed and would travel around in buses dressed in a suit and tie every morning looking for jobs. Eventually, and upon his family friend’s recommendation, he moved to Donald for a job opportunity and two and half months later his family and another family rented a house. Atma Singh recalls there were only 15 to 20 families in the town with only one school in Donald and the house he and his friend’s family rented only had three bedrooms and a basement.

Atma Singh struggled during the first five years when two of his children were born and they didn’t have any space in the house and couldn’t find another suitable home. There was a lot of discrimination at that time as no jobs were given and very few people were given professional job opportunities. Atma Singh missed India a lot during this time period as he didn’t make much money and couldn’t survive the cold winters. His work load was also very physically demanding and he wasn’t physically strong.

Atma Singh recalls that in 1971 his house caught on fire because the propane leaked and burned down the whole house. Everyone barely made it out of the house and his wife was hospitalized for a month. The Punjabi community and non-Punjabi community helped their family a lot. Due to the stress of the fire, he was hospitalized for four months – one month in Golden and three months in Vancouver.  After both these incidents, Atma Singh took an easier job as a “stacker” where he had to stack sticks. He made really good friends in that job and he also had to get his first aid training done to be able to work in the mills. Atma Singh loved living in Golden because his job was there, he saw his future there and the people were very friendly. Atma Singh and other Punjabi men faced a lot of discrimination from white people. For example, they would call them ‘pakis’ or try to pick fights at pubs even when they weren’t being mischievous.

Once Atma Singh was settled in Canada he sponsored his family to move to Canada as well. He also helped a lot in the community by volunteering with the ambulance for 17 years because he loved helping people. He would also recite religious scriptures and religious hymns at the gurdwara as there were no Sikh priests. There was no Sikh holy text at that time either so people from the community had to bring the Guru Granth Sahib ji from Vancouver if it was ever needed for a ceremony, etc. Atma Singh recalls that weddings used to happen in banquet halls and everyone that came used to give $100 each. With that money everyone thought of collecting those funds to build the modern day Golden gurdwara. Atma Singh visited India after 10 years of first moving to Canada, taking his family (two sons and one daughter) with him. Atma Singh continues to visit India regularly.