Date of Birth:
Village Jabalpur, Punjab
Gurnam Kaur Barn was born in the village Jabalpur, Punjab, India on May 24, 1939. She made her decision to come to Canada because her husband immigrated to Canada first in 1966. Soon after her husband’s migration, Gurnam came to Canada with her three children in 1968. Her journey to Canada was a long one which started from Punjab to Delhi in a car and from there she took a flight to Kolkata, India before travelling to Tokyo. She then took a flight from Tokyo to Victoria followed by a flight from Victoria to Vancouver. Gurnam’s sister-in-law came to pick Gurnam and her children up from the airport.
When Gurnam stepped off of the plane, she was amazed by what she saw. According to Gurnam, everything looked brand new. Gurnam and her children went to her sister-in-law’s home in Port Alberni, BC. They went to her bhua’s (father’s sister) house and stayed there for two weeks. From there, she travelled to Golden, BC on a bus. In Golden, she met a family from Pakistan who fed them and gave them some groceries and dishes to use. They then dropped off Gurnam and her children to the house that her husband had rented. The house was five to ten minutes away from the mill that her husband worked at. During the first five years that Gurnam came to Canada, it was very cold with temperatures dropping to -50 degrees Celsius.
Since Gurnam did not have a washing machine, she had to wash everyone’s clothes by hand. She bought her groceries from a small Punjabi grocery shop near the mill and all the women in Golden used to get together and eat fried snacks when their husbands were gone to work. Since there were only a few families in town at the time, everyone treated each other as if they were family. Eight years after first arriving to Canada, Gurnam went back to India because her husband’s father had fallen ill. Since then, Gurnam and her family have visited India multiple times.
In 1970, many educated people emigrated from India to Canada. For example, Gurnam recalls that there was a woman with the last name Purewal who was the first woman to get her driver’s license and drive a car. There was also an Indigenous woman that Gurnam became friends with and to this day they are good friends. Gurnam did a lot of volunteer work in the library, for example, in 1979 when the library was about to be built, a woman came to Gurnam’s house and asked her to tell the Punjabi community about it. When Gurnam’s daughter got her driver’s license, they drove around and collected donations for the library from Donald, BC and Golden. This is how the library started including Punjabi books in its catalogue. Gurnam also volunteered at the gurdwara that was built in 1981 by joining a few other women to teach children how to read and write in Punjabi. Until 1994, Gurnam also took classes on how to read, write and speak English.
In 1994, Gurnam started working in the Ponderosa hotel and continued working there for fifteen years. She also worked as a janitor and a dishwasher. When she first came to Donald, there were only three Punjabi families that lived there. Gurnam later sponsored her brother and her daughter to come to Canada. Gurnam recalls before the Golden Sikh Temple was built in 1980, people were married in banquet halls and the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji (Sikh holy scriptures) were brought from Kamloops. All of the sweets and food were prepared at home and there was only one shop in Vancouver where they could buy Punjabi clothing. The Sikh community started celebrating Diwali and Vaisakhi after the temple was built in 1980.