Sewa Singh Bains
Village Manak, District Hoshiarpur, Punjab
Sewa Singh Bains was born in the village Manak, near Hoshiarpur in Punjab, India. After completing his Masters in Geography at Panjab University in India, he came to know about Canada’s relaxed immigration policies at that time – one could simply come here as a visitor and apply for a permanent status within Canada. Thus, in 1972 he came to Canada, landing in Victoria BC. After coming to Canada, he soon realized that he would have to work really hard to establish himself over here. He stayed unemployed for the first six months as he didn’t have a work permit and also occasionally worked against immigration guidelines on farms, earning only $1.60 an hour. After getting his work permit, he relocated to Kelowna and got his permanent residency status by 1973. In 1974, his wife also joined him from India. After moving to Kelowna, he took up the job as a production worker at a factory.
Sewa Singh shares that he didn’t face any kind of racism or discrimination and in fact, occupied a leadership role at the workers union at the factory he worked, being the only person of South Asian descent. After a few years, he decided to change his profession and cleared the realtor and insurance broker examinations, but ended up purchasing a farm as he had done farming in India as well. He became a major employer for the new immigrants from India and started taking more farms on lease. He mostly grew apples and cherries on his farms.
When Sewa Singh moved to Kelowna, there were only thirty Punjabi families and the social setting was very different as compared to what it is now. There was no gurdwara at that time and people had to get the Guru Granth Sahib Ji (Holy book) from Kamloops for any occasions. There were 30 families here and about 10 of them were in opposition of building a gurdwara. Sewa was one of the twenty people who advocated for the building of a new gurdwara in temple and also its founding secretary. But, they neither had the money nor the space so they used to go to other cities on the weekends to raise money from the community. Ten to twelve people together bought the space and began the construction.
Sewa Singh shares that the new immigrants in those days were mostly unmarried/single men from Punjab who used to work very hard. Most of them in the Kelowna area were working in farms and only few in sawmills. Even those who worked in sawmills worked part-time on the farms on the weekends. The farming community worked very hard, working all seven days a week and taking an off only when the weather didn’t permit them to work in the fields. Many of these people ended up buying farms and now grow more than fifty percent of all the apples and cherries produced in the Okanagan area.
Sewa still owns a farm and is now retired. He has two daughters – the elder one is a lawyer and the younger one is a doctor.