Date of Birth:
July 15, 1945
Village Nathowal, district Ludhiana, Punjab
Prince George, BC
Shamsher Singh Buttar was born on July 15, 1945 and raised in the village of Nathoaal, near Ludhiana in Punjab, India. After completing his electrical engineering diploma at a college in Punjab, he was unable to find a job. After some months, he finally got a temporary job at the Punjab State Electric Board as a lineman. After working for about a year, he realized that there were not many work opportunities and was recommended by a friend of his – who was in Port Alberni, BC, at that time – to come to Canada.
Shamsher first came to Canada on March 25, 1970 as a visitor at the age of twenty-five. His friend picked him up from the airport and drove to Port Alberni. His friend used to work in a saw mill there and tried to get Shamsher a job at the mill, but was unsuccessful. Shamsher then moved to Vancouver and started to look for jobs in the electrical field. Again, he was not able to find a job and started working in a farm during the two months of summer.
Shamsher then met a man from India, who had the same electrical engineering diploma, and started working with him as an electrical contractor in houses and apartments. However, he could only work for three or four months since there was a strike that broke out. As a result, he had to start looking for another job. Through another friend, he got a job at another mill in Upper Fraser. After two or three weeks of joining, he completed a training course and got the job of a lumber grader.
He was earning a good living with this job, but then he got engaged, and wanted to move to Prince George, BC from the camp in Upper Fraser where he was currently working. He started looking for jobs and received two offers in one week. He accepted one of them, and started working at a mill called Nether Saw Mill, south of Prince George. After working there for thirteen years, he got a job of a Mill Write (known as industrial mechanic nowadays) and worked for thirty years in that same job. Shamsher has been living in Prince George since 1971.
With regards to community life, Shamsher shares that in those days, most immigrants from Punjab used to work in saw mills. They typically worked Monday through Friday, and used to get together on the weekends. Since there was no gurdwara in Prince George in those days, they usually used to meet at the Parkwood Shopping Centre, an indoor mall. In 1974, he and his friends created the Gurnam Culture Association. They all then purchased a church on Fifth Avenue and Kelly Street and started the Guru Gobind Singh Sikh Temple. For this, they collected donations from the Punjabi community in Prince George and surrounding areas as well as from those in Vancouver. With time the south Asian population in Prince George increased, and the gurdwara was expanded. They also started Punjabi classes for the kids, which ran on the weekend free of cost. Shamsher shares that this gurdwara followed the proper religious protocols as compared to the one in Vancouver at that time. In Vancouver, people didn`t cover their heads while in the gurdwara, which the new immigrant community in Prince George found it disrespectful and shocking. Thus, Shamsher and his friends started what they call the ‘Rumaal [headkerchief] Revolution.’ They began to educate people about covering their heads while in the gurdwara and show respect while praying. For those who refused, they were denied entry in the gurdwara. It took them many years to solve this problem, and now every person follows this rule.
Regarding settling in Canada, Shamsher feels that the major challenge in those days was finding a job. Indian educational qualifications were not often recognized and educated people had to take up labour jobs. Shamsher always helped the new immigrants by finding them jobs, providing recommendations and providing them with a place to stay for free in their initial days. Once they found a job and started making a living, that’s when they used to start dividing the rent and utilities.
Another challenge was friction with the other communities at times. The white people didn’t often interact with the new South Asian immigrants. When Shamsher and his friends went to the pub, they used to be sworn at. However, with time positive changes took place and the relations started improving. The South Asian community also shared a positive relationship with the Indigenous community and Shamsher recalls him and his friends buying beer for the Indigenous people at the pub. Initially, the Indigenous people considered the south Asian immigrants to be the same as the white people, but when they started learning more about South Asians while at the workplace and other social events, relationships improved.
Shamsher and his friends also took a lot of steps to promote awareness about Punjabi culture and Sikh religion. There used to be a multicultural event in the town, for which they used to prepare Punjabi food and share it with people for free. They also used to put exhibits about different types of clothing in India, like kurta pyjamas.
Shamsher is now retired, enjoys living in Prince George, and takes an active role in the management committee of the gurdwara there.