Date of Birth:
Abtar Berar was born in Duncan, BC, on July 1, 1934, at Kings Daughter’s Hospital. Abtar’s grandfather first came to Canada, Vancouver in 1907 on a ship called Monteagle and landed on the harbour at the foot of Burrard Street in Vancouver. He was an uneducated man but built a life for himself in BC. 17 years later he called his eldest son Jaswan Singh (Ab’s father) to Canada. Ab’s father was 17 years old when he moved to Canada, carrying an education of grade 10 from India. His father went to high school in New Westminster and started to work at saw mills in his 20’s.
Ab lived in Sahtlam, BC as his father used to work at the saw mills just south of Paldi, BC. They had a large community which consisted of mill workers. When World War II began, his father left Paldi and moved to Duncan for a short time and found a job in Shawnigan Lake at a lumber company called Boyd Lumbar Company. Ab started school there as a 6-year-old with a turban. His father believed in his faith and he kept his beard and turban all his life. In grade 1, a man named Ganda Singh took Ab to a barber to get his hair cut. A couple of years later his father moved to Lake Cowichan, where a big saw mill was being built in Honeymoon Bay. Ab had to work for a couple of years after high school to raise enough money to move to Vancouver to study at UBC. While he attended UBC, he would work weekends and holidays to get through university. Once he graduated, he got an opportunity to open a saw mill in Prince Rupert and that brought back memories for his father as his grandfather used to look for jobs in Prince Rupert. Ab spent nine months there and moved back to the interior BC. He was later transferred to Prince George for work. He later moved to Vancouver and got a job at the largest engineering consulting company in the world called H.A Simons International as a purchasing agent.
During this time of working as a purchasing agent, Ab received an invitation to go visit India on a trade mission in 1966. He received a royal treatment as he was on a trade mission with the BC government. He traveled all around India and after the mission, he went to the village his parents came from. He also traveled to Srinagar, Kashmir which reminded him a lot of British Columbia because of the mountains and cold weather. According to Ab, he saw more of India than his parents ever did. Since then, Ab has travelled to India quite a bit and his most recent trip was in 2013 with his daughter.
According to Ab, his father wasn’t allowed to enter beer parlours in Duncan because of his beard and turban. When Ab was growing up he remembers being called “paki” and “hindu” but eventually he got over it. Ab remembers he once applied for a job at a bank and sawmill for a sales position and got rejected for both. Although he did face racism when it came to applying for office position jobs, if he wanted to work at the saw mills he had no issue in being hired. Ab enrolled in a Canadian Security course and got his certifications. He got hired by a company which was based in Toronto and from there it was a learning curve for him. Ab ended up joining the Dominion Securities which is now the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). He worked diligently and it took him a long time to build his clientele. Ab retired in 2003 after a 30 year career in the financial sector and being the first Indo-Canadian at that time in this field.
Ab recalls the people in Duncan were very friendly and used to help each other out. He remembers on July 1st there used to be huge celebration held for Canada Day at the Paldi Gurdwara with all kinds of activities and sports. People all over from Vancouver Island, Victoria, Port Alberni and other cities would gather there. Then in April, for Vaisakhi everyone would go to Victoria to take part in the celebrations held at the gurdwara. Ab recalls the third celebration that was held in Vancouver was called the Mewa Singh celebration.