Gurdial Singh Neel
Date of Birth:
Gurdial Singh Neel was born in Ludhiana in Punjab, India in 1925. He received his first degree in Lahore in 1946 and in 1948 he began teaching after he earned his Bachelor of Teaching from Jalandhar and Master’s from Allahabad University. He married his wife Swarnjit Kaur the same year. In 1950, after he finished his graduate degree he was offered a teaching position in Kenya. Due to a lack of teachers there and a better pay compared to India, Gurdial Singh decided to move to Mombasa, Kenya in July 1951. Gurdial Singh was also a Scout Master and would participate in parades for Remembrance Day. In 1957, the World Scout Jamboree was held in England and he was selected as a deputy leader and had the opportunity to meet the Queen. With his scout position for five years, Gurdial Singh was allowed to take a leave overseas for six months, and so he went back to India. In 1963, the government of Kenya started equal pay and because of that Gurdial became an Education Officer and was given a house to live in. The government also brought into their constitution that officers who were hired outside of Kenya will be known as ex-pats and their pension will be secured no matter where they live.
Due to a lack of an educational system for Indians in Kenya, Gurdial Singh wanted to move to Canada so his children could receive a better education. He went from Mombasa to Nairobi to London, where he spent two weeks holidaying with his family. He landed in Vancouver, BC on 21st August 1969 and was 45 years old at that time. When he moved to Vancouver he had to struggle a little to get a job as he had missed the hiring period for teachers. Gurdial Singh recalls that one day he was sitting in the gurdwara and he received a phone call saying a school is looking to hire a chemistry teacher and wanted him to come in for an interview. He took the bus from Vancouver to Richmond and went to meet the director, who then drove him and his wife to the school for his second interview with the principal. Gurdial Singh got the job at Steveston High School and started working there the following Monday. He taught grade 10 math and grade 11 chemistry. Everyone in the community had doubts as to how could he get a job with a turban. The family lived in the gurdwara until they managed to rent a house for $195 per month in Richmond. His children went to the same school he taught in and all of the teachers appreciated his children.
He recalls that people from the Punjabi community used to always discourage him and his family, saying they won’t survive more than six months in Canada and they had to ‘Canadianize’ and stop wearing turbans or saris (Indian dress). According to Gurdial Singh with God’s grace, everything worked out in his favor – soon he was off his probation period and was a full-time teacher. He then bought a brand-new house for $28,000 at that time in Richmond. Gurdial Singh used to also volunteer at the gurdwara to teach Punjabi but due to some politics he had to stop. He rented a few rooms at David Thompson Secondary School, gathered a few teachers who studied in India and started teaching Punjabi to children from grades 5 to 12. These classes ran from 1972 to 1985 every Friday night.
In 1974, the gurdwara at Ross Street in Vancouver had an election and many people nominated Gurdial Singh to become the next president. He didn’t like that a few men were clean shaven and no one with a turban was there to give out parshad (sweet offerings). Gurdial Singh recalls an incident during a committee meeting where someone brought up an argument regarding divorce. He wasn’t too comfortable talking about it at the gurdwara and because of that a fight broke out and the police were involved. The following year everyone nominated Gurdial Singh as president again but he refused as he didn’t want to be responsible and had fulfilled his duty.
After his retirement in 1985, Gurdial Singh joined forces with other community members and began the Khalsa School in Vancouver. He didn’t take any money from them and volunteered as a principal. The institution now has 2600 students from Kindergarten to grade 12 and have expanded to have schools all over the Lower Mainland with 200 teachers. Gurdial Singh was also awarded the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee and is very respected in the community.