Charanpal Gill

Date of Birth:
Hong Kong
Current City:
Surrey, BC

Charanpal Gill was born in Hong Kong in June, 1936. In 1937, he and his family moved back to India due to the war. His father passed away when he was two years old and his mother raised him alone and educated him. In New Delhi, after finishing his MA he began working for the Punjabi department. When Charanpal was 21 years old, he went back to Hong Kong to see how it had changed. When he came back, he was surprised to see that his mother had already arranged his marriage. Charanpal got a job at a bank in Hong Kong and it took him three years to get settled. After living in Hong Kong for six years, his sister told him to move to Vancouver because of the new regulation that came to China.

The Punjabi community faced a lot of discrimination at the time that Charanpal had moved to Vancouver. Charanpal was forced to cut his hair because no one would hire him and he hated the way he looked without a turban. Soon however, Charanpal found a job at a mill in William’s Lake. He recalls that some days his feet would swell up to the point where he couldn’t take off his shoes. One day, after he had slipped on ice and broke his wrist, he decided to stop working at the mill. Charanpal then came across a program that helped orphans find a place to live. The director told him to meet him in Prince George. When Charanpal went to Prince George he was offered a job as a social worker. After completing a one-month training he moved to Prince Rupert to start his new job. After working in Prince Rupert for 5 years, Charanpal decided that he wanted to earn a Bachelor’s degree in social work. The company agreed and transferred him to Burnaby to begin his studies.

In 1980, racism was seen everywhere Charanpal went. According to Charanpal, everyone that wasn’t a Christian lived in fear because the KKK had been terrorizing them. They would spit on the faces of Punjabi women and set fire to countless houses. They even killed a Punjabi man in the park. Due to this, the community decided to form a union against them. However, once the union was made, no one was brave enough to become the president of it for fear of being shot.

As a social worker, Charanpal worked with many families. There was a lot of conflict between parents and their children. Many couples committed suicide because they wanted to get married but their parents didn’t approve. This is when Charanpal decided that the Punjabi community needed counselling services. The community didn’t have its own radio station but they had one newspaper where they began to advertise this service. In the beginning, not many people went for the counselling sessions however once the community grew, it became successful. This service was called Progressive Intercultural Community Services (PICS). They were also the first organization to commemorate the anniversary of the Komagata Maru. Charanpal also published a book called “Race Relations to Today.” After receiving another grant, he hired a manager and he became the Executive Director of PICS. Now when Charanpal looks back, he is amazed at how he worked for 12- 14 hours straight while running PICS.

When the NDP came into power, Charanpal bought his first property to build a house. They started building their house in 1999 and was completed in 2001. Charanpal and his team, built many houses for people who were in need. For example, they built a house for women that faced domestic violence. They also built another house for elders who had no place to live. Despite the backlash, they kept going forward and helping the community selflessly. Unfortunately, Charanpal’s wife fell and an injury to her brain caused her dementia. Due to this, Charanpal resigned from PICS and started taking care of his wife.

Since Charanpal was always working, he wasn’t able to devote much time to his family. Charanpal is now taking care of himself, his wife and his household. He believes that there is more to life than the amount of money you make. He hopes that people will someday understand this.