Pritam Sandhu


Date of Birth:
Village Jugara, Punjab
Current City:
Surrey, BC

Pritam Sandhu was born in the village Jugara on December 23, 1944. His father first immigrated to Canada in 1952 and sponsored Pritam, his brother, sister and mother in June of 1961. Pritam’s father came to Port Alberni, BC and lived with his uncle who had immigrated in 1922. His father’s brother immigrated in 1940. After Pritam’s plane landed in Vancouver, they took another plane to Victoria, BC. From Victoria, his father came and took them to Port Alberni. Pritam remembers his first impression of Canada it being a very strange place. He felt like he was in a jungle! Shortly after arriving Pritam started going to school. Although he was 16 years old, he was put into grade 4 because he didn’t speak English. Four months later however, he was put into grade 6. A little while after that, he was ready for high school. Pritam started working in the mill his father had worked at while attending school. Pritam wanted to work because he wanted to save money and go back to India. He told the manager that he wanted to work, but Pritam was told to finish high school first.

After working for a year he saved enough money to buy a car. In 1971, Pritam decided to become a mechanic and worked in Langford, Victoria for 6 months. He was then transferred to New Denver. After quitting his job there, he started working in Kakusp. Although he was still an apprentice, his employer gave him the job and around Christmas, they decided to move back home in Port Alberni. One day in 1974, he was listening to the radio and heard about a job offer in Franklin. His father told him to go for the interview even though he was still an apprentice. The employer asked for his report card but Pritam had forgotten it at home so the employer told him to go back to Port Alberni and get it. When Pritam brought it back to him, he hired him without even looking at it. He had been working there for about six months when he got a call from the supervisor at the mill that he worked at. He offered him job as a mechanic. He then started working at the mill as a mechanic in 1974 and stopped in 2006 because he started having problems with his back.

According to Pritam Sandhu there were only about 150 South Asian people living in Port Alberni at the time. Three or four families were Hindu and the rest were Punjabi. When Pritam started living in Port Alberni, there were only about six Punjabi families. No one celebrated Diwali at the time but they did celebrate Vaisakhi in Victoria, Vancouver or Youbou.

Pritam went to India for the first time after immigrating to Canada in 1982. He felt very strange when he went back because he felt everything had changed. He has heard stories about how there was a lot of trust among everyone during this early settlement history of Punjabis in BC. For example, because not many people had cars, the bus driver would go and deposit the pay cheques of the people that worked in the mills. He noticed that there was a lot of discrimination against Indigenous people as well.