Our incredible past is linked to our future and I strongly feel the best is still to come as our community celebrated our city’s 125th anniversary last weekend.
I have been extremely honoured and it’s been a pleasure to present to you some of the amazing history of our local South Asian community. Hopefully, this three-part series serves as a reminder that our diversity – whether it be our South Asian, First Nations, Japanese or any community – has contributed in so many invaluable ways to the richness of our local heritage.
Our pioneers have paved the way and sacrificed and represented our community at every level, whether in sports, politics, business, volunteering or community organizations, putting Mission on the map.
Unfortunately, from time to time, people’s efforts in making a difference get forgotten. A lifetime to build should lead to a moment of reflection.
The conversations I have had for the past few weeks about this series is that our personalities and contributions of the local South Asian community have come alive. I am proud to share the legacy and footprints beyond our communities borders. In October, I will make a brief presentation to our city council – as part of the ongoing Mission Moments series – on what has been presented and more. It has not been easy to confine all the mountains of information into three short stories.
Former Mission City Coun. Paul Horn said, “I think it’s incredibly fitting that our Sikh Temple is one of the first and most prominent features of our city seen by visitors. It just goes to show the big way that South Asian people – and immigrants in general – made Mission what it is. We developed an appreciation of one another built out of pragmatism. If a person was willing to work hard or innovate, they found their place here.
“If people haven’t visited the temple, they simply should. It is a wonderful glimpse into the mindset of our Sikh pioneers and current citizens. It’s all about community, giving and respect. It’s hard to think of a better monument to greet visitors to Mission.”
Kenny Braich said, “I believe our community owes a huge debt of gratitude to our forefathers, 11,000 kms removed from their homeland of Punjab, India, for their courage, sacrifices and resiliency.
“Against overwhelming odds and great adversity, not only did they establish a foothold in all facets of western culture and society from which we continue to harvest opportunity, but they did so in ways which fostered dignity, respect, and equality for everyone.
“They continue to cast tall shadows in which we find comfort and respite and we are best served to remain cognizant and humble for the freedoms we enjoy.”
Longtime resident Kalvan Gill, whose family was the first complete family to settle in the area in 1938, shared a few thoughts with me.
“Our community’s history is amazing and the pioneers have built this community in so many amazing ways,” he said.
He spoke about former Mission mayor Naranjan Grewall, who was the first South Asian elected in Canada in 1950 and later became mayor in 1954. It was his endless philanthropy and his service to the people of Mission City that made Grewall stand out, and Mission suffered a great loss in 1957, due to his untimely death in Seattle.
Gill said, “Grewall gave Mission its first health clinic in the 1950s on Third Avenue and that was a real big deal for the district at that time.”
Having researched Grewall’s life for the past 20 years, this information didn’t come across my desk and it’s so important to revisit stories and update information so generations can continue to build on our diversity.
Timeline of Notable Events:
1938: The family of Indar and Bhagwant Gill (Kuldip, Kalvan, Stan and Jerry) became the first complete family to settle in Mission City.
1950: Naranjan Grewall became the first Hindu (as it was phrased at that time of anyone from Sikh heritage) elected to the local commission (city council).
1954: Grewall was appointed mayor of Mission City by his elected peers.
1955: Grewall and his wife Helen built a school called the “Colombo Plan” in his native village of Jodhan, Punjab, India.
1955: Grewall was the first appointed South Asian to run as a candidate for a political party (CCF). Grewall was also the largest employer in the area.
1956: Grewall was defeated in the provincial election in the riding of Dewdney by Socred Labour Minister Lyle Wicks.
1957: Grewall was found dead in a Seattle motel room with a gunshot wound to his head.
1958: The District of Mission received Tree Farm Licence #26, largely due to Grewall’s efforts on which he appeared before the Sloan Commission.
1976: Lumberman Herman Braich Sr. passed away of a heart attack on his 65th birthday.
1977: The South Asian community took out an apology ad in the local paper to condone an attack in Downtown Mission.
1982: The Mission crematorium opened, financed mainly by the South Asian community.
1984: Tok Herar was president of the Mission Rotary Club.
1988: Robin Gill was named Miss Mission.
1989: Mission Sikh Temple opened to the public.
1996: Erwin Braich was named Citizen of the Year.
2000: The late Herman Braich Sr. was awarded Citizens of the Millennium.
2005: Terry Gidda was elected to local city council for two terms.
2005: Kuldip Herar was awarded the Paths and Pathfinders Award for Women.
2103: Tok Herar received acknowledgment for 53 years perfect attendance with Mission Rotary.
2015: Jati Sidhu was elected as Member of Parliament for Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon.
2015: The late Naranjan Grewall received The World in the Pioneer Category at the 100 Year Journey South Asian Gala.
– Rotary’s Paul Harris Award: Tok and Kuldip Herar
– Queen’s Jubilee Medals: Dr. Kuldip Gill, Terry Gidda, Vir Singh Pannu and Ken Herar
– Braich family basketball achievements included (1978) Herman Jr. 1st Team All-Star at BCs, (1979) Jim MVP at Fraser Valleys, (1981) Bobby MVP of the Mission Roadrunners and (1982) Kenny 1st All-Star at BCs and (1984) Canadian Jr. National Team.
– 1986 Mal Gill 2nd Team All-Star High School Basketball at BCs, Kal Dhaliwal played on the BC Lions for a season.
Four street names:
Gill, Rai, Grewall and Herar
1985 popular Billy Gill and in 2004 community activist Major Rai both killed in traffic accidents.