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Friday, 25 August 2017 18:40

Sikhs Make World Go Round in Oliver

By: Bhupinder S. Liddar in Oliver, BC

Nestled in the scenic and stunning rolling dry desert hills and mirror lakes of Okanagan Valley in beautiful British Columbia is the town of Oliver – the wine capital of Canada!

Oliver’s population of 5,000 is made up of about 1,000 Sikhs. If one drives along the town’s Main Street, one is bound to see a turbaned Sikh or a Sikh lady in Punjabi dress, as well as the Sikh Gurdwara (Sikh place of worship). And as one proceeds through the scenic Okanagan Valley one is struck by the greenery of wineries and fruit orchards, and depending on the time of the summer, one will drive by cherry, peach, apple, and perhaps prune trees all along Highway 97. 

Oliver’s Mayor Ron Hovanes describes his town as an “authentic farming community.” Other than driving along the fruit-tree-lined highway, one can pull into one of the many wineries for tasting, buying, or even a meal.

The Sikhs started migrating and buying orchards and vineyards in Oliver and the Okanagan Valley about three decades ago. Farming is in the Sikh genes. Their ancestral home state of Punjab is the breadbasket of India. Sikhs are also successful farmers in Australia, Kenya, Fiji, among other countries.

The Sikhs bought orchards/vineyards predominantly from the Portuguese, who had migrated here in the 1950s. Mayor Hovanes explains the origins of Oliver are in the irrigation canal built in 1926 under British Columbia Premier John Oliver, after whom the town is named. The intent was to settle returning British veterans of the First World War.

The British migrants were followed by Germans in the 1930s and Hungarians in the 1940s and 1950s. Sikhs own about 70 per cent of orchards and wineries. The average holding is about 10–12 acres, and according to farmer Bhupinder Singh Karwasra, an acre generates an income of about $8,000 to $10,000. Prices of land have doubled or tripled since Sikhs first bought land at $4,000 an acre.

Apart from farming, Sikhs are venturing into other trades and commercial enterprises. Paramjit Singh Chauhan owns and operates East India Meat Shop on Highway 97, down the road from Oliver. Similarly, Surjit Singh Aulakh this month set up a hairdresser shop on Oliver’s Main Street.

Oliver-born Baljeet S. Dhaliwal, a graduate of Simon Fraser University, is now a manager at one of BC Tree Fruits packinghouses. Others, such as Toor twin brothers – Randy and Jessie, have set up an 80-acre, state-of-the-art Desert Hills Estate Winery on what was once an apple orchard. They are the second Sikh family to settle in the area, in the footsteps of Major Dhaliwal. The Toor brothers, from Village of Ucha Jattana, immigrated from India to Canada in 1982 and settled in Winnipeg. On the urging of their sister Lucky Gill, who is involved in the hospitality industry, they moved to Oliver in 1988. Randy Toor was elected to one term on Oliver Town council in 2005.

Oliver’s major communities – indigenous, Portuguese, Caucasian, and Sikhs live in silos, with little or no informal social interaction other than in schools, shopping centres and workplaces. Mohinder Singh Gill, president of the Sikh Gurdwara, attributes this partly to lack of English speaking skills among Sikhs. For instance, the Sikh seniors meet at the Gurdwara instead of going to the central seniors centre.

The indigenous Osoyoos people, almost all live on a reservation adjoining Oliver.

Punjabi was offered at Oliver High School until recently and the search is on for a Punjabi instructor.

Fortunately, days of ugly racism are almost over, though I was told of schoolyard fights among indigenous, Sikh and white students.

According to Mayor Hovanes, there is “no overt racial tension,” and former Town councillor Randy Toor observes there is “very little evidence of racism and it is fading away.”

The future looks promising for the Sikh community in Oliver, though many young Sikhs are opting to head to urban areas and into professions other than farming. But for now, most Sikhs make up a dynamic, vibrant and growing community in Oliver and the Okanagan Valley.


Bhupinder S. Liddar is a Kenya-born Sikh and a retired Canadian diplomat. This piece was republished under arrangement with the Oliver Chronicle.

Published in Top Stories

 THE 14th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Convention – “Redefining Engagement with the Indian Diaspora” – takes place from January 7 to 9 at the Bengaluru International Exhibition Centre (BIEC) in Bengaluru, Karnataka, according to an email sent to The VOICE by FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry).

The Indian External Affairs Ministry is organising the Convention in partnership with Government of Karnataka. FICCI is a partner with the Indian Government for this prestigious global event.

 

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Published in India
Tuesday, 06 September 2016 14:01

Indian visitors to BC up 21 pct in June

  Victoria: The number of overnight visitors from India to B.C. increased by 20.9 per cent in June this year from the previous June as international tourists to the province surpassed the two-million mark for the first six months of 2016.
According to Statistics Canada, 2,307,624 visitors came to [...]

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Published in India

  New Delhi (IANS): The number of cases of inter-country parental child abduction related to Indians in the US is the second highest next only to Mexico, a senior US government official said here on Tuesday. “We are handling more than 1,000 cases of inter-country parental child abduction,” Michele Bond, US Assistant Secretary of State […]

 

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Published in India

New Delhi (IANS): President Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday denounced “forces of divisiveness and intolerance” as well as attacks on weaker sections and said they needed to be dealt with firmly. In his fifth Independence Day eve address to the nation, the President also attacked groups and individuals who he said pursued a divisive political agenda […]

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Published in India
Tuesday, 09 August 2016 11:29

We Owe Allegiance to One Flag, One Anthem

Commentary by Bhupinder S. Liddar

Come August 14 and 15, some in the Pakistani and Indian-origin Canadian communities will fly flags and sing national anthems to celebrate independence days of their respective former home lands – ironically, the very countries they left voluntarily to enjoy the Canadian way of life. (A big Indian parade was held in Toronto last weekend.)

The display of flags originated on battlefields to identify warring factions. Though national flags have come a long way from serving this purpose, they are still a potent political symbol of nationalism.

The national anthem, while evoking emotional sentiments, also sings praises of a country. What fascinates and baffles me is that many of these immigrants were not brought here under duress or against their will, but felt strongly about leaving their homelands and heading here of their own accord.

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, Vaisakhi or Caribana are cultural and religious – not political – events, devoid of evoking dual political loyalty.

Loyalty is the key word here. Singing national anthems and saluting flags of former homelands evokes images of dual loyalty and patriotism.

However, it is not as offensive to see Canadians of Italian or Chilean origins run around waving Italian or Chilean flags during a soccer World Cup match.

Political loyalty

Fortunately, in today’s multicultural Canada, one enjoys the luxury and liberty to speak in one’s mother tongue, eat one’s ethnic cuisine, dress in one’s national attire and partake in numerous cultural events. All that the new country expects is that political loyalty be to one flag and one national anthem – that of the adopted country, in this case Canada.

Enjoy your emotional attachment indoors, but do not display it in public.

The problem of divided loyalties has its roots in Canada’s British political class. Canada’s two political tribes – English and French – imported their historic political and cultural rivalries to the new country, with no regard for the existing Indigenous Peoples.

As a result of English-French battles in the new country, the victorious British-designated Union Jack, flag of the United Kingdom, was adopted as the new Canadian flag. It flew across the country, with no regard to the feelings of French-origin Canadians.

That lasted until the current Maple Leaf was adopted as the official flag in 1965.

Crass vote-getting

Foreign diplomatic missions fly their flags on their office buildings and residences. Foreign national days are celebrated with receptions, hosted by diplomatic missions, on embassy premises or in hotels. Canadians, at large, and those with roots in those countries are invited and appropriately attend these events.

However, it is inappropriate for Canadians to involve themselves in hosting or organizing events to celebrate national days of their former homelands. In 2013, one foreign mission – the Indian Consulate General, in Toronto – went so far as to “sponsor” a public event for Indian diaspora, the “India Day Festival and Grand Parade”, to mark India’s Independence Day. (A similar event was repeated this year.)

In the 1990’s, Ottawa’s then mayor began flying the flag of each country that had diplomatic relations with Canada, on their respective national days, at City Hall.  He would invite Ottawa residents who were part of that country’s diaspora in the capital city to mark the national day of their former homelands.

Unfortunately, this was no more than a crass vote-getting tactic. It eventually backfired, when in September 2014, Vietnamese Canadians held a large protest against flying the flag of Communist Vietnam – the very regime they fled to seek refuge in Canada.  

Reasonable expectation

Some may wonder, “What’s in a flag”?

Well, after the close defeat of the 1995 referendum on Quebec’s desire to separate from Canada, then Deputy Prime Minister and Heritage Minister Sheila Copps, decreed that all Canadian federal government buildings across Canada should fly the Maple Leaf, as a public symbol of federal government presence.

Canada, is a relatively young country, engaged in building Canadian institutions. What Canadians need to do is to effectively contribute to these efforts and desist from displays of split loyalty and patriotism.

As at the Olympic Games, one can stand under only one flag and sing only one national anthem. Hence, the only flag that we need to fly is the Maple Leaf, sing “O Canada”, and the only National Day that we need to celebrate is July 1, when in 1867 Canada became a unified country.

It is the least one can expect in return for what Canada offers.

Bhupinder S. Liddar is a retired Canadian diplomat and former editor & publisher of “Diplomat & International Canada” magazine. He can be reached at bsliddar@hotmail.com.

Published in Commentary

 Los Angeles (IANS): A disgruntled Mainak Sarkar, Indian doctoral student who had been working on his thesis for 10 years, has been identified as the killer of his professor at the University of California-Los Angeles on Thursday. Mainak Sarkar, 38, who was born in India before coming to the US for higher studies, shot dead […]

 

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Published in India

  WASHINGTON – Finance minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday told the US that recent hikes in H-1B and L-1 visa fees for foreign workers were discriminatory and “largely targeted at Indian [...]

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Published in India

Human Rights advocate and senior Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Harvinder Singh Phoolka, who has been fighting to secure justice for the next of kin of Sikhs killed in Delhi massacre n 1984, said that he had been purposely targeted by certain pro-Khalistan groups while visiting Canada this week. Phoolka will be honored by members [...]

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Published in India

ASSISTANT Deputy Speaker of the B.C Legislature, MLA Raj Chouhan, honored 92-year-old Indian field hockey legend Balbir Singh in the House on Wednesday with the following statement: “Madam Speaker it gives me a great pleasure and honour to speak about an unsung hero and a forgotten legend. Mr. Balbir Singh has won three Olympic […]

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Published in History
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