Asian Heritage: OSSIE KAUR THANDI
In celebration of Asian Heritage Month, Surrey604 will share inspirational stories of South Asian pioneers in B.C., in collaboration with 100 Year Journey project. The 100 Year Journey Project is providing readers around the world the gift of being able to read the extraordinary stories of South Asian Canadian Pioneers in all formats with a digital release.
The 100 Year Journey Project’s publication tells the stories of some of the first South Asians in Canada, detailing how they provided shelter and support for new immigrants, fought tirelessly for the voting rights of all communities, and spent years away from their loved ones as they set up new lives for themselves and their families. For more information visit 100yearjourney.com
Ossie Kaur was 16 years old when she left her childhood home in the Lower Mainland to travel alone to India. The naive teenager boarded a cargo ship in San Francisco and took the two-month-long journey that would bring her to the home of her future husband, Sucha Thandi, in Punjab.
“When we got married, there was no time to get to know each other. It was weird. I didn’t know my husband and India was foreign to me; there were no modern conveniences like in Canada. I remember I had to wash my clothes by hand in the lake.”
Ossie lived in India with her husband and in-laws for almost two years before returning to Canada in 1953. “When we came back, we lived with my aunt and uncle on their dairy farm in Abbotsford,” she recalls.
While on the farm, they often took new immigrants into their home. “For five to six years they came through our doors, sometimes five of them or 15,” says Ossie. “When I was growing up we helped each other. We didn’t have cars or televisions….there was just a real sense of community.”
In the ensuing years, the couple raised seven children, while Sucha earned a living driving trucks for the MSA Sawdust Company. Eventually, they saved enough money to purchase a piece of land. In 1975 they built their own home across the street from their relatives.
Ossie was born on October 7, 1934, in a house owned by Fraser Mills in New Westminster. At the time, she says, there were only seven Indo-Canadian families living and working at the sawmill.
“It was a good life,” she says. “We didn’t have money but it didn’t bother us.”
Both her father, Shid Singh, and her grandfather worked at the sawmill, while Ossie and her three siblings did chores after school. There was always something to do, whether it was tending to the younger children, chopping wood for the stove or cleaning the house, she recalls.
Her most vivid and traumatic memory from her youth was when her mother, Kishan Kaur, was cast off by her father and sent back to India. “My uncle said to my father that since my brother (who was born deaf) couldn’t speak, my father needed to find another woman to produce an heir.”
It would be 23 years before Ossie would see her mother again. “I went to visit her in 1977,” says Ossie softly. “It was hard…I used to write her letters. But I had to be strong and I believed in God and prayers.”
This interview originally appeared in the February/March 2009 edition of **Mehfil Magazine**