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
Sewak Singh Dhaliwal was sitting with his mother, showing off the power windows of their brand new Cadillac while waiting to get off the Princess Margaret ferry at Vancouver Island, when a man in a three-piece suit rapped on the window.
“He said his car wouldn’t start and could I help,” recalls Dhaliwal. “We gave him a jump start and put all the cables away and then he hauls out his wallet and says, ‘How much do I owe you?’ I said ‘Neighbor, it’s OK. Today it’s you, tomorrow it could be me.'”
The well-dressed man asked Dhaliwal where he and his mother were from and what they did. “I told him we lived in Chilliwack and we had a couple of trucks and did some farming.” The man handed them a business card and told Dhaliwal he might have some work for him in the future.
Dhaliwal, then 23, looked down at the card; it read Honorable P.A. Gaglardi, Minister of Highways. Three months later, Dhaliwal received a phone call from the minister’s office offering him a contract to haul road salt for the province. That was in 1954 and the job would last for 27 years.
“It pays to be neighborly,” says Dhaliwal, who started driving a truck at the age of 15 and hasn’t considered any other career since. “I drove without a licence for one year. Back then there was hardly any police,” says Dhaliwal, the Vancouver-born son of Giani Harnam Singh, one of the first Sikhs to arrive in Canada in 1904.
“Father was a great scholar. He founded the Akali Singh gurdwara – put up the first $300 for the down payment,” says Dhaliwal, who in those days went by the surname Singh. “Nobody used their last names. We went by Singh. We made a big ‘S’ and put it on the nose of our truck and our equipment,” he says of his family’s company, G.H. Singh and Sons Trucking.
The energetic Dhaliwal not only worked nine-hour days in his trucking business, but took time to help out fellow truckers. He was involved in promoting road safety, helped trucking associations develop pay scales, and in 1997 he founded the Southern British Columbia Truckers Association.
“I love trucking. I liked it back then because I could keep my turban and beard, my religion and I could do my path while I was driving my truck,” says the devout Sikh. “I love the independence and the fact that I’m visible. I like to tell the white guys that I didn’t just come off a boat. I speak both languages.”
This interview originally appeared in the July/August 2004 edition of **Mehfil Magazine**