A huge crowd gathered at Paldi on Saturday, June 29 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the community, located midway between Duncan and Lake Cowichan.
Although its founders were Sikhs, originally coming over from the Lower Mainland, the population grew to include many immigrants from India, and many people of other nationalities. The small town has steadily lost population as work in the forest industry declined and families had to move to find new lives elsewhere but the special community and its historic Sikh Temple have remained dear to the hearts of the many families with connections to the area.
Three days of feasting, reacquainting themselves with old friends, telling decades-old stories, and marking the day with a special flag raising and evening of entertainment, made for a celebration that will not soon be forgotten.
Cowichan-Malahat-Langford MP Alistair MacGregor said, “the fact that we are here today celebrating 100 years shows the importance of this place and how interwoven it is with the Cowichan Valley as a whole.
“If you go all over B.C. and all up and down Vancouver Island, those communities were built on the forest industry and it was through the hard work, the struggles of those people, those early generations that really carved a place out of the wilderness for themselves. They set up a beautiful community like Paldi, and I think it’s just incredible that we have so many people coming here today to recognize the efforts of those people who thought forward, who struggled to make this community in the wilderness and how special this place is. We are here today celebrating 100 years.”
Senator Yonah Martin, brought greetings and congratulations from Ottawa to the event.
“Looking at you all in this very special and sacred place, I’m just so honoured and moved to be part of this very important milestone you are celebrating,” she said, adding that she was greeted by the grandson of the founder of the settlement and was amazed to think that “somehow, here on this Vancouver Island you have already shown an example of what Canada was and will continue to be.”
North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring praised the vision of “the entrepreneurs who saw the potential of their new homeland.”
He pointed out that “some of those pioneers are still with us today. I’m thinking specifically of some of the older ladies in the crowd. They were young women who left India to come to an unknown land to marry someone they had never met and to build homes and families in their community. Alistair referenced ‘building something in the wilderness’ and I have a little bit of personal experience in this in a different cultural context. My parents emigrated to Brazil from Holland and we have some stories in my family of my mother doing laundry in a washtub because there were no washing machines, in tears, looking at my dad, going, ‘Why did you bring me to this godforsaken place?’ and I can imagine words like that were uttered within earshot of where we’re standing right now. It was probably a reality of their early experiences, too.”
He thanked everyone for enriching the social, economic, and cultural life of the Cowichan Valley.
School board chair Candace Spilsbury said that Paldi became a community renowned for “tolerance, cooperation, love, and respect among cultures. And these continue today. What a beautiful model for us to follow as we try to emulate your culture of caring in our community. You have truly led by example and you certainly have the admiration of the board of education and myself. Thank you, Paldi community!”
Mo Dhaliwal, one of a group that is working towards gathering data about the contributions and efforts of immigrants from India for inclusion in B.C.’s Royal BC Museum displays and other exhibits and records, said there is a great need to collect this material now, while some of the people who lived it are still around to tell their stories.
“I got the question a lot today: what is your connection to Paldi? And I was saying that I’m just here to talk about this project at the Royal BC Museum. But I soon realized that everyone has a connection to Paldi.
“The reason we have this project going on is because our story has been actively erased from the history of this province and our country. Thankfully we have amazing people that fight so hard for the story of their family to be told. But it should be part of the curriculum. Right now that’s not the case,” he said.
Davinder Mayo told the crowd that since they realized that there would be quite a few people coming to the event, “it was suggested possibly we should cater this instead of having our ladies cooking. That lasted about 10 minutes. That got shut down right away. Our ladies have been cooking all week, about 50-75 of them in that kitchen every day for this. I’d like to thank our ladies because there’d be nothing here without them.”
He also thanked the rest of the many, many volunteers who came out to make the massive event possible.