I remember being invited to the Paldi Sikh Temple in 2017 when the temple and its members were participating in the Punjabi Canadian Legacy Project.
The aim of the project was to preserve, explore and share the contributions that Canadians of Punjabi descent have made to the history of B.C. and Canada.
Paldi, which is located just west of Duncan, was once home to hundreds of Sikhs who had come to Canada about a century ago, mostly to work in local sawmills.
While Paldi is pretty much a ghost town these days as its population have since moved on to other jobs and opportunities, it was very apparent to me when I visited the temple five years ago that the Punjabi community in the Cowichan Valley is not only still here, its people and culture are thriving.
The temple, which is as old as the town but very well kept, was blocked with smiling and happy people getting together to share stories of old times in the community and to make new acquaintances.
The kitchen was also very busy at the temple, and the smells of Indian food (which is one of my favourites) wafted through the air.
I was delighted when Sarwan Parmar, who was a director at the temple at the time and probably still is, invited me to have lunch with the community, and I graciously accepted and had some of the best Indian food that I’ve ever had the privilege to eat.
The Punjabi community has added a lot to the Cowichan Valley, and continues to do so, and I wasn’t at all surprised that the story of Paldi has been chosen to be a Heritage Minute, which is a 60-second short film illustrating important moments and people in Canadian history.
Heritage Minutes, which are produced by the non-profit Historica Canada, were first released in 1991 and have been shown on television, in cinemas and online.
Over time, they have become a recognizable part of Canadian culture.
Paldi has long been credited as being one of Canada’s first multicultural towns with a rich history worth telling, so it was picked by Historica Canada from more than 100 submissions to be the subject of one of just two Heritage Minutes made this year.
Vancouver-based co-directors Anaïsa Visser and Hayley Gray, who gave the Paldi submission to Historica Canada, filmed the Heritage Minute in August.
Visser, whose mother is Dutch and father South Asian, told me the story of Paldi spoke to her on many levels.
She said the Heritage Minute gave her the opportunity to put South-Asian Canadians front and centre and preserve the legacy of Paldi; the opportunity to highlight the story of Bishan Kaur, the powerhouse matriarch of the town; and the opportunity to further her own work in exploring immigrant stories (as in her short films Esther & Sai and Bordered) and putting women’s stories at the forefront.
“The making of the minute required a lot of research, and a considerable amount of work with our consultants and the family members of those who resided in Paldi back in the 1920s and 1930s,” Visser said.
“Our goal was to both stay close to the truth of what it was like in Paldi at the time, but also work in some dramatic elements we felt would make the one-minute piece resonate with audiences.”
The Heritage Minute on Paldi is expected to be released early next year, so keep your eyes open for this mini-documentary that will show how people from different cultures and backgrounds can live and work together without racial strife, as is the case in so many other parts of the world.
I expect it will reveal to the rest of Canada just how accepting and multicultural the Cowichan Valley really has been, and still is.
With so much bad news occurring all the time around us these days, I think it’s great that a spotlight of harmony and cooperation is being put on the Valley.