Paldi, the first Sikh enclave of any kind in Canada named after its founder Mayo Singh's native village in Hoshiarpur district of Punjab, has fallen on bad days and has lost its sheen as the oldest Sikh settlement and a home to many Asians.
This once bustling British Columbian town was a testimony to the entrepreneurship and resilience of a Sikh Mayo Singh-originally named Maiya Singh --- and an epitome of Punjabis' contribution towards British Columbia's culture and economy.
Mayo Singh was a Minhas Rajput Sikh hailing from Paldi village of Hoshiarpur district in Punjab.
Since, no one from the original Punjabi settlers or their families except for a few members of Mayo Singh's family live in this erstwhile 'Mini Punjab' of British Columbia, it was more or less called as the 'Ghost Town' of Duncan which was brimming to the full with life till 1973-74.
Paldi was a name that evoked memories of good old days of logging in the BC and was a Sikh hamlet where Mayo Singh had helped more than 1,500 Punjabis, Sikhs and Chinese to settle down and be part of the then thriving lumber industry.
Mayo Singh had intially immigrated from Punjab to San Francisco in the USA in 1906. From there, he migrated to the Vancouver Island at a time when Canada's racially discriminatory immigration laws did not allow Asian women to enter the country.
Initially, he worked hard in the local Fernridge mill till it closed down in 1912 and then set up his own lumber mill in a joint venture with fellow Punjabis and other co-workers, who had preferred to stay put at the place even after the closure of the mill where they were earning their livelihood.
Gradually, he was not only able to run the lumber mill, but also founded a town and named it after his hometown, Paldi in Hoshiarpur. A school was also set up in this distinctive Punjabi hamlet for children of Punjabi workers. The first gurdwara there was opened by the Punjabi settlers in Paldi in 1917 and it was renovated in 1928. Now, the gurdwara stands as a major landmark of Paldi where a number of tourists keep visiting.
Though, the town has lost the golden sheen of its glorious past, the Sikhs of British Columbia were striving to preserve the old culture and the gurdwara in more than one ways.
Interestingly, a 'Jor Mela' is organised every July by them to perpetuate the memory of a town which was symbol of hard work and mettle of the Punjabi community.
"Mayo Singh was known as a 'Santa Claus' among jobless Punjabis for he gave work to whosoever landed in the BC from Punjab and who had no work at his hands," said Jaswant Deed, well-known Punjabi writer and former Assistant Director of Doordarshan, Jalandhar.
Deed had spent days in Paldi and in gurdwara situated there and has come out with a documentary film on Paldi. The documentary, according to him, will be released during the forthcoming'Jor Mela' of Paldi in July.
He said none except only a few family members of Mayo Singh were living in Paldi these days. "Inhabitants of Paldi and their next generations moved to other places in search of greener pastures."
Deed has also interviewed Mayo Singh's family members, including his daughter-in-law Joan Mayo who has also authored a book "Paldi Remembered" to help preserve the local history of Paldi. The book keeps hanging in the gurdwara and evokes interest of visiting tourists.
Chatarjit Singh Parmar, a businessman running an Indian restaurant in Naniamo, a small town situated at about 20 km from Paldi. A large number of Punjabis were expected to converge from all over the BC and other parts of Canada to refresh the cherished memories of Paldi and its hard-working Punjabi pioneers of logging industry.