PALDI: A HERITAGE PLACE OF PRIDE FOR SOUTH-ASIAN CANADIANS

Paldi, named after a small town in Hoshiarpur District of Punjab, is located about seven miles southwest of Duncan, off the road to Lake Cowichan on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada.

The town of Paldi was established in 1916 by Mayo Singh, his brother Ganea Singh, and their cousin Doman Singh. They came to Canada in 1906.

Mayo Singh, the most well-known founder of Paldi, was born in 1888 at his native town of Paldi, Hoshiarpur. His birth name was Mayan Singh. He came to Canada at the age of 18.

Paldi was initially named Mayo after the name of Mayo Singh. But it changed its name in 1936 due to confusion caused at the post office with Mayo, Yukon. Then the town was renamed Paldi, from where Doman, Ganea and Mayo had migrated.

The town has its glorious past. It was bursting with over 1500 inhabitants working in the sawmill and as loggers, mainly from Punjab.

By 1919, the community established a Gurdwara and then a school.

Besides the “Hindoo” population, as they were all called during that time, Paldi was a multicultural community of Japanese, Chinese and immigrants from various other nationalities.

The Japanese community of Paldi built a hall used as a Buddhist temple and a meeting place. The wooden building was constructed next to the Gurdwara in 1923.

The reminiscences of Paldi reflect through its Indian-sounding street names, like Ranjeet Street, Bishan Street, Jindo Street, and Kapoor Road covering the entire little town.

The Gurdwara occupying the centre stage, the atmosphere in Paldi during its heydays was that of a typical Punjab village. The Punjabi community brought along its social and cultural traditions. Sports events and festivals were part of life in Paldi. The big annual affair was the “Jor Mella,” a festival of events like soccer, volleyball, and kabaddi.

India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, visited Paldi on a trip to British Columbia in November 1949.

Over the years, most original families left Paldi for better job prospects in Cowichan Valley and the Nanaimo area. By 1975, the Japanese, European and Chinese families had all left the village. The last few Indian families remained in Paldi till the late ’80s.

One of them was Joan Mayo, daughter-in-law of Mayo Singh, who wrote Paldi Remembered in 1997. The book is a collection of stories and pictures that tribute the once-bustling lumber mill town. 

I met Joan and her husband Ranjindi Singh Mayo in Paldi in the early ’90s. The meeting was revelations of many interesting stories relating to life in Paldi.

Paldi Gurdwara was designated a Historic Site by the Cowichan Valley Regional District in 2014.

For the people of South Asian origin in Canada, Paldi is a historical place.

In its dirt lie the memorable annals of the time, which saw the glory amid hardships of the community. Paldi is a significant chapter of our struggles, accomplishment, and pride in the recent history of Canada.

-Promod Puri

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