Locating a Forgotten Past, Sikh Workers at Fraser Mills

“My grandpa used to always talk about his time in Canada when he was in India in the 1950s…he said one day Canada is going to have big highways. When he came, it was only a horse and buggy or wagons and the Fraser River froze over in the winter time.” ~Mike Ghuman

In the early 1900s, the Canadian Western Lumber Co. ran the largest sawmill in the British Commonwealth and the third largest in the world. Located along the banks of the Fraser River, the mill was one of the major seeds to Coquitlam’s growth, and supported not only the town site of Fraser Mills but also the French-Canadian town of Maillardville. Anecdotal evidence and community memory make it quite clear that First Nations, Chinese, Japanese and South Indian communities made critical contributions to the early industrial enterprises in the sawmilling and fishing industries in Coquitlam.

While Coquitlam Heritage has collected oral histories and reference materials documenting these communities in the early development of Fraser Mills and Maillardville, most of our collections reflect French Canadians or Anglophone life. We are hoping to locate families whose relatives may have worked at Fraser Mills to learn about intercultural relationships throughout the history of Coquitlam.

In January 2017, Coquitlam Heritage Manager, Jasmine Moore, tracked down Mike Ghuman and this photo of Sikh women at Fraser Mills. Mike’s father and grandfather both worked at Fraser Mills in the first half of the 20th century. Mike attempted to track down more information about his family’s time here about a decade ago but was unsuccessful.

Daya Singh arrived in Canada on April 4, 1906 with his oldest son Katar Singh. Soon after their arrival Daya obtained employment at Fraser Mills. In 1909, Daya was one of the first Sikhs to be initiated into the Khalsa in Canada at the first Gurdwara built in Vancouver (1866 West 2nd Avenue). His younger son Rattan Singh (Mike’s Father), journeyed by himself from India to Fraser Mills in the mid 1920s. Rattan attended Millside school in 1926 and 1927. He later obtained employment at Fraser Mills and worked there until 1940.

Do you recognize any of these people or do you have an interesting story of significance to share? Contact Jasmine Moore, Heritage Manager at jmoore@coquitlamheritage.ca