Friday, March 18, 2011

Speaking with Justin Goodrich on 101.7 FM CIVL Radio.

Clocking in from all four corners of the community

I realize that changing your clock an hour ahead can be a daunting task, which requires a special skill.
Especially, when it comes to my vehicle, and searching through the driving manual with pictures. So, if I am an hour late for our next meeting, you the reason why.
I would like to extend my congratulations to all the recipients and nominees at the 9th Annual Fraser Valley Cultural Diversity Awards, held two weeks ago. I heard from many who attended that the evening went smoothly and guest speaker Nehal Azab shared a compelling talk about her experiences in her native homeland of Cairo, Egypt.
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in the 4th Annual Mission Writers & Readers Festival. This was my third time attending and it just gets bigger and better.
Kudos to the organizing staff. It was an action-packed day and I had the fortunate opportunity to participate in Speed Networking, where I met many interesting people. In the hour, a dozen or so people signed to come to my table and have a little chat. They expressed an interest possibly getting published as a columnist.
I had an opportunity to return to the University of the Fraser Valley campus in Abbotsford and be a guest on The Way I See It, an hour-long program with host Justin Goodrich on 101.7 FM CIVL Radio.
The focus of our discussion was local diversity and some of the issues around it. We touched on many aspects throughout the segment from inclusion to whether diversity is really working in our community. One remark that I do recall making is we need to mainstream our diverse communities. This should be the focal point of our campaign and discussion in the years to come. As the population grows throughout the decades we need more initiatives for people to be involved in mainstream activities - something we have moved away from.
There is no hiding the fact that our communities are experiencing isolation issues in schools, neighborhoods, workplace and how we communicate with each other on a daily basis. One way to conquer this is through building awareness. I don't believe people do it intentionally, but need to be reminded of some of the challenges we're facing. I also shared their many fabulous citizens who are working to bridge this cultural gap and are making a difference.
I had lunch with Abbotsford Member of Parliament Ed Fast recently, and he said something that stuck with me. He spoke positively about our local diversity. It's going to take a few generations for people to blend into the community and we're still early in that process. Great point, Ed. Station Manger Aaron Levy from CIVL Radio liked my point about mainstreaming our communities and invited me to come back to explore more topics.
- Ken Herar is a columnist for the Abbotsford-Mission Times. Contact him via e-mail at:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Celebrating the 100-year milestone of the Heritage Gurdwara in Abbotsford

I'm honoured to contribute to this Heritage Gurdwara Centennial Celebration souvenir publication.

It’s a special time for the South Asian community as we prepare to mark this 100-year milestone.

The Heritage Gurdwara holds special meaning for me and my family. I recall visiting the Gurdwara in the 1970s for many weddings and prayer services.

It’s wonderful to see we’re celebrating this anniversary in a unique fashion with the entire community and with citizens from around the world.

The temple stands as a pillar of cooperation in how people from different walks of life came together here in the Central Fraser Valley to construct a safe place of worship.

As a columnist with the Abbotsford/Mission Times. I have profiled the Gurdwara’s remarkable journey and the important role it plays within our community.

In June, I will be celebrating 16 years as a writer and have been privileged to share so many amazing and compelling stories.

Former award-winning Abbotsford newspaper editor Rick Rake, who continues to be a passionate supporter of the South Asian community here, taught me an important lesson that I practice whenever I write.

He said: “Don’t make the story about yourself. Showcase the many deserving people in the community who are truly making a difference. A sign of a good journalist or editor is one who gets out there, engages with the people, talks to them, and focuses on their accomplishments. If they look a little deeper, and beyond their own experiences, writers discover a treasure of fascinating stories.”

I have never forgotten Rick’s meaningful and influential words.

Meeting people and hearing their stories is how we’re going to build an inclusive, diverse community. The moment we move away from this platform, voices gets unheard and the untold history is lost to future generations.

Being in the public eye, I make a huge effort to surround myself with positive people.

Lakbir (Lucky) Farwaha is one of those family members who have always been very supportive since I was a small child.

Actually, he claims I used to cry a lot as a toddler. Farwaha recalls going to the temple on many occasions often getting called at the last minute in the middle of the night.

“I remember the temple priest calling me in the middle of the night to fill in with prayer services.”

He also remembers a time where there was a small landslide in the temple parking lot.

“After a prayer service reading in 1976, I came to my vehicle, which was parked on the east side of the building. People were waiting around my car to tell me the ground had moved. The Lord works in mysterious ways and saved my car.”

Farwaha arrived in Canada in 1972 and worked for Meeker Cedar for 31 years. He has three children and has been involved in many community initiatives..

In 1988, he raised the largest amount of funds ever recorded by the Kinsmen Mother’s March.

Much of his time is currently occupied with the Abbotsford Community Policing office with the Citizens Patrol Division where he is the Lockout Auto Crime Coordinator.

“I like to help the public in a way to educate them to protect themselves from violence and crime.”

As the South Asian community continues to grows in all sectors, we should never forget the many sacrifices made by our pioneers.

One of the most inspiring stories I wrote and one of which the South Asian community can feel extremely proud, is that of former mayor of Mission City Naranjan Grewall.

Grewall became mayor of Mission City in 1954. Four years earlier, he was elected to city council, making him the first visible minority and South Asian to be elected to public office in Canada.

He was later nominated as a provincial candidate for the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, which is now currently the New Democratic Party (NDP) making him also the first visible minority to run as a candidate in Canada. He was narrowly defeated by Socred Labor Minister Lyle Wicks in 1956. My father (Tok) assisted him in his 1956 election campaign, one that became of national significance.

It became apparent as I shifted through the old fragile papers from the late 1940s and 1950s that I was dealing with something historical that would inspire our nation.

In my 16 years as a newspaper columnist, I can say I’ve never come across such an inspiring and unselfish story.

It was not just his candidacy that inspired me; it was his commitment to changing how government does business in this province, paving the way for future generations. Grewall spoke at the Heritage Gurdwara on South Fraser Way on many occasions and was consider one of the many vibrant leaders within the local South Asian community.

It was also his generosity and philanthropic spirit toward various projects in Mission City, and abroad, that captured the imagination of Canadians, especially when he donated funds for a school to be built in his hometown village of Jodhan, India, called the " Colombo Plan."

During the much-heated 1956 provincial election, Grewall as a CCF candidate commonly addressed the issues of taxes, bridges, farmers and the forestry industry, which he claimed was being "monopolized" by a handful of large companies in the province.

Grewall referred to these stakeholders as "Timber Maharajahs."

Grewall said the system would revert to a "form of feudalism, which I left 30 years ago."

He spoke passionately before the provincial cabinet and testified at the Sloan Commission on behalf of small logging operators in B.C.

Just days before election day, Premier W.A.C. Bennett spoke in Mission City, which was supposed to be the last leg of the long summer campaign. During the premier's Social Credit address, many of the uninvited CCF supporters gathered and heckled Bennett from inside and outside the hall, making it one of the most memorable moments in B.C. political history.

Bennett spoke for more than two hours and amplifiers carried his voice to the crowd and those unable to squeeze into the hall.

During the first half of his speech, the premier's smile was well in evidence as he jibed back at his hecklers. Bennett however, showed no fear of his hecklers, combining humor and charisma to fight them. At one point he even called out: "I just love hecklers."

When Bennett announced there would be no debt by 1962, a heckler cried out: "You won't be here in 1962!"

The premier shot back: "I'll be here in '82!"

Later, another of the premier's promises was met with the succinct insult: "Oh, what a liar you are."

Hearing this, Bennett invited the heckler on stage, helping him up with his own hand. The man repeated the insult, but upon further questioning, admitted he was a supporter of the CCF.

Bennett said efforts were made to get the Mission High School auditorium for the meeting, but it was not available, "which shows that schools are not owned by the government and I am not a dictator."

At this point a voice was heard shouting out "baloney." The heckler was CCF candidate Grewall, who proceeded to enter the hall and began to seat himself on the stage, "to the accomplishment of mixed cheers and catcalls."

The premier continued his speech, as many cried out to hear Grewall speak. Bennett said that the CCF and Liberals could rent their own hall if they wished to address the gathering.

At this moment Grewall sprung to his feet and spoke angrily (to the premier) and shook his finger in Bennett's face.

When the excitement subsided, hecklers taunted Bennett to speak about former forestry minister Sommers' corruption case.

Bennett stated that under Canadian law a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Bennett later claimed he was hit in the arm during the scuffle and was escorted out of the Legion hall by the RCMP.

In British Columbia politics is commonly known as a "bloodsport" and this incident between the premier and Grewall truly demonstrated how fierce political battles were fought.

I spoke with former premier Dave Barrett in 2003, during a four-part series I was working on.

Barrett recalled hearing many incredible stories about Grewall, when he first arrived in Canada in 1957.

Barrett said during the interview: "He was an icon, I didn't think I had a chance of getting elected in his riding. He lost the election, but won the hearts of many."

When Barrett became premier in 1972, he was invited to the Sikh Temple in Vancouver and was presented with a ceremonial sword.

As he received the sword, he told the audience: "This isn't for me, this is for Naranjan Grewall. He is our true hero."

Barrett and Grewall never met, but he started his political career in Grewall's former riding of Dewdney, when he first got elected to the B.C. legislature in 1960.

When Grewall was nominated as a candidate for the CCF party in the Dewdney riding in 1956, this drew excitement. But, according to Barrett, Grewall faced open discrimination on the campaign trail.

"The former mayor knew the risk he was taking and many people were surprised he took this risk to enter the race," said Barrett.

Barrett said Grewall overcame many racial insults along the way.

"Every kid in the North Fraser, who thinks he or she is being discriminated against, should read the Grewall story and the challenges he faced."

Grewall was later found dead in a Seattle motel room with a gunshot wound to the head in July of 1957. He was 47 years old.

On a different note, myself along with a group of cyclist will be cycling through several lower mainland cities to celebrate, “ World Cultural Diversity Day” on May 21, a day proclaimed by the UN General Assembly.

I have been cycling, running and doing whatever it takes to get me through this five-day journey.

Our team will be stopping at several sites in Abbotsford, including the heritage temple.

Meeting and speaking with people is always fun and exciting. I am not planning doing this alone. If you believe in this message and would like to be part of this team, even if it's for only part of the distance, drop me a line. This has to be a group effort; we all have to make some sacrifices to make our communities better. I am looking for some outstanding talent to join my team and me.

The bike that I will be pedaling on has been generously donated by Wentings Cycle & Mountain Shop in Mission. During the trip, I would like to raise enough funds to buy the bike and donate it to an individual who is in need.

Stay tuned. I am looking forward to coming to a city or town near you.

Again, congratulations to the Khalsa Diwan Society of Abbotsford and South Asians across the globe on this anniversary.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Hub a great start, but more work needed

The City of Abbotsford celebrated a historical occasion on Feb. 23 at the Matsqui Recreation Centre.

A large crowd gathered in the middle of the afternoon wearing pink to celebrate anti-bullying day and to witness the opening of the Intercultural Hub in West Abbotsford. It was an exciting day despite the cold windy weather for many community partners and spectators.

The MRC is the Intercultural Hub identified by the city and partners under the Abbotsford Building Connections Project, which aims to increase social and cultural awareness of different ethno-cultural and faith communities.

Funded by the federal government (Abbotsford received $434,000), the partners include the City of Abbotsford, School District 34, University of the Fraser Valley and Abbotsford Community Services.

Speakers for the day included: Abbotsford Mayor George Peary, Abbotsford Member of Parliament Ed Fast, School Trustee Korky Neufeld, Parks, Recreation & Culture Commission Chair Lynne Harris, Abbotsford Community Services manager Manpreet Grewal, founder of AbbyFest Musleh Hakki and on short notice Abbotsford Deputy Police Const. Rick Lucy.

When I was asked by local diversity coordinator, Med Manzanal to be the master of ceremonies, I was honoured by her request. I couldn't resist.

I know people around town like to refer me as Mr. Diversity and that is fine.

But I see myself more as a community builder in bridging this cultural gap, which I've been doing for years. Talking and writing about diversity is fine.

But, it has to be in conjunction with how we build intercultural awareness. You cannot have one without the other.

Both hands need to be working together. This is something we haven't done very well.

Feedback I receive from readers on a regular basis suggests many are concerned about this growing isolation.

This is now about to change.

The new Intercultural Hub will hopefully address many of these issues in a respectable manner. But, for it to be successful, people need to join in and take part in the upcoming discussions.

My official MC duties lasted about 45 minutes. I first introduced the (IYYA) group from the Abbotsford Community Services and they performed a moving dance mix of African and Indian beats. After the speeches and ribbon cutting, guests were treated to some light snacks and mingling.

Some of the guests later went upstairs into the Hub room and participated in the first Conversation Circle.

I happened to be one of them. What a experience to listen to some of the amazing stories.

I met Jean Pierre Martin, who was representing the Francophone Society of Abbotsford and Fraser Valley. He said the Fraser Valley is in its first stage and looking for people interested in being part of committee. They can do so by calling 604-615-7475.

I would also like to acknowledge the city staff who decorated the hall and organized this event. You guys and gals did a fantastic job.

Manzanal said people are starting to ask questions and picking up materials.

The next function at the Hub is on Monday, March 14. It's an origami paper making session for children K-3 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

The Bridges of Faith conference is March 30 - 31, from 5 p.m. - 9 p.m. in the seniors room at MRC.

- Reach Abbotsford-Mission Times columnist Ken Herar at