Saturday, April 26, 2014

Remembering one of the great Canadians: Naranjan Grewall

   

Remembering a Fraser Valley icon

Ken Herar, The Province

Published: Monday, April 21, 2014
This year is a milestone year in the District of Mission and for all Canadians. It's actually 60 years ago that Naranjan Grewall was appointed as mayor of Mission City, making him the first South Asian in Canada to hold such a political office.
Four years earlier he was elected to city council, making him the first visible minority and Indo-Canadian elected to public office in this country. He was later nominated as a provincial candidate for the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) in 1956, making him also the first visible minority to run as a candidate in Canada. He was narrowly defeated by Socred Labour Minister Lyle Wicks. Voting rights were finally extended to: women, Chinese, Hindus (South Asian), as they referred to them then, and Japanese-Canadians in 1948.
Out of all of the stories I've covered during my 19 years as a writer, this story has all the fingerprints of a blockbuster movie. The more I researched his life the more I learned about the huge legacies he left behind, not only in our local community, but in our province. His foresight and vision were unfortunately ahead of his time. He is one of the very few that changed public policy at a time when it was needed. Grewall was committed to changing how government does business in this province, paving the way for future generations. One of those legacies he left behind was the Mission Tree Farm. In 1958, Mission was the first municipality in the province to be given responsibility to monitor their own forest called Tree Farm Licence No. 26.
The District of Mission has managed this resource since 1958 and it is often cited as an excellent example of how a locally managed forest can provide benefits to the community. Since 1990, surplus revenues have provided millions to capital projects in the local area.
Mission Mayor Ted Adlem shared his thoughts: "The District of Mission is very proud that we were the first community in Canada to have elected a South Asian mayor. Former mayor Grewall is someone to be celebrated, as he represents the spirit of Mission. We believe in the strength of a diverse community and Mr. Grewall did an admirable job in representing his cultural heritage and bringing that voice to local government."
My father Tok Herar, who knew Grewall and also worked on his campaign said: "He was a one of a kind mayor. He was progressive and worked hard for the betterment of everyone. I always enjoyed my time with him and he trusted me. His legacy should never be forgotten and his commitment to change."
The incident between former B.C. premier W.A.C. Bennett and Grewall demonstrated how fierce political battles were fought in B.C. and could have been one of the deciding factors of granting the tree farm.
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 were being "monopolized" by a handful of large companies in the province.
He spoke passionately before the provincial cabinet and testified at the Sloan Commission on behalf of small logging operators in B.C. Grewall commented that the previous government had "broken faith" with the public in forest administration. He added the licence was granted to Clayburn Brick and Tile, of which former premier Byron Johnson was a major shareholder while in office.
 Grewall referred to these stakeholders as "timber maharajahs," and said the system would revert to a "form of feudalism, which I left 30 years ago." Robert Sommers, B.C. Forest Minister at the time, would later be convicted on bribery charges years later and sentenced to prison. This scandal was also known as the "Sommers Scandal" and one that overshadowed Bennett until be passed away in 1979.
Just before election day, the premier spoke in Mission City, which was supposed to be the last leg of the long summer campaign. During Bennett's Social Credit address, many of the uninvited CCF supporters gathered and heckled him 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 showed no fear of his hecklers, combining humour 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!" Bennett said efforts were made to get the Mission High School auditorium for the meeting, but it wasn't 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.
Speaking with former premier Dave Barrett in 2003, he 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," Barrett said.
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."

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Grewall was later found dead in a Seattle motel room with a gunshot wound to the head in July 1957. It was ruled a suicide, but many who knew him don't believe this end result. He was 47 years old.

Ken Herar has been a writer on diversity topics in the Fraser Valley for 19 years. He was the recipient of the Champion of Diversity at the Fraser Valley Cultural Diversity Awards in 2007 and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012. He is also the founder of Cycling4Diversity Foundation, which speaks on issues of multiculturalism and inclusion.

Cycling4Diversity Week is fast approaching

Remembering Naranjan Grewall in The Province

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Thanking and presenting Santhi Rathinakumar and wife with Cycling4Diversity shirts for their nomination of the Neiska Awards

 



 The kind email I received below is from Santhi and his wife. The picture above is the first time I met them both at the Neiska Awards and presented them with Cycling4Diversity shirts. Wonderful experience.


Dear Ken

I appreciate you sending me an email. I admire all the work that you do to promote diversity and multiculturalism. I do appreciate and recognize your contributions in this field. I read your blogs regularly and I feel the work that you are doing, especially through Cycling4Diversity, is the need of the hour. That is a real community partnership your are strengthening through your proactive engagement. Your nomination to the Provincial Nesika Awards is an honor to the awards.

I wish you all the best and I hope to meet with you whenever the awards event takes place soon.

Best,
Santhi Rathinakumar

Uncle Moe Herar's Cycling4Diversity notes, he left for me at the hotel in 2013. He will be deeply missed.