The Punjabi Patrika

First edition of the Punjabi Patrika from October 1st, 1996.
First edition of the Punjabi Patrika from October 1st, 1996.

The following is adapted for length and clarity from an interview with Andy and Pritham Sidhu, founders of the Punjabi Patrika. The Punjabi Patrika was the first bilingual newspaper in British Columbia. Published bi-weekly in Abbotsford, it serves as an essential connection between the English and Punjabi communities, and as a voice for the local South Asian community. We’d like to thank the Sidhu Family for sharing their story with us. Do you have a story you’d like to share? Please contact us!

“Home is where family is. Today, after forty-six years, Abbotsford is home to us.”

I landed in Vancouver from Malaysia on the 30th of September, 1974. And my friend from Abbotsford was there, and decided that we would go to Abbotsford.

What was Abbotsford [like] when I came here? I always compared it to a cowboy town! It was a one street town – South Fraser Way and Essendene. That was it. And there were all sorts of farms around. There was no Sevenoaks. There was no fast food other than A&W. We are a city now; we were a village then.

My friends advised me, “You know what? Things are quite expensive here, comparatively. And the money that you have is almost gone.” I decided that, if within two years, I don’t settle on a half-decent job, I’m going to quit. I started writing applications. Within a period of one month, I hand wrote 264 applications, I can never forget that. And I got back eight replies.

My background is as an accountant. I did my university education in Australia.  Everyone very nicely said, “Thank you very much for your application, but you don’t have Canadian experience.” I couldn’t understand the logic of new immigrants making an application for a job [and] having Canadian experience.

‘74-75 were bad years for Canada – a recession. Jobs were hard to come by, and so [my neighbor said] “If you don’t mind a labourer’s job, I think I might be able to help you get a job on a dairy farm.” I had never worked a labour job before.

He took me to this farm in Fort Langley. There was a farm owned by a guy by the name of Jim McClellan. We got talking and when we started to talk the guy was in a bit of awe because to see an Indo-Canadian talk to him in perfect English was a shocker, and he offered me the job.

He said “You’ll start tomorrow morning at 6 am.” By the way, he said, “You’re my Hawaiian friend.” You know this brown guy who speaks perfect English, so he’s Hawaiian?

I started working there and started learning the tricks of the trade of a dairy farmer and we became very good friends.

One morning, Jim was shouting “Andy, Andy Andy!” And I am looking around. My name is Shaddar, nothing close to Andy.

I say, “By the way, Jim, who’s Andy?”

He said, “You’re Andy, as of today, you’re Andy.”

And, just about 46 years later, I’m stuck with Andy. Nobody knows Shaddar anymore, but a lot of people know Andy. So that is how I got my name.

I worked on that farm for about a year. At that time the federal government had opened up an agricultural office just known as Canada Farm Labour Pool Office, which was basically for farm workers. The manager came for a visit to the farm.

My buddy Jim brings him down, and says, “Meet Andy, my Hawaiian friend.”

We got talking, and [the manager] said, “What are you doing here?”

“Can you give me a job?”

“You know what? Come and see me in my office. Do you have a resume?”

I said, “Heck, I haven’t thought of it.”

“First thing you need to get is a resume, then apply. I’m not promising you anything because I am not the one to decide what’s going on. But try your luck.”

On the way on Mayfair and McCallum is a building that used to be the employment centre. So they got one of their counsellors, his name was Bruce McDonald. We got talking, now, and I have on this suit.

He said, “Why are you wearing this suit?”

“This is part of our religion. And this is one of the Ks. We are supposed to wear five Ks and this is one of them.” He became very interested. He said “Look, I end work at 4:30. Can we meet up for a beer or something?”

And to this day they are one of our very best friends.

The [Canada Farm Labour Office] were opening up a sub office in Cloverdale, a farming area, and they wanted someone to manage that office. To prepare, I visited just about every farm in Cloverdale. One whole day and a half, find out whether they were an egg farm or a berry farm or a dairy farm.

58 people applied for the job. They selected six [for the interview]. And thanks to the manager, Klaus, I was one of the six. Thank God most of the questions they asked were about Cloverdale farms. The director said, “You said you don’t know farming, but you’ve answered all the questions we asked you!” Well, don’t forget that I knocked on doors.

As I’m leaving the office, Klaus follows me and meets me at the door. And he turns around to me, and says, “Andy, let me tell you something. If it was my choice, I would hire you today. The only reason you might not get hired is because of the colour of your skin.”

Sure enough, I didn’t get hired.

One morning Jimmy is hollering his guts away at 11:30 in the morning, “Andy, phone!”

So I picked up the phone, and its Klaus there, “What are you doing?”

I say, “What else, shoveling s***!”

“Let’s see if we can put a stop to that.”

So I put the phone down, Jim came with my cheque and he thanked me, “I wish you all the success – you’re a great guy. I hope to never see you in coveralls again!”

So, I went to the office the next morning. Klaus told me that his bookkeeper was moving and her job was vacant. Because he was the manager, and this was short notice, he had the right to hire a replacement. He told me, “Look, the pay is not the best, but it’s easy and it gets you in the door.”

I was more than thrilled. I worked there for 20 odd years. In that time I was the office manager, and then the assistant manager. Then in 1995 they laid of 40,000 civil servants.

There were a lot of Indo-Canadian farmers here. Because of my accounting background, I started doing their accounts. So we were getting some form of income coming in, and [my wife] Pritham was working in the preschools.

One evening, we were all sitting at home, watching TV, and you know when you are unemployed, your mind is always working and overthinking and I had this thought:

“The South-Asian Canadian community is growing by leaps and bounds. They don’t have a voice of their own. My experience working with the farming community taught me so many things about racism issues. And other things.”

I turned to Pritham, and said, “You know what? Let’s start a bilingual newspaper in Abbotsford.” I think she was reading a book or something.

So she gave me one of those looks and said, “What do you know about newspapers? Go ahead, but you need to know something about journalism.”

I said, “I know someone who’s down from the old country, who has been looking for a job, a journalist.” He was excited, came running: “We need a paper, there’s no paper in Abbotsford like that!”

And I said, I want it to be bilingual. Because I’m in the local Indo-Canadian community and there’s a Caucasian community to read it. Our motto, our mission statement was “bridging communities.”

[The] initial name was Fraser Valley Punjabi Patrika. And October 1st, 1996 was the first issue.

Computers were just coming in, and we weren’t that computer savvy at that time. So most of it was typing, cutting, pasting. We went to the press, and they showed us how to do the pages, with block letters and photocopying.

We would be working til 3, 4, 5 am the day the paper would go to the press. Then, we would put the boys in the car – Pritham in the back with the younger fellow. Dave was a little older and would sit up with me, and drive all the way into Vancouver to the press. We would drop them off, and try to see if we could get, at least, Pritham, to get some sleep before work. Get up early enough to prepare the kids’ lunches. They had to go to school the next day.

When the paper was finished, the press would phone us to say “Your paper is ready.” And we’d drive all the way with the boys. The kids would help us deliver the papers – very much a family endeavor.

About eight months after we started the paper, I fell ill. I went to see the doctor, and the doctor told [Pritham], “You have a young family. If you want a husband, take him away from here for at least a month.”

I lost about fifty pounds in a matter of six, seven months. It was basically stress.

So, we went away to Malaysia and when we came back, we found out our buddy was trying to sell our paper, telling them that, “Mr. Sidhu’s health is not the best.” Guess what the price he was selling it off for – $3,000 dollars! We had about two computers already, and a printer and the name of the paper. Anyways, he realized he was rumbled, and he never showed up.

There were a lot of messages from people while we were gone. People wanting to advertise. You wouldn’t believe the number of phone calls we would get.

So we both looked at each other and asked, what do we do now? So we decided to go until the end of December. 24 years later we are still around. A few years down the road, we decided that we changed the name of the paper to the Punjabi Patrika.

So that’s the history of the Patrika. Of course, over the last five years, Dave has taken over, and Ronnie my younger son is helping him. The last time I was reading somewhere it said that [Abbotsford] has more than 52 different cultures. Each one of them is important. Each one of them cherishes their individual culture, because that was what they were born with, and they want to promote it to the best of their ability. And the fact that we recognize that is the most important thing.

So, the paper has helped the community to understand each other better. I am not saying that we have been able to clear all the hurdles, but to a certain extent it has been the voice of people.

And I guess because of my involvement in this I was given the honor of being a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth Jubilee. The university has recognized the contributions of the paper. We’ve done quite a lot of fundraisers. We raised over $50,000 for the hospital, we raised $20,000 for that girl who had cancer, our first fundraiser and for the University, we’ve contributed more than $10,000. The provincial government declared April 7, 2017 Punjabi Patrika Day.

So we feel that what we worked for, the late nights, the – I wouldn’t say heartbreaks but – the struggles. The struggle that we went through was worth it.