Two longtime residents of the North Thompson Valley recently passed important milestones.
As reported recently in the Times, Narinder Heer retired last January after 47 years with Canfor and its predecessor companies.
Then on Feb. 23, his father, Sowaran Singh Heer celebrated his 100th birthday.
“My father was a farmer in Punjab,” Narinder Heer remembered. “He worked hard all his life – plowing the fields while walking behind oxen when he was younger.”
Narinder recalled that his older sister, who lives in Kamloops, came to Canada first, in 1956.
“She sponsored my dad, who came in 1966, and he sponsored the rest of us. I came here in 1969.”
The elder Heer started working for KP Wood in Avola soon after his arrival in Canada.
Narinder’s twin brother, Jaswant, went there to join him in Avola, and was followed by Narinder.
“My brother started working at CTP first,” Narinder said. “He got laid off but then received a telegraph asking him to come back to work. He had found another job and so I went to take his place.”
The clerk in the office did not want to hire him, saying the job opening was for his brother, not for him.
However Willi Schuchardt, the sawmill superintendent, happened to come in while they were talking.
“He asked me, ‘Are you looking for work?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Come by tomorrow morning and go to the green-chain. If we’re short-handed, I’ll give you a job.’”
Narinder showed up, there was an opening, and he started work on the green-chain.
“That was it. I’ve been working for the same company since then,” he said. “I had to work hard on the green-chain for about five years but it was worth it. We had fun working at CTP.”
Narinder noted that Willi’s son Karl is now a sawmill supervisor at Canfor-Vavenby.
After several years in Avola he moved to Vavenby.
“When we first moved to Vavenby there were some people who were pretty rough with us,” he recalled, his only mention of the racism that many South Asians faced when coming to Canada. “However, after working together, we became friends.”
Following the green-chain he worked at a variety of jobs in the sawmill, including trim saw, gang saw, barker and edger. Eventually he worked his way up to operating the head-rig, a job he kept for the next 38 years.
“That’s the highest paid job in the mill,” he said. “You need to know how to get good quality lumber out of the log. A lot of people don’t realize where the clear is.”
About 40 years ago they moved into a house on Robson Street in Clearwater. After that they moved to a house just a stone’s throw away on Helmcken, where they have been for the last 23 years.
He and his wife, Jagdish (Jackie), have been married for 43 years. It was an arranged marriage but it has turned out well. She grew up in England and he went to marry her there.
“Things have changed,” said Narinder. “It would not work so well today. Even in India you hardly hear of any arranged marriages anymore.”
The couple had two daughters and two sons. They all live elsewhere, have families and successful careers.
“The kids all were active in school and played sports while they were here – basketball, volleyball, hockey, soccer, and they learned to ski on Clearwater ski hill,” said Narinder.
An important focal point for the family and especially his father has been the Sikh Temple.
“There were 55 families belonging at one time but for the past few years there have only been five or six,” he said.
After working 18 years for KP Wood and its successor, Weyerhaeuser-Vavenby, his dad retired.
He was a familiar figure in Clearwater for many years, walking the loop from Weyerhaeuser subdivision to the Sikh Temple and back.
Several of the people he passed regularly gave him a well-made wooden cane to help him with his walking.
Often he did the walk with Sarwan Kailley, who now is taking a lead role at the temple.
The elder Heer now has five generations of descendants including 65 great great grandchildren.
“We were blessed when we came to Canada,” said Narinder Heer. “It’s a beautiful country and we were lucky enough to do our part and serve it.”