• Vancouver South Barj Dhahan

    Celebrating Summer in Vancouver South

    On Sunday, June 29, we hosted a wonderful community summer barbecue and picnic at Memorial South Park.

    Over three hundred enthusiastic friends, supporters and volunteers, mostly from Vancouver South, joined us for good conversations and great food. Some of us reminisced about our high school days at John Oliver. Lots of laughter and fun!

    Thanks to everyone for making it a great day!

  • Canada Day Vancouver, Barj Dhahan, Sunset Community Centre

    Celebrating Canada

    Celebrating Canada Day at Sunset Community Centre.

    There is no other city like Vancouver, and absolutely no other country like Canada. I’m proud to be Canadian!

    And what a Canada Day celebration it was at Sunset Community Centre this year! Wonderfully hot and everyone happy, it was a great turnout with fun-filled activities for all.

    There were lots of kids running around with our flag painted on their faces, while other enjoyed delicious food at the community centre. Thank you to the organizers for putting on the party. Happy Canada Day!

  • Barj Dhahan and father in law

    The Dignity of All Work

    We often undervalue the contributions of our nation’s workers. Instead, we must value and celebrate the dignity of all honest work.

    There is much talk in the media these days about the thousands of jobs in British Columbia and the rest of Canada that will have to be filled by non-Canadians – meaning new immigrants and/or temporary foreign workers. Most of these jobs will require workers with trades skills, technical experience and knowledge. While this may be the case, the tone of the public discourse is, perhaps unintentionally, diminishing the value of the kind of work that many Canadians, new immigrants and temporary foreign workers do.

    When their jobs are called “menial,” “grunt,” “low skilled,” or “unskilled,” I believe we are unfairly degrading this kind of work. Our society cannot function without people working in these jobs, and the people that do them deserve to be valued for their contributions to our communities.

    In Canada, we don’t only need people working in high tech, “high skilled” jobs. We need people to work in all aspects of a functioning society. Whether it is picking the food that ends up on our kitchen tables, serving coffee, building houses, or growing a business, each person contributes to the development of our communities and our economy in an important way. Each position that a worker takes on will help them to develop the skills they need to progress in their own life and to further advance our economy as a whole. And each position allows a worker to develop important people skills such as communication and teamwork, ensuring more cohesive and harmonious communities.

    With my father at Sunset Community Centre

    With my father at Sunset Community Centre

    My father came to Canada in 1960 with no marketable or technical skills. He worked as a labourer in a saw mill, a plywood mill, and in a small metal fabricating shop on the weekends where he painted railings. Eventually he started his own construction company. He became successful in the latter and ended up pioneering one of the first Canada-India partnerships, building a major education and health care centre in India, and forging a relationship with the University of British Columbia in training nurses. This initiative has been beneficial to both Canada and India, and may not have been possible if it weren’t for the skills my father had learned in his earlier roles.

    Similarly, my father-in-law, Jacob Loewen, and his family arrived in Canada in 1948 after fleeing their home town of Tiege, Ukraine in 1944, which had been under communist rule. With a grade eight education and a short apprenticeship in carpentry in Germany after the end of World War II, his first job was on a farm in Abbotsford. Later, in 1951, he worked on some construction sites in Kitimat and Burns Lake, and in 1956, he started his own construction company, going on to build over 125 single family homes in Vancouver and multiple commercial buildings over a 25 year period. He worked hard from sunrise to sunset for many years and he loved every minute of it. He even found time to take English literature classes in the evening at John Oliver Secondary School and the Dale Carnegie Course to improve his English and public speaking skills.

    Barj Dhahan and father-in-law Jacob Loewen

    My father-in-law, Jacob Loewen, at his wood working hobby 

    My mother-in-law, Hilda (Stobbe) Loewen, whose family also came to Canada after World War II says, “….in Canada we were no longer afraid. We could now work hard and create a better life for ourselves and others.”

    I started working when I was 11 years old; I took on all kinds of jobs around Port Alberni where my family had immigrated. My first job was picking potatoes in September with my mother and my youngest sister. I later delivered the Vancouver Sun and Province newspapers, worked in a hardware store, picked strawberries, corn and vegetables on farms, and worked at the plywood mill. In the summer after grade 10, I was working 16 hour days – on a farm seven days a week, and nights at the Alberni Plywood mill.

    When we moved to Vancouver South, I began working after school and on weekends at the Terminal Saw Mill and later one summer at the Eburne Saw Mill where the B.C. Transit Station now sits. I worked on the log boom, on the green chain, as a carpenter’s helper, on night fire watch and on cleanup crew. Many evenings and weekends I would also help on my father’s construction sites while at school and university.

    Most of these jobs would be classified as “menial and low-skilled.” But at each of those jobs, I learned something new and I brought that knowledge and skill with me to the next job. I learned technical skills as well as people skills, and how to work as part of a team. I learned firsthand the strength and dedication it takes to do manual labour and to work the land, efforts that are essential for thriving communities.

    Like my father and my father-in-law, I also gained an understanding about constructing homes and buildings which has been the foundation of my success in business later in life. Without the knowledge gained in earlier roles, the three of us may never have been able to grow our businesses, let alone participate in the various education, healthcare, and community building projects we have been involved in.

    When we use words like “menial” and “unskilled”, we undervalue the important and necessary contributions of our nation’s workers. Without these positions, our country would not thrive. We must value all work as an important element to the growth of our society and economy. Maimonides, a preeminent medieval philosopher, once said: “The greatest gift that we can give one another is the gift of work.”

    Let us accept this gift with grace and humility. Let us celebrate the dignity of all honest work.

    Barj Dhahan and parents

    With my mother and father

  • Philippines Independence Day 2014 gala Vancouver

    Celebrating Philippines Independence Day

    This year, the Filipino community celebrated the 116th anniversary of Philippines independence.

    Filipino Canadians are proud that their ancestors fought the first revolution against western colonial rule in Asia. On June 13, I was fortunate enough to attend a gala commemorating Philippines Independence Day at the Renaissance Hotel in Vancouver.

    Elena Agala and Barj Dhahan

    Elena Agala and Barj at the Philippines Independence Day gala


    I am fortunate to know Elena Agala, seen with me in the photo above. She is well known within the Filipino Canadian community, and has been instrumental in supporting relief and development in the Philippines through the network of Rotary Clubs in the Lower Mainland. In January 2014, she lead a team of dentists and educators to the typhoon stricken areas in the Philippines to provide relief, supplies (clothes and medical) and dental care. This Rotary Dental Mission was a partnership between Caring Hearts Dentistry Society (Richmond), Rotary Club of Richmond Sunrise, and Rotary World Helps.

    Many families were affected by the natural disaster that hit the Philippines. Khalsa Diwan Society Vancouver provided a donation of $3,000, and I also contributed to this effort. In the past I have also supported similar efforts when families of some of our workers have been effected by natural disasters in the Philippines.

    Showing compassion and supporting communities is an important part of being Canadian, and I am happy to have been a part of the Independence Day celebrations.

  • Canadian veterans and Barj Dhahan

    Veterans Are Not Just For Remembering

    We must do more than simply “remember” our veterans, we must ensure that we are honouring and supporting them.

    Last week a group of veterans rallied on Parliament Hill to call attention to what they call a broken Veterans Affairs system in the country. Despite recent recommendations from a House of Commons committee to ensure better services for ex-military members, the protesters are skeptical that these recommendations will come to fruition. In the meantime, these veterans are not receiving the compensation and care that they need.

    Canada does well when it comes to “remembering” war veterans, like the recent D-Day commemoration ceremonies across the country, but are we doing enough to honour and support those who have fought to defend our country and to build peace around the world?

    The Canadian military has a stellar history of participating in conflict resolution and peace-building initiatives all over the world, a fact that makes me proud to be a Canadian.

    Canada Military Families Fund, Barj Dhahan, Canada India Foundation

    Barj Dhahan and Canada India Foundation present a cheque to the Military Families Fund in 2010.

    In 2010 I suggested as co-chair of the Canada India Foundation that we honour the Canadian Military Families Fund with a donation of $25,000 at our annual gala.

    But it wasn’t just in 2010 that I became interested in supporting our military or in international affairs. I arrived in Canada in June 1967, right as the 6-day Arab-Israeli war began. That was one of the first major world conflicts that sparked my interest in international peace-building and conflict resolution. In 1970, I wrote a letter to the United Nations Secretary General about the ongoing struggle in the Middle East, hoping to contribute in some small way. From then on, I have been keenly aware of global issues and continue to seek initiatives to help bring about change for peace in the world.

    Barj Dhahan letter from United Nations

    Letter from United Nations in 1970.

    Since my arrival in this country, I have appreciated Canada’s role in world affairs since the First World War, and have felt proud of the respect that our peace-building efforts have garnered internationally. But the troubles of the world are just as real today as they were then, and I know that we as Canadians and as world citizens have an important responsibility moving forward. A few weeks ago at the BC Leadership Prayer Breakfast in Vancouver, which I have participated in for many years, Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire spoke of the importance of “waging peace” in the world. He stressed the need to educate young children about other cultures and world conflicts so that they might become future peace builders. He also spoke of the importance of taking care of veterans – for how can we expect the young women and men of our country to put themselves on the front lines if we do not support them upon their return?

    I agree with General Dallaire; we need to support our veterans. This means ensuring that there is appropriate funding for veterans programs and services, and that these services are easily accessed with no time restrictions. Returning soldiers should not have to depend on private programs. This is a job for the Canadian government with the support of all Canadians.

    We must do more to ensure that we are honouring and supporting our veterans, that we are appreciating what each of them has done for each of us and for all humanity. We must do more than simply “remembering.”

  • Barj Dhahan organic farming in Ladner

    Land is Life: Thoughts on Organic Farming

    Loving the land is not just important for me; sustainable, local agriculture is an issue of great importance for all Canadians.

    I was born on a small farm in rural Punjab, India and grew up watching my grandfather work the land. He would take me for walks around our property and explain to me how important it is to know the land. He reminded me that even if you can’t see it with your eyes, there is always life beneath the soil and in the plants. He taught me that the land is life.

    My grandparents and my mother instilled an interest in gardening and farming which has always stuck with me. My family now has a certified organic farm in Ladner BC, in an area that is part of the Agricultural Land Reserve and that has one of the best micro-climates for growing cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage) and potatoes. I love to plant seeds and watch how they grow into healthy food throughout the year. I try to share this love for the land with my children and grandson.

    Last year, Ab Dhaliwal, whose family has a long and rich history of farming in Ladner since 1952, planted green bush beans on our land. We welcomed a bumper crop of deliciously sweet beans which we enjoyed over many family meals. This year Ab will grow barley on our land and potatoes and bush beans on his own acreage. Barley will be used for organic dairy feed for two dairy farms in Cloverdale and Abbotsford. Potatoes and bush beans will be supplied to Fraserland Organics, Delta and Trader Joes in Washington, USA. My family and I hope to develop our farm into an integrated year-round organic farm and yoga wellness centre.

    Loving the land is not just important for me and my family; the importance of sustainable, local agriculture is an issue of great importance for all Canadians. We are at a critical moment where one of the greatest needs of all of humanity is to find a balance between economic growth and environmental protection. It is important that we think consciously about our choices and their long-term effects. Growing local food means a reduction in carbon emissions caused by transporting fruits and vegetables over long distances, and growing organically ensures the healthiness of local citizens as well as the local environment. I have seen that my farm provides a habitat for many forms of wildlife including eagles, herons, rabbits, ducks, geese and frogs. When I see these creatures thriving, I understand that preserving green spaces and organic farming practices is about protecting entire ecosystems. Pesticides and other non-organic materials are not only harmful for human consumption, but can do serious damage to plants, animals, and water systems.

    I believe in the importance of finding sustainable, local solutions that ensure each country, region, and family’s longevity, and an important aspect of this is providing healthy, local food for local people. I am proud of my organic farm and my farmer friends like Ab Dhaliwal. I know my farm is one amongst many which contribute to the health of Canadian families. It is also a wonderful place for me to escape, to go back to the land and remember that the land is life.

  • On Board the Komagata Maru

    Remembering the Komagata Maru 100 Years Later

    Today, May 23rd marks the 100th anniversary of the Komagata Maru ship’s arrival in Vancouver’s harbor.

    It was a dark, sad and unfortunate period in Canada’s history.

    In the early 1900s, Canada was not a welcoming place for new immigrants and visitors who were not from Europe. Racist and exclusionary policies discriminated against people coming from India, China, Japan and other parts of the world.

    The Komagata Maru carried 376 passengers from the Punjab region of British India, all with dreams of settling and building new lives in Canada. But when they arrived in Burrard Inlet, they were denied entry. Instead, they stayed on the ship for two months, starving, and were shown no compassion by the government of that time.

    Only 24 passengers were allowed to disembark in Vancouver. On July 23, 1914, the remaining passengers were forced to return to India, and many were persecuted and some killed by the British India government.

    This is a critical point in Canadian history and the Indian independence movement for freedom from British rule.

    My grandfather, Bishen S. Dhillon (left) with Labh S. Dhillon, Ra Singh and a friend, in California.

    My grandfather, Bishen S. Dhillon (left) with Labh S. Dhillon, Ra Singh and a friend, in California.

    I have a deep personal connection to the legacies of the early Indian immigrants and the Komagata Maru passengers. Between 1905 and 1907 my maternal grandfather Bishen S. Dhillon and nearly 20 other men from his village Pandori Ladha Singh and surrounding villages arrived in British Columbia and California. They faced legalized discrimination. Many of them resolved to free India from British rule while seeking justice and equality in Canada. My relatives Naranjan S. Dhillon and Pratap S. Bains left Vancouver in 1913 for India and joined the freedom movement. The courageous Komagata Maru passengers directly challenged the Canadian “Continuous Passage” law which was intended to bar people from British India. It took 37 long years to free India in 1947 and to re-gain the right to vote for Indian immigrants in Canada.

    The story of the Komagata Maru passengers lives on. Last September, I had the honour of visiting the Komagata Maru Memorial at Harbour Green Park with Anna Hazare, the internationally renowned Indian leader combatting corruption, promoting government transparency and accountability, and protecting human rights. He became visibly emotional as he read names of some of the passengers listed on the monument and softly said, “I did not know their story fully. They were real freedom fighters for India and for Canada.”

    Anna Hazare Vancouver Komagata Maru MemorialAnna Hazare Barj Dhahan in Vancouver

    Today, as we remember here in Vancouver and other parts of the country, it is important for all of us to focus on creating a Canada where everyone is accepted regardless of where they come from. As Canadians, we need to be aware of our history so we can move forward, and together building an inclusive, caring and compassionate Canada.

    Today, 100 years later, we remember, honour and respect the voyage of the Komagata Maru.

  • Surrey Board of Trade – 6th International Trades Awards

    I had the pleasure of speaking on behalf of SFU’s India Advisory Council at the Surrey Board of Trade -6th International Trades Awards on May 8th, 2014. Below is the speech that I was fortunate to give on this night honouring excellence in Surrey.

    I am grateful to Surrey Board of Trade for hosting this evening’s International Trade Awards in recognition of Surrey based companies engaged in international trade. I congratulate all the award nominees. I am pleased to represent Simon Fraser University here this evening as it is an integral part of our community and economy. Over the past few years I have had the distinct honour to serve on Simon Fraser University’s India Advisory Council along with notable community and business leaders including SBOT’s CEO, Anita Huberman. SFU’s India strategy links local community with efforts to build academic, research and business relationships in India. Members of the Advisory Council help open doors and provide advice on local and international engagement.

    In 1981 a young man in his mid-thirties had some university education, a little bit of business experience, an innovative idea, a lot of ambition but no start-up capital. With a $200 loan from his wife and six knowledge partners he launched a small technology company. Today, Infosys is a multinational corporation providing business consulting, technology, engineering, and outsourcing services. It employs 165,000 people around the world including Canada. Its founder, Mr. Narayana Murthy has been listed among the 12 greatest entrepreneurs of our time by Fortune magazine. He has been described as the Father of the Indian IT sector by Time magazine!

    Simon Fraser University is creatively engaging the minds and hearts of its 30,000 students including nearly 6,000 international students to raise-up innovators and entrepreneurs like Mr. Murthy. SFU’s India strategy was developed in 2006 and it has taken many years of visits and efforts to build our reputation locally and in India. For BC and Canada, India is a priority market. Both have been keen on increasing trade and business linkages with India, with particular focus on infrastructure, energy, food security, education, innovation and entrepreneurship. SFU is playing an important role in this. During the recent trip to India by SFU important letters of intent were signed with Indian Oil, India’s largest commercial enterprise and 88th on the Fortune ‘Global 500’ listings, the top-ranked Indian Institute of Technology – Bombay, and the Bombay Stock Exchange Institute.

    SFU has benefited from participating in the mission organized by the City of Surrey, provincial visits to India, and the support of the BC Ministry of International Trade. At the state dinner for His Excellency Governor General David Johnston in New Delhi in February, I had the privilege to sit beside and chat with Mr. Butala, Chairman of Indian Oil. Canada is seen as an energy powerhouse by India. Indian Oil recognizes British Columbia and Simon Fraser University for their global leadership role in the fuel cell development and its commercialization. Thus the exciting research collaboration between Indian Oil and SFU will provide greater opportunities for SFU faculty members and students to advance this field globally and to help meet rising demand for energy in India and around the world.

    SFU’s partnership with Ryerson University and the Bombay Stock Exchange Institute is an innovative collaboration to develop an international incubator and accelerator program for young Canadian and Indian entrepreneurs. The incubator, which I visited along with Governor General David Johnston and his official Canadian delegation in February, will enable start-ups to connect with mentors, customers and investors. It will provide internships, co-op opportunities and support for student entrepreneurs and their start-up and spinout companies. It will develop and situate their business ideas/innovations for the Indian marketplace. This agreement will help Surrey and BC start-up companies that want to develop the Indian market for their products and services and Indian companies that want to develop the North American market. It is expected that these two visionary initiatives will provide Surrey’s business community and young Canadian entrepreneurs an opportunity to explore and engage in significant and meaningful bilateral business activities with India.

    On April 26th in Toronto, in his acceptance speech of Canada India Foundation’s Chanchlani Global Indian Award, Mr. Murthy stressed that there was a need to build a world where more and more wealth is created while human dignity is enhanced. He said the need of the hour is to practice compassionate capitalism – bringing the power of ideas and research together in finding innovative solutions for the benefit of the larger masses. It is said “Time and tide wait for no man.” The trade opportunities for you with Asia and India in particular are enormous. All you need is to seize the opportunity! SFU is there to do its part!

    Mr. Narayana Murthy, Jay Minhas, Barj Dhahan and Dr. Nemy Banthia, CEO, IC-IMPACTS Ltd. (Canada India Centre of Excellence, UBC)

    Mr. Narayana Murthy, Jay Minhas, Barj Dhahan and Dr. Nemy Banthia, CEO, IC-IMPACTS Ltd. (Canada India Centre of Excellence, UBC)

    Mr. Narayana Murthy, Dr. Roseann Runte, President Carleton University, Barj Dhahan and Jay Minhas

    Mr. Narayana Murthy, Dr. Roseann Runte, President Carleton University, Barj Dhahan and Jay Minhas

    Narayana Murthy, Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus, Infosys and Barj

    Narayana Murthy, Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus, Infosys and Barj Dhahan


  • IC-IMPACTS “Water for Health” Initiative in India

    Just announced today is the joint “Water for Health” initiative between India’s Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and IC-IMPACTS Centres of Excellence, Canada. This is a project I have been involved with creating over the last year that supports collaborative research projects focused on developing and evaluating new technologies in the research areas of water and health.

    DBT and IC-IMPACTS will each commit $1.5 million (Canadian dollars / equivalent Indian Rupees) to help strengthen innovative collaborations between researchers working in India and Canada, and to help stimulate practical research outcomes applied in communities of both nations.

    Further details on this project are available on IC-Impacts.

    Thank you to Sue Roppel for these kind words:

    “It builds upon the great work of the “Water for Health workshop” with Baba Farid University of Health Sciences, the success for which we are deeply indebted to Barj and so we take this opportunity to sincerely thank him as well for the success achieved today.”

    Image from http://ic-impacts.com/?p=1899

  • Celebrating Vaisakhi in Vancouver

    April 12th, 2014 was a beautiful day to celebrate Vaisakhi in Vancouver.

    My wife Rita and I had the pleasure of spending time with family, as well as meeting new and old friends.

    Enjoy these photographs from the Vaisakhi parade:

    Barj Dhahan and Justin Trudeau

    Barj Dhahan and Justin Trudeau

    Barj, Justin Trudeau, and Joyce Murray serving the community in Vancouver.

    Barj, Justin Trudeau, and Joyce Murray serving the community in Vancouver.

    Barj with young Liberal volunteers at the parade

    Barj with young Liberal volunteers at the parade

    Justin Trudeau, Harinder Dhahan, and Rita Dhahan

    Justin Trudeau, Harinder Dhahan, and Rita Dhahan

    Barj, Rita, family, and friends with Justin Trudeau

    Barj, Rita, family, and friends with Justin Trudeau

    Sarup Mann, Justin Trudeau, Karnail Nagra, Barj Dhahan, and Gulzar Cheema

    Sarup Mann, Justin Trudeau, Karnail Nagra, Barj Dhahan, and Gulzar Cheema