• Barj Dhahan John Oliver School

    10 Things You Didn’t Know about South Vancouver

    10 Things You Didn’t Know about South Vancouver

    South Vancouver is very dear to my heart. It is where I have spent most of my life, where I graduated high school, where I’ve worked many jobs, and where I met my wife. Like many other immigrants to Vancouver, South Vancouver has played an important role in my life, and yet I am always learning more about the area’s vibrant history and current landscape. Here, I share 10 interesting facts about the area that you might not know:

    • South Vancouver was originally its own municipality: The original southern boundary of Vancouver was 16th avenue, but settlers began clearing land for farms along the north arm of the Fraser River in the 1860s, and built a narrow clearing through the forest to connect to Granville Townsite (now Vancouver). That clearing would later become North Arm Wagon Road and eventually Fraser Street. The Municipality of South Vancouver was incorporated in 1892, and only amalgamated with Vancouver in 1929.
    • South Hill is one of the oldest shopping areas in Vancouver: The stretch on Fraser Street from 41st Avenue to 50th Avenue has been bustling since a streetcar was built down Fraser Street to 49th Avenue in 1909. Some residents remember iconic businesses from that time such as Tom Fox Hardware (est. 1908) and Curry Grocers (est. 1910), and some of the original buildings from that time still stand.

    South Hill

    • Speaking of South Hill, the community members have built a fabulous website: The South Hill Community Website is an amazing project, almost like an online community centre, that links to projects, events, and businesses in the area. One of the most impressive projects is Inside Stories, a user friendly and beautiful interactive part of the website where users can click on images of local homes and shops to hear the stories of the residents inside.
    • John Oliver Secondary School is one of the oldest in Vancouver: Originally established as South Vancouver High School in 1912, my high school started out as just two surplus classrooms at Lord Selkirk Elementary. A new structure near the current location was built in 1920 on the site of the original Wilson Farm, and the school was renamed John Oliver Secondary School. That building is now called “The Barn” and still stands today behind the current structure. Many alumni like me are proud of J.O. and continue to support projects at the school like the Wonder of Reading program.

    The Barn

    • The Ross Street temple was built by the oldest and largest Sikh organization in Canada: The Khalsa Diwan Society was formally established in 1906, making it the oldest Sikh organization in the country. Vancouver’s first Sikh Gurdwara (temple) was built on 2nd Avenue by the Society in 1908 (which means it may be the oldest Gurdwara on the American continent). As the Sikh community in Vancouver grew, a larger temple was eventually necessary and the new construction on Ross Street, designed by renowned architect Arthur Erickson, was completed in 1970.

    Ross Street Gurdwara

    • The Vancouver South riding has one of the largest immigrant populations in the province: From the earliest days, the area has attracted hard working individuals and families from all over the world looking to build a better future in Canada. Today, 75% of Vancouver South residents are either immigrants or children of immigrants (compared to about 50% in Vancouver as a whole), about one-third of those are of Chinese ancestry, 15% are from India or Pakistan, and a growing population are people with Filipino or Vietnamese heritage.

    LA2699 Barj Dhahan 20140116-116-3-1

    • Langara College has graduated over 76,000 students: Originally part of Vancouver City College, Langara started in 1965 and moved to its current location on 49th avenue in 1970. In 1994 it was established as an independent public college and now offers a variety of programs for over 21,000 students every year. Since 2007, Langara has recognized the contributions of exceptional graduates with the Outstanding Alumni Award; recipients include journalist Simi Sara, former mayor Sam Sullivan, and acclaimed author Carmen Aguirre.


    • Everett Crowley Park in Champlain Heights was built on a landfill: Along with Killarney, the Champlain Heights area in the southeast corner of Vancouver was one of the last areas in the city to be urbanized. The area where the park sits now was originally a coniferous forest housing a natural ravine and waterfall. Later the land was used for hunting and logging and in the 1940s it became the Kerr Road Dump and operated as a landfill until 1967. In 1987 it was re-opened as a park and named for Everett Crowley, a long-time resident of the area who served as a Park Board Commissioner in the 1960s.

    Everett Crowley Park

    • Killarney Market is famous: Killarney Market on the corner on East 49th Avenue is well-known for being one of the only places in the city to find certain Latin American, Asian, and European products along with a wide selection of affordable everyday groceries, fresh baked goods, deli meats, plants and flowers. It is also where Burnaby-born, Grammy-nominated singer Michael Bublé filmed the music video for “Haven’t met you yet”. The video features Bublé singing and dancing throughout the store and parking lot, features a cameo by the West Vancouver Youth Band, and has had over 4 million views on YouTube.

    Killarney Market

    • The River District will eventually house about 15,000 residents: Originally the Canadian White Pine Mill, later known as the East Fraserlands, the River District is an area of over 50 hectares along the Fraser River between Kerr Street and Boundary Road. A big construction project is underway which will include 6000-7000 homes, retail space, offices, an elementary and secondary school, parks, recreational amenities, and more.

    River District

    The River District project is just one of several such projects underway in South Vancouver. From forest, to farms, to lumber and plywood mills, to family-centered communities, to an outstanding institution of higher education, I love to learn about how the area has grown and changed over the years. South Vancouver is a fascinating part of the city with a very rich history, and much potential for a very bright and prosperous future.

  • John Oliver Barj Dhahan

    News: Couple Funds High School Literacy Program

    Couple’s high school literacy program is one for the books.

    By Paul Waldie, originally published in The Globe and Mail on January 31, 2014.

    The donors: Barj and Rita Dhahan

    The gift: Helping to raise $100,000

    The cause: Vancouver’s John Oliver Secondary School

    The reason: To fund reading programs for at-risk students

    Barj and Rita Dhahan know how difficult it can be for immigrants to fit into a new community. Mr. Dhahan immigrated to Canada from India at the age of 10 while Ms. Dhahan’s parents came from Germany. Both attended John Oliver Secondary School in south Vancouver, an area known for its multicultural makeup, and both saw how new arrivals often fell behind in reading and other subjects.

    “I understand that immigrants can have challenges,” Mr. Dhahan said from Vancouver, where he founded Sandhurst Group, a real estate development company. “There are so many different traditions, different cultures and different backgrounds.”

    Now successful business people, the couple are leading an effort to raise $100,000 for a literacy program called the Wonder of Reading. The couple and some family members have contributed $18,500 and they hope to raise the remainder through a network of contacts and John Oliver alumni across the country. The money will go toward a breakfast program, night school classes and student-to-student tutoring.

    “We have Grade 11 and 12 kids reading to elementary school kids and making home visits,” he said, adding that that encourages parents to read with their children. “Some students need extra help, and this is what we are trying to do. We don’t want any of these kids left behind.”

  • John Oliver Alumni Pledge

    News: John Oliver alumni pledge to raise $100,000

    John Oliver Alumni Pledge to Raise $100,000 for Wonder of Reading Legacy Fund

    Originally published by Vancouver School Board on January 21, 2014.

    A group of John Oliver Secondary alumni, spearheaded by local business owners Barj and Rita Dhahan, has established the Wonder of Reading Legacy Fund to support the school’s reading programs and raise funds targeted at student literacy.

    Administration, staff and alumni were all smiles on Monday morning when they met on the John Oliver Secondary School steps to celebrate the community’s commitment to literacy at the school with a cheque presentation of $22 000.

    “As an alumnus of John Oliver, I believe it is important to provide equal opportunity to all students and enhancing student literacy is an important way to give back to the community,” says Barj Dhahan. “We care deeply about, and feel connected to, our community and school.”

    Looking for ways to contribute and give back to the school, the Dhahan family learned of John Oliver’s recent Wonder of Reading campaign and they committed to reach out to their community on behalf of the school once again. The alumni community is aiming to raise $100 000 for their former high school.

    The money raised will support the many reading and literacy initiatives the school has undertaken, including the Wonder of Reading, night school classes that boast an almost 100 percent success rate with at risk and vulnerable students, programs in which John Oliver students engage with preschool and elementary aged children and their families in reading support, after school tutor clubs run by students for students, and reading programs aimed at students on school sports and other teams.

    To view photos CLICK HERE.

  • Barj Dhahan Literacy Funding

    News: Grads repay school with gift of reading

    Vancouver couple leads fundraising drive for literacy program.

    By Cheryl Rossi, originally published in Vancouver Courier on January 21, 2014.

    John Oliver alumni Barj Dhahan and his wife Rita are funding a breakfast program at the school for disabled students for the next three and a half years.

    When Barj and Rita Dhahan heard in November about disabled students arriving with empty stomachs at John Oliver secondary school, they decided to fund the life skills class’s breakfast program for the next three and a half years.

    “We both looked at each other and I said, you know Rita, this is our school, we went here. I think we should do something,” Barj Dhahan said.

    And when JO principal Tim McGeer made a presentation to the Fraserview Rotary Club, to which Dhahan belongs, about the Sunset school’s extensive literacy programs, they acted again by leading fellow John Oliver alumni to pledge raising $100,000 for the school’s Wonder of Reading Legacy Fund.

    The Kerrisdale couple and JO graduates presented cheques totalling $22,500 at the Sunset school Monday morning, ahead of Family Literacy Day Jan. 27. Much of the money came from the Dhahans and their family members, with contributions from other former students.
    John Oliver secondary, along with 23 community partners, held a massive literacy event in September to launch its Wonder of Reading campaign.

    Low levels of interest in books, reading and language have been reported in the Sunset community.

    “The educational attainment [of] 16 per cent of the JO parent population is about Grade 9,” McGeer said.

    Some homes lack books, the money to buy them or the understanding that literacy is linked to brain development and dropout rates, he added.

    McGeer says teachers at JO have noticed that a significant percentage of their students are starting Grade 8 with Grade 3 or 4 reading skills. They start preschool with a deficit that continues throughout their education.

    “These kids are just as smart, just as able, just as loved as any other kid, they haven’t had access or engagement with literature, it’s just that simple,” McGeer said.
    “The more they read the more neural connections you create, the more language you have, the more neural resilience you have. You apply that to different areas of your schooling and your life. The more you read the more you dream, the bigger you dream because it just is creating brain capacity.”

    Dhahan attended JO for grades 11 and 12, graduating alongside Rita in 1975.
    A commercial property owner and Tim Hortons and Esso gas station franchisee, Dhahan recalls three English, creative writing and literature teachers at John Oliver who inspired his appreciation of reading and writing.

    “We’ve been really blessed so we feel this is a small way to give back to the school that provided me a great education,” Dhahan said.

    “Not only for economic prosperity, but for wellness and health and the community’s prosperity, we need to ensure that our kids have equal access to learning.”

    He said his desire to help comes from his upbringing.

    “I was raised up with the idea that whatever you earn, give a tenth of that to those who are in your community,” he said. “Give wherever there are needs.”

    Dhahan said anyone interested in donating to John Oliver should call the school.

    Photograph by: Dan Toulgoet

  • Teacher Koryn Heisler with Barj and Rita Dhahan

    News: Donations help feed special-needs students

    Alumni come to the rescue at John Oliver Secondary. Donations to help feed special-needs students and fund literacy program.

    By Gerry Bellett, originally published in The Vancouver Sun on January 20, 2014.

    Several members of the grad class of 1975 showed up at John Oliver Secondary on Monday, bringing with them $22,500 in cash and cheques and a promise to raise a $100,000 endowment to ensure teacher Koryn Heisler’s special-needs students never go hungry again.

    Vancouver businessman Barj Dhahan and his wife Rita, both John Oliver grads, are spearheading the drive to raise the funds as a result of a Vancouver Sun Adopt-A-School story in November that described Heisler’s struggle to feed some severely disabled students in her life-skills class.

    “That’s why we are here, because of that story,” said Dhahan as he and his fellow grads met principal Timothy McGeer in the lobby of the East Vancouver school where the group handed over the $22,500.

    About $10,500 of the money went directly to Heisler so she can provide breakfast, lunch and snacks for her students, a number of whom come to school hungry, without having had breakfast and with no food to see them through the day.

    “That’s the money from myself and Rita,” said Dhahan. “The rest (raised from among his family and former grads) is to be used to start the endowment.”

    He was accompanied by his two sisters, a niece, and his wife’s parents, all of whom have ties to John Oliver.

    The $10,500, plus another $4,000 received from other donors after The Sun’s story appeared, will enable Heisler to feed her class for at least three years.

    Before the donations, she had been feeding them out of her own pocket.

    “It’s just wonderful. It’s so overwhelming what people have done for us,” said Heisler. “It will mean so much for the children.”

    The endowment will be used to provide food for Heisler’s class and to support the school’s Wonder of Reading Program designed to help students having difficulty with literacy, said McGeer.

    “I’d like to express my sincere thanks and deepest appreciation for the kind generosity of the John Oliver alumni coming together to support our life-skills program and the Wonder of Reading literacy fund. It’s only through partnerships like this that we can do what we need in order to support our students,” said McGeer.

    Dhahan said the necessity of feeding hungry children speaks for itself, but he also wanted to help students struggling with literacy and numeracy and has been contacting old school friends for help with the endowment.

    “My parents were immigrants, I was an immigrant, so I know about challenges with English literacy and numeracy and the need for help after school. We want all kids to have equal opportunity in reading and numeracy so they can excel in school and in life beyond,” said Dhahan.

    Artist Jeanette Lee, who attended John Oliver with Dhahan and Rita, said she was glad Dhahan had contacted her for help.

    “John Oliver gave me opportunity in my life, so it’s wonderful that we have this chance to be there for these kids,” said Lee, who recently won an award for public art in Richmond.

    Dhahan will be working on the endowment with his school friends and Pal Beesla, who graduated in 2000 and is a member of the executive of the Khalsa Diwan Society, which Dhahan said was the oldest Indian organization in North America.

    “We will be working with Pal to promote the endowment and develop a fundraising event involving the society later this year,” said Dhahan.

    Any person who wishes to donate to the endowment can contact McGeer at the school at 604-713-8938.

    Photograph by: Ward Perrin, Vancouver Sun

  • Teacher Koryn Heisler with Barj and Rita Dhahan

    News: John Oliver alumni start fund to feed kids

    Dhahan family’s endowment aims to give $5,000 annual grant for school’s life skills program.

    By Gerry Bellett, originally published in The Vancouver Sun on Dec 25, 2013.

    Vancouver businessman Barj Dhahan wants to ensure teacher Koryn Heisler will never again have to worry about how to feed those severely disabled and impoverished students attending her life skills class at east Vancouver’s John Oliver Secondary.

    Dhahan who attended John Oliver — as did his wife Rita, his two sisters and much of his family — is seeking to raise a $100,000 endowment which could result in the school’s life skills program receiving an annual grant of around $5,000.

    “Both my wife and I went to this school and we are really touched by the work Koryn is doing,” said Dhahan.

    “I have already got $20,000 committed to the endowment and I will be going to other family members to add to it and I am also appealing to former JO students to help raise it,” said Dhahan.

    “We want to make sure that this teacher and these children are going to be protected against the kind of budget cuts that removes her ability to teach or help feed her students,” said Dhahan who is president of Sandhurst Group, one of the largest franchise holders of Tim Horton’s restaurants and Esso service stations in Metro Vancouver, among other commercial real estate holdings.

    What Dhahan is proposing has never been done before for any school that has been part of The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign.

    At the end of November, Heisler was at her wit’s end trying to protect her students from the worst effects of budget cuts and had asked the Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign for help.

    Heisler was faced with students arriving at school without having eaten breakfast and with little or nothing to eat for the rest of the day. She was using up her meagre classroom funds to feed them porridge and toast in the morning. But the money would have run out by spring, and she would have had to pay for the food herself — as she did last year.

    Heisler was also hobbled as the stove she was supposed to use to teach students how to cook sat useless in the corner because the school district’s budget didn’t provide the $800 needed to hook it up.

    However, following a Vancouver Sun Adopt-A-School story of her plight Nov. 21, offers of help came flooding in.

    “It was amazing,” said Heisler who met with Dhahan and his wife just before school ended for Christmas holidays.

    “We had people stopping by that first week giving me money and asking how they could help and the phone never stopped ringing with offers of support and donations. People were sending in Christmas cards with money inside and dropping off food and casseroles.

    “It was completely overwhelming.”

    The Vancouver South Lions Club which operated a Christmas Tree lot on school property came in with a $400 donation for food and committed to pay for having the stove hooked up.

    “The work order for the stove has gone in and hopefully it will be on the priority list for January,” said Heisler.

    The money she has received so far is being spent on improving breakfast for the 12 students in her class.

    “Right after the article came out we went on a big shopping trip and revamped our breakfast program. Now we give them eggs, toast, fruit, yogurt — it’s a healthy breakfast now,” she said.

    Dhahan was greatly impressed with Heisler.

    “What she is doing is beyond the call of duty. She’s working in a very challenging environment without the many things she needs yet she is very peaceful and quiet and has an inner strength and conviction. She’s a wonderful teacher and the kids are very lucky to have such a compassionate and caring person,” he said.

    “I think as a society we often don’t recognize the amazing work teachers like Koryn are doing in the school system,” he said.

    Dhahan, who has donated before to Adopt-A-School, said he was upset with the idea that the most needy of children appeared to be suffering the most from education cutbacks.

    “Whether by birth or circumstances or upbringing there are some of us in society who are disadvantaged and resources should not be pulled away from those people. If we can help them be self-reliant, society gets paid back in the long term,” he said.

    Anyone interested in contributing to the endowment can contact John Oliver school principal Tim McGeer at 604-713-8938.