In the 46 years Surinderpal Rathor has called Williams Lake home he’s worked hard, volunteered heavily and enjoyed family life.
An Indo-Canadian, he arrived in the Cariboo as a young ‘skinny and tiny guy,’ hoping to find work.
“I sold vacuums door-to-door, drove taxi and freelanced,” he recalled, adding he wrote columns and took photographs for the Tribune when Diana French was the community editor and Ed Sager was the editor.
His photographs of marriages and other functions also gained him some work with Waterhouse Studios and later Heirloom Photography.
“People liked my photographs and I’d earn bonuses and extra money for them.”
Anxious to obtain a steadier income he went to apply at Pinette and Therrien mill.
“I’d stand in line, but didn’t get hired,” he said. “Then one day I finally got on and you know, from then on the sky was the limit. Within the first few days I was the first coloured person even touching moving equipment.”
Crediting his success at the mill to his communication skills, he said he drove forklift, loader, cat and grader — every piece of equipment.
Eventually he pursued an electrical apprenticeship when his children were teenagers.
Born in the Punjab State of North India, he ventured to the Cariboo because he had a cousin living here.
Within a short time he met his future wife Charangit Parmar, whose sister was married to Rathor’s cousin.
Her family had moved to Williams Lake in 1969. They were married in 1975.
In addition to working full-time, Rathor has been an avid volunteer, with his efforts gaining him four federal medals and one from the provincial government.
He volunteered for Guru Nanak Sikh Temple, led fundraising for the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin board and historical society and the regional hospital board.
Today he is a Williams Lake and Credit Union board of directors.
After sitting on various city council advisory committees he ran for city council, serving seven consecutive terms.
“I ran for mayor two times but wasn’t successful,” he said.
For the last 30 years he’s co-ordinated the community volunteer income tax program, which he started volunteering for when he arrived in Williams Lake.
Rathor believes many Indo-Canadians came to Williams Lake for work, just like he did.
Some of them have retired and moved to the Lower Mainland for different reasons and for family, he added.
He is very proud of their grandchildren. Their son is living in the Lower Mainland with their grandson and the three children of their daughter Roop Pamar who died in 2014, are all doing well. Priya the oldest is in her final year at Thompson Rivers University.
A racist incident he experienced in 1978 or 1979 where someone swore at him as they passed each other coming out of the Royal Bank does stand out, but as a teachable one.
“He said ‘F-Hindu’ and I stopped him,” he recalled. “At first I wanted to hit him, but decided no because he was way bigger than me.”
Instead he asked if the man knew the meaning of Hindu.
When the man said he didn’t care, Rathor persisted, explaining that he was a Sikh and that was his religion.
“Once I educated him that was the end of it. I may have come across more incidents, but I don’t recall.”
To say there is no discrimination would be wrong, he added, noting racism can be both visible and invisible.
In January 2021, he plans to retire after working at what is now Tolko’s Soda Creek Sawmill for almost 46 years.