“I want to uplift the poor and less educated, especially young girls and women” – Budh Singh Dhahan, December 5, 1925 – April 20, 2018
We remember Budh Singh Dhahan, an important figure in our organization’s history, who passed away on April 20, 2018 with this obituary published in The Globe and Mail and The Vancouver Sun. An obituary was also published in the Indo-Canadian Times (download here).
Budh Singh Dhahan provided outstanding community leadership that has contributed to education, social and economic development, and health care in both Canada and India during a lifetime of dedicated service. He was known for his vision, persistence, sense of social responsibility, and for his exemplary skills as an entrepreneur, peacemaker and bridge builder among many diverse groups.
Born and raised in rural India in a Punjabi Sikh family, Dhahan’s early years were characterized by a strong sense of community ideals that led to a growing desire to improve the lives of people around him. Although his formal education did not extend beyond Grade 8, his entire adult life was committed to education in the broadest sense. As a young man in the aftermath of the 1947 partition between India and Pakistan, he helped to provide safe passage to people forced to leave for Pakistan while assisting the dislocated refugees from Pakistan to settle and receive proper land allotments in the Indian Punjab. He mobilized people and resources to build shelters, schools, Sikh temples and worked actively on social and political causes to ensure a better community life. He fought for greater autonomy for Punjab within India and for equal language rights for Punjabi. During the 1950s he served as Akali Dal’s (political party) ’Jathedar’ (head organizer) for the Jalandhar District, vice-president of the Punjab Peace Council and executive member of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. In these years he was jailed six times for brief periods as a political prisoner.
Dhahan came to Canada in 1960 and settled in the lumber town of Port Alberni, British Columbia. In the summer of 1967, his wife and four of his five children also arrived from India. In 1973, the family moved to Vancouver where Dhahan established a successful construction enterprise building single family homes in Richmond and Vancouver.
Dhahan played an active leadership role in the growing Indo-Canadian community. In 1975, he was elected as the general secretary of Khalsa Diwan Society in Vancouver, the oldest and largest Sikh organization in Canada. Under his leadership new initiatives such as ESL classes for new immigrants, Punjabi language classes for children and programs to help strengthen the relationships between the Indo-Canadian community and the larger community were launched. In addition he facilitated the transfer of the historic Abbotsford Sikh temple property from Khalsa Diwan Society (Vancouver) to the Khalsa Diwan Society (Abbotsford) as the growing Punjabi Sikh community in the Fraser Valley wished to have autonomy over its own affairs.
While living in Canada he was inspired by Canada’s publicly funded education and healthcare, and the work of Canadian charities and volunteers. Education for girls and gender equality issues remained close to Dhahan’s heart and he continued to dream of returning to his homeland to help the poor and less educated. In 1979, he returned to Punjab with the dream of bringing health care and education (especially education for girls). Over the next three decades (despite the political unrest that engulfed Punjab from 1982-1993), Dhahan, as the founder-president of the Guru Nanak Mission Medical and Educational Trust, helped build an unprecedented rural medical and educational complex at Dhahan-Kaleran through his inspirational vision, his tireless fundraising from in Punjab, Canada, Britain, United States and other countries, and his ability to collaborate with local and international partners. These partners included the Canada-India Education Society and the School of Nursing, University of British Columbia. This complex is one of the signature Sikh diaspora and Canadian philanthropy projects in Punjab, with its 200 bed multi-specialty hospital, a trauma centre, a drug treatment program, a nursing school and college, an elementary and a senior secondary school, various hostels and administrative buildings, a bank, a Sikh temple, and a guest house called “UBC Canada House.”
The Guru Nanak College of Nursing was among the first nursing degree programs in Punjab and is noteworthy as the first such college to be established in a rural area. Through mutual student exchanges and faculty visits with UBC School of Nursing, Dhahan has helped young women broaden their horizons to see themselves as global citizens. There are over 2,000 graduates of the Guru Nanak nursing programs who serve in hospitals, community clinics, and nursing schools in many parts of India and abroad with at least 200 graduates living and working in the health sector in Canada. Through the services provided by the organization, many people have gained secure and meaningful employment in the hospital, school, nursing college, drug treatment centre, and related support services. Economic activity generated by the Guru Nanak Mission Trust has benefitted local retailers and service providers as well as the construction sector in the region for close to 35 years.
In 2010, Dhahan founded Guru Nanak Mission International Charitable Trust and opened a much needed hospital near Nawangran Kulpur area on the main highway connecting Banga and Anandpur Sahib with an ambitious plan to create a health and education center.
Among the many accolades he received during his life he was especially grateful for receiving the Honorary Doctor of Law from Kwantlen University College (now Kwantlen Polytechnic University) recognizing his exemplary contributions to Canada and India.
Budh Singh Dhahan passed away peacefully on April 20, 2018 in Nawanshahar, Punjab, India but his vision lives on in Canada and India.
A visionary bridge builder among diverse cultural and religious groups, he demonstrated his skills as an international collaborator in education and healthcare, and a prosperity and peace maker. He turned his idealism and vision into reality by mobilizing groups and communities to cooperate on initiatives that brought about lasting change.
Budh Singh Dhahan is survived by his wife, Kashmir Kaur Dhahan; his children, Harinder Kaur, Raghbir Kaur (Bachittar Singh Jawanda), Manjit Kaur (Ajit Singh Thandi), Barjinder (Barj) Singh (Rita Janet Dhahan), and Kuljinder Kaur (Gurtek Singh Shoker); his fourteen grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.