October 15, 2018

‘It’s a Great Feeling’

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Soda Creek mill electrician recognized for his exceptional volunteer work & commitment to the community of Williams Lake, BC

 In 1975, just months after emigrating from India and starting at Soda Creak mill near Williams Lake, BC, Surinderpal became the first non-white person in the mill’s history, he believes, who was allowed to touch mobile equipment. On a chance opportunity from the then owner to drive the log loader into the mill, Surinderpal did it. And he did a good job. 

“I felt it was a great honour, to change the culture without fighting it. I proved that people of my ethnic background can do any job when they are given the opportunity,” says Surinderpal, who went on to operate several machines before taking an electrical apprenticeship, becoming head electrician and later electrical lead hand. He still works at the mill. 

Surinderpal’s attitude about affecting change in a quiet yet powerful head down kind of way spilled over to his life outside the mill.

“At that time, a lot of people thought the Indian immigrants were only there to make money and they weren’t accepting them because they weren’t getting involved with society. I wanted to change that—to show we are here forever—so I got involved wherever I could.”

That he did. The ways he has volunteered over the years is diverse and perhaps surprising: helping people prepare taxes, serving soup at the Salvation Army, with the Williams Lake Stampede Association, almost single-handedly raising funds for the museum, with the Sikh Community Association and its campaign for a crematorium, the hospital board and its campaigns for a new wing and a morgue. Oh, and he’s served on city council for 21 years. 

Over the course of 43 years, he reckons he’s fulfilled more than 140,000 hours—many, many more hours than most Canadians born here. “My belief is, the community has given me so much. You need volunteers.” 

In turn, Surinderpal has been recognized numerous times. His first medal came in 1992 as part of Canada’s Silver Jubilee, 125 Years of Confederation. In 2002, he received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal. In 2005, he was once again recognized, this time with the BC Achievement Award. In 2012, he received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and this past September he was awarded the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers in Victoria, BC. 

“You don’t do it thinking you’ll be recognized one day, but it’s a great honour to be recognized.”

Above photo, L-R: The Honourable Janet Austin, OBC, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia and Mr. Surinderpal Rathor.