Wally Knott on saw and his partner Red Meyers at Meades Creek Oct. 1945 by W.H.Gold PhotoMOFM Logo
Mayo SidingMayo Singh, born in the village of Paldi, District Hoshiarpur in East Punjab, India in the year 1888, was the son of a village farmer. His father Bhulla Singh and his mother Relli Kour said farewell to their 17 year old son in 1906 when he made the decision to join his older brother Ganea, already working in a sawmill at Rosedale near Chilliwack. He landed first in San Francisco, took a job on the railway and quickly worked his way up the coast to join his brother working near Chilliwack. He began his career as a lumber stacker. During the nine years he worked on the mainland, he was instrumental in forming a partnership with thirtyfour others from the Punjab and purchased a small sawmill.

In 1916 he came to the Cowichan Valley seeking a better source of timber and a suitable site for a mill. He chose the site of Paldi because of the unlimited timber, its proximity to the E&N Railway and a creek that could be dammed to form a mill pond. During the first years of operation the company suffered the usual growing pains including several mill fires and devastating forest fires.Originally the company was known as Mayo Brothers Timber Company and later when Mayo became sole owner, Mayo Lumber Company.

Mayo Office & General StoreA small community, first called Mayo, with a Sikh Temple, a school, company store, post office and a Japanese Temple/Community Hall began to take shape adjacent to the mill site.

Mayo had sent for some Japanese men he had worked with in Rosedale, who along with their families, other East Indians, Chinese and whites, formed this unique community. Later, at the urging of Canada Post to change the name because mail was being confused with that of Mayo in the Yukon, Mayo chose the name of Paldi, after the name of his home village in Punjab, India.

In 1925, after building a large family home near the office, Mayo travelled to India to marry the girl chosen for him by his parents. "I didn't know anything about her. You're happy if you get the best. But if you don't, you have to take what you get. I went back to India and we were married. For six months we lived at the house of my father and not once did I mention to her that I owned a sawmill, that I had wealth. Finally- I said I should be getting back to Canada. For all she knew, I was going back to be a laborer, but she said that where I went she would go." Two years later he returned with his bride Bishan Kour.

Mayo Family PortraitMayo's first child, a girl, Joginder Kour, was born in 1927; seven others would follow in quick succession. With the birth of each child Mayo donated a full day's pay to the hospital. Because of his many philanthropies through the years, Mayo was regarded as a virtual Santa Claus by more than a dozen institutions in Victoria and on the lower mainland. There is a scholarship in his name at the University of Victoria, also a hospital in India and an auditorium in a college near his birthplace.

Life in Canada for Mayo and his wife Bishan Kaur included much sadness. Perhaps this explains his generous donation to local hospitals. There are many who remember the death of his six year old daughter, Rajinder Kour, who succumbed to burns. Miss A. Fergeson, a former teacher in Paldi, describes her as a beautiful child, as pretty as a picture. She had come home from school that day and finding no one at home attempted to light the stove herself. Her clothing caught fire and not realizing the danger, ran outside for help. Her death was a terrible blow to Mayo.

Another child, Joginder Singh, died of spinal meningitis in St. Joseph's Hospital in Victoria. Tom Tagami, a youngster in Paldi at the time remarked "It was the longest funeral procession I have ever seen, all the way from Victoria and so many people." The whole village mourned the deaths of Mayo's two children. Through several interviews, a picture of Mrs. Mayo as a young woman begins to evolve. She spoke no English at first but soon picked up the international dialect unique to Paldi among its various nationalities. Said Tom Tagami, "She was outstanding, such a handsome woman. Very quiet, always well dressed and wore a big Indian Shawl. She wasn't snobbish or anything like that but there was something about her. In fact both her and Mrs. Kapoor, I guess you could say they had class. My mother, Mrs. Tagami, made dresses for both Mrs. Mayo and Mrs. Kapoor."

Rajindi, my husband, born 1933, Mindi, Gindi, Gloria and Mike were the other children. With the arrival of more women and children, the community began to thrive. The annual three-day Paldi 'Jor Mela', a combination of religious, sporting and social events drew Sikh families from all parts of Vancouver Island, B.C. and even a few families from Alberta.

The Mayo family home became a daily gathering place for the East Indian women and children. There are many fond memories of these early days.

Like her husband, Bishan Kaur, too, is remembered for her generosity. "Come to Paldi," she would say, "my husband will give your husband a job." Rajinder Kaur Manik of Duncan remembers her as being "so very friendly. She was always inviting me to stay overnight." Rajinder Kaur lived in Duncan with no East Indian women near by. At times she was very lonely and looked forward to attending functions at the Paldi Sikh Temple where she could mix with women of her own nationality. When she hesitated, saying, "But I have children," Mrs. Mayo would answer, "That's no problem, I have a woman to help in the house. She will wash the diapers. Bring the children too."

There was the annual company picnic at Nanaimo's Halliburton Street Park when most of the residents travelled by company bus, and regular picnics at the Cowichan River and Beacon Hill Park in Victoria. Mayo Singh and his wife brought an endless supply of fresh fruit and sandwiches which they enjoyed sharing with anyone who happened to be there.

'Their Paldi mill town not only flourished but also became a bustling settlement of white Canadians, Chinese, Japanese and Punjabis. The area where the Mayo mill was established was dominated by rich coniferous forests of Douglas fir, hemlock, red cedar, balsam fir and spruce. Their commercial value increased considerably in the 1920s as the Cowichan Valley lumber industry experienced a phenomenal growth'. -excerpts from "The Establishment of Little Pujab in Canada" by Archana Verma

On July 22, 1934 a Victoria newspaper carried the following article:
"Mayo Singh, president of the Mayo Lumber Company and the Kapoor Lumber Company , operating on Vancouver Island, is today celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of his arrival in Canada. Mr. Singh was born and raised in Punjab, India, and came to Canada as a young man.

"By dint of hard work and able executive ability, gained by experience, Mr. Singh has gradually built up a lumbering industry on Vancouver Island employing over 600 men, with modern machinery operating at full capacity. His company is now exporting to the United Kingdom and Japan.

"As a mark of appreciation of his success in Canada and of the services tendered to him and members of his family by the institution, Mr. Singh yesterday made a cash donation to St. Joseph's Hospital here, adding to his previous gifts to the hospital in the hope that the gifts may help others, less fortunate, in these times."

On Sept. 13, 1935, the magazine section of the Vancouver Province carried the following story, "Cowichan Lumber King," by John Logan.

"Although he is one of the wealthiest men in the district, Mayo Singh lives very simply. He may be seen driving not an expensive limousine but a heavy truck through the streets of Duncan and nothing in the way he dresses at such times proclaims the fact he is owner of a large timber company. His house at Mayo (before the name was changed to Paldi) is a comfortable one but not at all pretentious. Mayo has probably given more money to the local Sikh Temple than he has spent on his own dwelling. The tall flagpole which looks out over the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Beacon Hill Park is yet another example of Mayo's fondness for his adoptive country."

In June of 1936, the BC Lumber Worker reported: "Through the generosity of Mayo Singh, head of the Kapoor & Mayo Lumber Companies, a 165' flag pole has been donated to the Victoria City Council for erection in Beacon Hill Park."

A second pole, to replace the aging original is still standing. The second one donated by his family in memory of their father.

The mill at Paldi shut down in 1945 forcing many of the residents to move to other places. However a new mill was built at Summit on Cowichan Lake Road and later a more modern mill at Nanaimo.

The small community of Paldi became a home away from home for new families arriving from India. It was seen as a safe haven where almost everyone spoke the Punjab language, had a Sikh Temple in the center of town and a kindly Punjab speaking couple to help with their relocation.

Bishan Kour, Mrs. Mayo, died in 1952 while on a visit to her family in the Punjab. Mayo Singh died peacefully at home on February 23, 1955. He was cremated at a site near the home he shared with his wife of thirty years. A headstone marks the spot.

by Joan Mayo

The following are excerpts from Joan Mayo's book "Paldi Remembered"

THE 50'S AND 60'S
With the end of the Second World War, Japanese Canadians were allowed to return to the coast. In 1950 there were eight Japanese households in Paldi. Mr. & Mrs. Urabe, "Geechan and Bachan", Grandpa and Grandma to the Mayo family, were back in the family fold.

The one big event of the year for the Paldi Japanese was New Year's Day. Looking back on it now one realizes the expense and hours of work that went into this festival each year. The small community, with the houses close together, made house hopping easy. Each home had a display of traditional holiday foods, artistically arranged on the kitchen table. Very few of the East Indian families took part in this festival as most were newcomers from India, but everyone else in Paldi came.

For the next 25 years, Paldi rang with the voices of children. As the immigration laws were relaxed, the married men living in the East Indian bunkhouse were able to send for their wives and children. More houses were built to replace some beyond repair and telephones were installed.

The Paldi Sikh Temple and adjoining cookhouse were the gathering places for the East Indians. Their festivals and special days drew friends and relatives from all over B.C.

Through the late 50's and early 60's, Paldi enjoyed a baby boom. Although the mill was gone the men continued to work for Mayo Lumber Co. , in the mill at Summit then later in the new mill at Nanaimo. The Japanese and the few remaining whites worked in the logging camp, first behind the Summit mill then farther west in the Robertson River Camp.

The East Indian bunkhouse housed about 10 single men, but it was the mixed bag of children that gave Paldi its unique reputation. The two room school was enlarged to two classrooms and a gymnasium and a second teacher was engaged. Mrs. Bea Coulter, the principal, drove each day from Lake Cowichan and Mrs. Lillian Cole lived with her family at Paldi. These were the fun filled days. With about 35 children of all nationalities there was always something to do. The children invented games such as bicycle tag where, if you were caught, you exchanged bikes with the one who tagged you. They played stealing sticks till it was too dark to see, the older boys keeping the younger ones out of mischief. During the summer they picked fir cones to sell at 50 cents a sack to the Government Nursery. They picked blackberries, raided cherry trees and built rafts on the swamps.

Paldi's 'Jor Mela' at the Sikh Temple was always looked forward to as the youngsters ran in and out of the cookhouse several times a day, wolfing down fresh hot roti and curried vegetables. The meal wasn't complete for these youngsters until they had enjoyed a mug of hot sweet Indian tea.

Author's note... As a mother of five, I never worried where my children were. This one big happy family looked after each other's children. My children enjoyed the unique childhood of one day eating Chinese food, another Japanese, sometimes East Indian and other times plain old white folks' food.

During the lazy summer evenings the adults came out for walks. The women and small children keeping to the roads while the men, with all the young boys in tow, walked through the woods along the rough road to the reservoir.

Lest anyone think the children had all the fun, the adults too jumped at any excuse for a get-together. Baby showers were common as was the annual Hallowe'en bonfire, Christmas parties and all school functions. With such a close-knit community, it was a common sight to see the women walking to a neighbor's house for a short visit and a quiet cup of tea before the children came home from school.

A modern mill had been built in Nanaimo in 1965. The office too was relocated to Nanaimo. Workers were taken by bus to the new mill. People began to move away, closer to their place of work. In 1969, due to the dwindling number of school children, the Paldi school closed and those remaining were bussed to Lake Cowichan.

From 1965 to 1975 Paldi was a haven for Hippies. They took over every abandoned shack they could. These were pleasant friendly young people, mostly from Ontario, who desired nothing more than a quiet rural setting, and to be allowed to live their own way with their horses, dogs and goats.
All during the summer months they gathered in the evenings to play softball on the school field with the local youth.

By 1975 all the Japanese and Chinese had left and there were only a few East Indian families left in Paldi. By 1980 the "old times" were all gone and the 15 houses remaining were rented to a more transient clientelle

For a few years the Paldi school was rented to a private group, then boarded up. In 1997 it was destroyed by fire of suspicious origin.

A new Sikh Temple has been built in Duncan and although the Paldi Temple retains a resident priest there are fewer services than in previous years.