A patriarch in Port Alberni’s South Asian community celebrated his 90th birthday and got a present from BC’s premier to mark the occasion.
Ramji Dass was surrounded by family and friends at Port Alberni’s Hindu Temple on 10th Avenue on Feb. 24 to mark the occasion.
“My birthdays have all come and gone. But my family and friends are forever,” said Dass, who founded the small but industrious temple in 1991.
Among the gifts Dass received was a plaque signed by BC Premier Christy Clark. “I am very pleased to join with your family and friends in recognizing your 90th birthday,” Clark wrote.
“This is quite a milestone for you, as you reflect on all that you have done and all that you have experienced over the years.”
Dass and wife Lajwamti, 84, have six children: three boys and three girls; and approximately 19 grandchildren.
Dass came to Port Alberni from Punjab, India in 1956 to live a better life, grandson Rishi Sharma said. “His sister was already here so that’s why he came and stayed,” Sharma said.
Dass encouraged others from the Punjab to come to the Valley and work at the mills. “More of our cousins came every year. People got married and had kids and our community grew,” Sharma said.
Dass and others worked at the plywood mill, and was working one night in 1964 when an alarm sounded about a tsunami—sending Dass and others climbing into the rafters. “He said that the water came in then it went out and that was it,” Sharma said.
Dass made a good life for his family in his new country, but he also taught his family to contribute to the new society in which they lived. “He taught us to get educated, to work hard, to be strong and to be proud of who we are,” Sharma said. “He was tough but loving with us.”
Life has come full circle in another way for Dass. He emigrated from India, was sworn in as a Canadian citizen by the federal government, and now his grandson is working with the provincial government.
“Today I work as a chief of staff for a B.C. government ministry,” Sharma said.
Port Alberni city councillor Hira Chopra, who attended the party, has known Dass since Chopra first came from the Punjab in 1980.
“Our villages back home are located very close to one another,” Chopra said. “He’s a respected man in our culture. There aren’t too many left his age now.”
Dass walks with a cane but is still active, Chopra said. “He comes, opens the temple, lights a candle and tends to things.”