Suitcase of memories sheds light on the amazing life of Jab Sidhoo

Suitcase of memories sheds light on the amazing life of Jab Sidhoo

Jab Sidhoo (right) checks out a plane in Caron, Sask. during the Second World War with one of his co-workers. Sidhoo was an airplane mechanic during the war, an experience that changed his life. He died earlier this year at the age of 93.

It’s interesting that Jab Sidhoo became such a football fan, because he never played the game — he was a rugby player.

He was born on Jan. 8, 1923 in the Punjab in India, when it was still ruled by Britain. In the 1920s there were protests in India against high British taxes on farmland, which led to his family moving to Canada.

“My grandfather got in trouble,” explains Jeb’s son, Ravi Sidhoo. “They hung him upside down because he was protesting this royalty or tax. The elders said ‘You know what? He’s a little hot-headed, they’ve got their eye on him, you’d better get him out of the country.’”

The family moved to Sooke on Vancouver Island when Jab was six, and then to Kitsilano, where many members of the Indian community worked at a nearby lumberyard on Granville Island.

Sidhoo went to Kitsilano High School in 1939 but transferred to Van Tech by 1941, hoping to learn a trade.

The turning point in his life was when an air force recruiter came to Van Tech during the Second World War, looking for young guys who wanted to learn aircraft maintenance in Saskatchewan.

“Jab puts up his hand, and some other kids put up their hand. (But) the recruiter only takes the Caucasian kids,” said Ravi. “The teacher stands up and says ‘If you don’t take Jab, you don’t take the other two kids.’”

Sidhoo became an aircraft mechanic in Caron, Sask., and also spent time in Whitehorse. Away from the Indian community, he had to socialize and talk to people “outside his comfort zone,” which would later help him in business.

“When you’re an immigrant like that, there’s no community centre (to meet people),” explains Ravi. “You don’t feel that comfortable to go down and play a pickup basketball game (like today). That decision by whoever that teacher was in Tech, that changed his life.”

After the war Sidhoo founded East India Carpets as a wholesaler in 1948. In 1962 he opened a retail outlet at 1606 West 2nd, where it’s still located.

Sidhoo was proud that he was asked to provide the Persian carpets for all the royal visits to B.C. But he was also a supporter of Indian independence: Inside a suitcase of his father’s personal effects, Ravi found a photo of a striking woman labelled “Vijay Lakshmi Pandit, National Committee for India’s Freedom.”

Pandit was the sister of Jawaharlal Nehru — the first Prime Minister of India after it became independent in 1947 — and a political force in her own right, serving as a governor, cabinet minister and diplomat.

The suitcase contained some marvellous items, including photos of Jab as a kid and a colourful certificate Pan-Am Airways handed to passengers who crossed the international dateline aboard its famous Flying Clipper plane in the 1940s.

There are also mint copies of the Kitsilano and Van Tech yearbooks from 1939 and 1941, complete with autographs from some of his classmates.

His son smiled.

“He was on the rugby team in Kits,” said Ravi. “He goes over to Tech, and they played in the finals. Even in his last year, he was so pissed that Kits beat them by one point. It killed him, because those were all his buddies that he’s playing against.”

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jmackie@postmedia.com