British Columbia

New book spotlights the Sikh pioneer who created B.C.'s largest independent lumber company

Asa Johal, a Sikh immigrant and former labourer, founded Terminal Forest Products in 1965. 

Asa Johal, a Sikh immigrant and former labourer, founded Terminal Forest Products in 1965

Asa Johal, who would go on to be founder of Terminal Forest Products, at 18 years old in 1940, from the book Asa Johal and Terminal Forest Products, by Jinder Oujla-Chalmers. (CBC)

Asa Johal, a Sikh immigrant and former labourer, overcame many obstacles to find success in the B.C. forest industry, according to a new book. 

Asa Johal and Terminal Forest Products, by Jinder Oujla-Chalmers, tells the story of the young man from the time he was brought to British Columbia from India as a toddler with his mother in 1924. 

Johal, along with his parents and seven brothers and sisters, saw the hardships his father faced as one of the country's early South Asian immigrants, Oujla-Chalmers told host Gloria Macarenko on CBC's On The Coast. 

At the turn of century, South Asian immigrants were given the least favourable jobs in the mill, and were discriminated against when it came to getting housing or banking. 

"Asa had the idea to start a saw mill at the age of 10 because his dad went from job to job to job to job," said Oujla-Chalmers.

A new book details the rise of a Sikh immigrant who became a giant of B.C.'s lumber industry. (Harbour Publishing)

A few years later, Johal quit school and started working to support his family. 

Eventually, after starting smaller businesses like a trucking company, and getting married, Johal established his sawmill operation in 1962. 

Johal had to reckon with the predominately white-owned and white-run forestry giants of British Columbia, and logistical challenges like getting access to logs. 

Oujla-Chalmers says it was a combination of entrepreneurial ability and timing that led Johal to finally creating the largest privately-owned and operated lumber manufacturing facility on Canada's West Coast.

Johal has won an Order of British Columbia and an Order of Canada, as well as an honorary doctorate from the University of British Columbia. 

But Oujla-Chambers says the now 97-year-old lumber mogul is very "chill" about it. 

"I asked him now [and] he takes it all in stride, like, 'oh yeah, that was nice.'"

Listen to the interview with Jinder Oujla-Chalmers on CBC's On The Coast:

With files from On The Coast

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