British Columbia

Wally Oppal's 100-year-old mother a symbol for B.C.'s South Asian community

Life in B.C. has changed a lot for immigrants in the last 100 years. Gurdial Oppal has been witness to it all.

Wally Oppal says limited opportunity for Indians when he was growing up led him to law career

Gurdial Oppal moved to Duncan, B.C. in 1934 to start a new life in Canada. (Rana Vig/Mehfil Magazine)

Throughout her life, Gurdial Oppal has seen a lot of changes for the South Asian community in British Columbia. The 100-year-old moved to Duncan, B.C., from India in 1934, but soon found herself widowed and responsible for raising her young family on her own.

The eldest of her sons was Wally Oppal, B.C.'s former attorney general.

"She's an example of the resilience and ambition that most of our immigrants had," Oppal told CBC.

"We didn't grow up wealthy or well-to-do by any stretch, but at the same time we were never found wanting for anything because we were accepted and my mom worked hard."

Soon after her husband passed away, Gurdial took a job as a house-keeper where she made 50 cents an hour. She also bought a cow and sold its milk to the community in order to make ends meet for her family.

"She taught us the work ethic," her son said. "From that perspective, she taught us that nothing was easy, so we worked hard."

Wally Oppal is the second Indo-Canadian to serve as Attorney General of B.C. (Rana Vig/Mehfil Magazine)

Oppal used that work ethic to pursue a career in law — a decision made in part because of his skin colour.

"I faced the reality that people who are South Asian were not going to be presidents of large national corporations. We had to work harder."

"So many of us went into the professions where we needed to be independent and where our work ethic would result in some type of reward and acceptability."

Gurdial Oppal now lives in New Westminster where her 100-year long journey continues.


To hear more, click the audio labelled: Wally Oppal's 100-year-old mother a symbol for B.C.'s South Asian community.

To read other stories of South Asian pioneers, download the free digital version at www.100yearjourney.com.

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