This picture of a gathering of Paldi residents was taken in 1936. (Cowichan Valley Museum and Archives)

Cowichan’s historic community of Paldi to be subject of new Heritage Minute

Town considered to be one of Canada’s first multicultural communities

A new Heritage Minute will focus on the Cowichan Valley community of Paldi.

Now effectively a ghost town, Paldi was founded in 1916 by Sikh immigrant Mayo Singh, and is credited as being one of Canada’s first multicultural towns.

Paldi used to be the bustling centre of an active logging industry operation, and as such has a rich history worth telling.

One of typically two Heritage Minute episodes per year, the Paldi project was picked from more than 100 submissions.

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Vancouver-based co-directors Anaisa Visser and Hayley Gray received word in January that their proposal was a go.

The completed mini-documentary is expected to be released early next year.

Visser, who comes from a diverse mix of immigrants herself, said she reached out to Hayley Gray when she heard that Historica Canada was looking for Heritage Minute pitches revolving around South-Asian Canadian stories.

She asked Gray, who had worked on some film projects involving South-Asian Canadians in the past, if she and her colleagues had come across any stories that could be suited to a Heritage Minute on this theme, and was told about Paldi.

“I dove into research, reading articles as well as Joan Mayo’s book Paldi Remembered, and immediately felt a sense of kinship with the people of Paldi, who worked so hard towards values that are so dear to me; equal opportunity for people of colour, and offering a safe space for new immigrants,” Visser said.

Visser, whose mother was Dutch and father South Asian, has lived all around the world, and said the story of Paldi spoke to her on many levels.

She said the Heritage Minute gave her the opportunity to put South-Asian Canadians front and centre and preserve the legacy of Paldi; the opportunity to highlight the story of Bishan Kaur, the powerhouse matriarch of the town, and the opportunity to further her own work in exploring immigrant stories (as in her short films Esther & Sai and Bordered) and putting women’s stories at the forefront.

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“The making of the minute required a lot of research, and a considerable amount of work with our consultants and the family members of those who resided in Paldi back in the 1920s and 1930s,” Visser said.

“Our goal was to both stay close to the truth of what it was like in Paldi at the time, but also work in some dramatic elements we felt would make the one-minute piece resonate with audiences.”

Visser said the scripting and research phases of the Heritage Minute took the most time, and it was filmed in August.

“We filmed over two days, with an amazing cast and crew,” she said.

“We did not visit the town of Paldi specifically for the Heritage Minute, however Hayley Gray and [producer] Elad Tzadok had previously visited and conducted interviews for their feature documentary Unarchived, which is premiering at the Vancouver International Film Festival this month. We reviewed some of those interviews, and consulted with the remaining family members of the Paldi residents portrayed in the minute.”

Visser said these people’s stories and memories, as well as Joan Mayo’s collection of Paldi stories in Paldi Remembered, all served as important sources when writing the minute.

“The South Asian Studies Institute supplied us with reference images that we used to find locations we felt could capture the essence of what Paldi was like in the 1920s and 30s, when our Heritage Minute is set,” she said.

“Unfortunately, the majority of the buildings from that time are long gone in the current Paldi, so we were unable to shoot in Paldi proper. We filmed in Burnaby and in Chilliwack at some beautiful heritage sites.”



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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