Kids Corner

Images: details from painting by Lindsay Campbell.


I Moved To Small Town Ontario





I recently moved from the largest city in Canada to a town with the minuscule population of less than 6,000. With uncharacteristic eagerness, I said to myself: “Okay, let’s get to know this town and let it get to know me.”

It wasn’t long before I began getting nods and hellos of recognition, and I enjoyed the almost instant sense of familiarity. But I wanted to find some like-minded people – organic, artistic, writers, people who lived their lives with a creative bent.

The local art gallery seemed a logical place to start. The owner and I hit it off, finding no end of topics to discuss while I admired the chickens in her in-town backyard.

I spotted a poster for “Pecha Kucha” to be held in the library on Thursday, and the tickets were to be purchased at her gallery. “What is pekoe koochoo?” I asked, struggling with the unusual name.

“It started in Japan,” Louise explained, “with architects. They wanted to be able to show their peers their latest projects, but would talk about them endlessly for hours. So, someone said let’s pick a night, and here are the rules: You can show 20 photographs, but you can only speak on each one for 20 seconds.”

I headed to the library on Thursday night. Downstairs, about a dozen people were gathered in a large room set up with chairs and a laptop for power point presentations. Oh, and coffee, butter tarts and chocolate macaroons. The evening was off to a good start.

I scanned the room, wondering where to sit. I saw a man in a turban sitting in his own row. I thought: “I’ll show that I’m from a big multicultural city and go and sit beside him.”

We introduced ourselves, and Sher said he’d be doing a PK tonight, his second. Further into our small talk, he revealed he lived in an old church; perhaps I would like to see it some time?

The talks began, and they were truly wonderful. There were polished speakers from the local Toastmasters club; a woman in a wheelchair whose story garnered applause despite all her pictures being in the wrong order; a nine-year-old girl. All provided fascinating glimpses into strangers’ lives and imaginations.

When the evening ended, Sher asked if I’d care to join him for chai and see his church. I agreed without a moment’s hesitation. “We can walk,” he said. And we did, literally five minutes from the library on Main Street.

I think I gasped aloud when I saw the stunning yellow-brick building. “First Baptist Church” was still emblazoned above the entrance doors. We went in the side door of a rather large addition. As we entered the inner sanctum, I stood still, enveloped in a sense of hallowed peace.

The graceful space with its soaring ceilings was complemented perfectly by Sher’s beautiful woodcarvings, eclectic furniture, original paintings and large, inviting cushions.

As we supped our chai, the conversation danced from one topic to another: his Sikh background, my farm. We suddenly discovered we both shared a fascination for Mennonites, who were rife in the area.

Sher told me he had befriended a Mennonite who had left the fold. He told the man of his interest, and this fellow offered to show him the community he had lived in.

If you have never passed a Mennonite church on a Sunday, it is truly a sight to behold, with scores of black buggies tied to hitching posts outside. A scene surely from a hundred years ago.

“May I go in?” Sher asked. “You can,” his friend said, “but I’m waiting in the car.”

I clapped my hands in delight. “You are so brave!” I exclaimed.

“Oh wait,” he said, “ it gets better.”

He told me he opened the door and stepped inside the church. The sermon stopped and 400 eyes turned to look at him.

“Picture this,” he told me. “I am wearing sandals, shorts, a T-shirt and I have a turban on my head.”

I was laughing with great glee.

A man near the back got up quickly and spoke to him: “Can I help you?”

“May I sit down?” Sher asked simply. “Of course, of course!” replied the man, and Sher stayed for the whole service.

Since then, he has become friends with many Mennonites. If he attends a sermon now, they will switch from German to English solely for his benefit. He has taken two Mennonite couples to experience authentic Indian food in Brampton.

I asked him if he had been in a buggy, and if so what it was like.

“Absolutely terrifying,” he said. “I have never felt more vulnerable in my life.”

He has a couple of close Mennonite friends now, and once a week or so Noah will call him and say, “Sher, are you home for a coffee?” And if he is, Noah will bring over a couple of coffees and they will discuss their lives, which really isn’t so different after all.

At home alone, later that evening, I reflect on my good luck.

How I, a single lesbian woman newly moved to a rural small town, should sit in a 130-year-old First Baptist church and listen to Sher, wearing his turban, tell me how Noah in his straw hat, black pants and suspenders, will come visiting with Tim Hortons’ coffee in hand.

And I think to myself: “Yes, this is Canada.”

Jennifer Hart lives in Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada.

[Courtesy: The Globe and Mail]

September 18, 2015


Conversation about this article

1: Harsaran Singh (Denpasar, Indonesia), September 18, 2015, 12:16 PM.

So now we know that the "Sher" does not live in a den, but a century old church converted into his abode. The readers would love to hear first hand, the experience of living in what used to be a place of worship. I'm sure it must be a very soothing experience.

2: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), September 18, 2015, 4:43 PM.

"Naa ko bairee nahee bigaana sagal sang ham ka-o ban aa-ee" (GGS 1299.14) "No one is my enemy, no one is a stranger, I get along with everyone."

3: Bhai Harbans Lal (Dallas, Texas, USA), September 18, 2015, 5:20 PM.

Amrita and I were Sher's guests for a couple of days sometime ago in his new home. It is a fascinating place. I may tell you that the church building is named Macauliffe Manor. Giani Max Arthur MacAuliffe was the first to translate Sikh scripture into English, and brought Sikhism to the Western world.

4: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), September 18, 2015, 8:39 PM.

A Sikh living in a converted church in Canada! And my home town of Leeds had its first proper gurdwara in an old abandoned church in Chapeltown! Sikhs and Sikhism have no qualms with people, places and buildings. These are all but fleeting moments for the mind and a new journey always begins. The real sense of connect with anyone or anything in Sikhi is when we share our universal humanity and food and drink with fellow humanity ... all thanks to Guru Nanak......

5: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), September 19, 2015, 12:59 PM.

Commentator #3 Harbans Lal ji: this revelation that T. Sher Singh's home is called Macauliffe Manor is highly poignant and a homage to one who was the first westerner to understand and appreciate the full impact of the awesome and practical Sikh Scriptures.

6: Rosalia (Baltimore, Maryland. USA), September 19, 2015, 6:12 PM.

What a wonderful story! I enjoyed the descriptions of the church and of Sher!

7: KP Singh (Indianapolis, Indiana, USA), September 20, 2015, 8:13 AM.

Sardar Sher Singh is an enlightened teacher, advocate, a daring pioneer; he is a living testimony of seeing our multi-colored world through unique and multi-faceted prisms and discovering that the diverse colors, images and reflections seamlessly merge and blend into one fascinating light, one beautiful tapestry of spirit that enshrines our common hopes, prayers, and promise as One God's Children. Recently, at Indy's Festival of Faiths, we made our enactment of Sikh MILNI (the ceremonial meeting of the close relatives of the Bride's and Groom's families before marriage) as an interfaith experience, a spiritual embrace of faiths and cultures, introduced and honored them as family members representing the bride and the groom. It was a pure teachable Sikh commandment moment: "ALL HUMANITY IS ONE BROTHERHOOD." The joyful Milni became a indescribably unifying moment of grace and shared humanity. Sher ji: Thank you for being a teacher to all of us: to see the world through new magnifying lenses and discover amazing uncommon common ground and witness our own beautiful humanity! Thank you, Jennifer Hart, for sharing this amazing story with us!

8: Parmjit Singh (Canada), September 20, 2015, 6:17 PM.

It's said you can never go home again. But Jennifer and Sher's warm and adventurous spirits found a way to take us there in this article.

9: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), September 20, 2015, 7:43 PM.

This small town is immortalized. It has to do with Max Arthur Macauliffe who, whilst in India holding a coveted god-like job, resigned to occupy himself as the first one to translate Sikh Scriptures at his own expense and produced a definitive translation that has no match till this day. Macauliffe rightly believed that Guru Granth Sahib was matchless and yhat it had a singularly unique interfaith message that should spread far and wide. "The Sikh Religion, Its Gurus, Sacred Writings and Authors," was first published by Oxford in 1909. On 15 March 1913 he passed away. The only person beside him was his Punjabi assistant Muhammad who knew little English and wrote in his simple, inadequate way to Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha informing him of the sorrowful event as follows: "1913 March two-day [today] Friday 21 [March] Sir dear Sardar Mr. Kahn Singh good morning Much better you look I am sorry you now dear friend very good dear not come India and I am sorry Saturday 15 [March] twonight last time it is 8 o'clock past 10 minute lost Sir dear lost Mr Macauliffe a sleep London now and I am sorry....." This letter is preserved in the Dr. Ganda Singh collection in Patiala. Muhammad further said that Macauliffe was reciting the Sikh prayer Japji 10 minutes before his death. “Nanak tay mukh ujlay kaytee chhutee naal” [GGS:8.12] - “O Nanak, their faces are radiant in the Court of Waheguru, and many more, inspired by their actions, are saved alongwith them.” And: "Suraj kiran milay jal ka jal how-aa raam" [GGS:846.17] “The rays of light merge with the sun, and water merges with water.” Sher ji, you have the honour to inherit a part of such a heritage.

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