Founded by Mayo Singh in 1917, Paldi was a multicultural community near Duncan in a time when racism and intercultural divide were particularly prominent in Canada. At one point, the town had one of the largest Sikh communities in the country. It also was home to many Japanese, Chinese, and European immigrants. In this way, the town was one of Canada’s earliest multicultural settlements.
Having immigrated to to San Francisco from Punjab in 1906, Singh had worked on a railway leading towards the Canadian border. There, he crossed over and began working in the Lower Mainland at sawmills. When one of the mills went bankrupt, Singh rallied a group of the mill’s many other immigrant workers and together they took over the mill.
Soon, though, lumber supplies began to dwindle. Since Singh was known to speak the best English, it was he who went to the island in search of a new spot for a mill. Exploring by pump cart that propelled him up the tracks into the wilderness until he found what he was looking for, he stumbled across the place that eventually became Paldi.
Lying as it did beside the railroad tracks that connected Esquimalt and Nanaimo, Paldi was initially called Mayo Siding. Later, the name shortened to Mayo, but with this name came some confusions: people kept mistaking the town for another town called Mayo in the Yukon. The government therefore asked Singh to change the name of the town. He chose to call it after his native village in Punjab: Paldi.
Mayo Singh’s grandson, Robin Mayo, recalls of the community: “Nobody heard of racism back then. Everybody got a long, everybody played together, worked together. . .[u]ntil we got out of Paldi, then we saw the effects of racism.” This interconnectedness in the community across race and culture is demonstrated in the marriage of Mayo Singh’s son, Rajindi Mayo, to a white woman, Joan, at a time when interracial marriage was often frowned upon.
At its peak, Paldi grew to 1500 people, rising to a population greater than Duncan. The town was so affluent that eventually Mayo Singh reportedly had two Rolls-Royces: one in which to drive around town, and another that he converted to use on railroad tracks to transport him to his logging sites. Singh is remembered as being an “extremely generous” man, one who would employ anyone who came to him looking for work.
Paldi suffered population loss in 1942, when Japanese residents were forcibly removed to internment camps. After the war, few returned. Later, the timber supply that was the town’s main resource also eventually dwindled, and residents began to drift towards employment elsewhere.
In 2006, fire departments destroyed much of the town in practice burns. Today Paldi’s only remaining structure is the Sikh temple. This temple, however, still draws people from all over. At the 100th year of the temple’s existence, people flocked from all around the globe to join in the Canada Day festivities that marked the temple’s anniversary.