Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Fiji Flag Flying High in Canada!

Fiji Flag Flying High in A remote Canadian Mountain Town – thanks to a proud son of Fiji
Wherever Indo-Fijians are settled around the world, they are exemplary migrants –hard workers and easily able to integrate with the local communities and add colour to cultural landscape of the country. They are recognized as a distinct breed of Indians, very distinct from those from India. While we are well versed and experienced in forming religious groupings, our district soccer clubs or national bodies, we also have a greater need to integrate with migrants from other communities. 

We are doing that well with multiracial organizations, Ethic Boards or other organizations embracing the world population of migrants in New Zealand, Australia, USA and Canada, among others. These people in the Indo-Fijian Diaspora do not only fly the flag of multiculturalism, but also of their respective countries. This is one such story for such an individual.

He is Raymond Raj (known in Fiji as Ramendra Singh) and left his home in Rarawai, Golflinks, Ba, Fiji some four decades ago. But that passion for Fiji still exists. And no, he is not settled in any bustling Canadian City, but is settled in a sleepy, little-known and remote small British Columbian Aluminum town of KITIMAT, which is nearer to Alaskan border than Vancouver. Here is that human-interest story of that unsung hero- a proud Fijian Canadian-RAYMOND RAJ

The proud son of Fiji and a grandson of Girmitiya Bansi, RAYMOND RAJ, raising Fiji flag tens of thousands kilometers from a small Fiji in huge Canada on flag-raising ceremony at Heritage Park in Kitimat.

You drive some 1,400 kilometers north of Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada for some twenty hours towards North Pole; you will hit Kitimat, a small sleepy town of 8,500 people. This is basically a mining town dependent on Alcan’s aluminum mines, now bought by Australian company Rio Tinto. The distance from Vancouver, as the crow flies is only 700 kilometers but because of Rocky Mountains and geographical terrain, the winding distance is doubled. In fact Alaska border is only four hours away from Kitimat. But geography is not today’s topic.

Indeed it was a warm welcome to Kitimat, BC, Canada three years ago, in July, 2012. Seen here is yours truly, Thakur Ranjit Singh (author of this article) left, with wife Shashi Kala Singh, and the sign says it all: WELCOME TO KITIMAT, at Heritage Park. Notice the Fiji flag proudly fluttering in the background, with other flags.
You drive past stone’s throw away from downtown Kitimat you will come across Heritage Park which houses the previously vacant land that the community has dedicated to celebrating diversity in Kitimat. The Heritage Park also houses the Chamber of Commerce office and Rotary Club Monument with a metal bear representing the local animal of the cold temperate region. But the Park is more famous for flag poles with flags flying high of countries including USA, Greece, Portugal, and Mexico, among others.

The Hero and Heroine of this tale, Raymond Raj (left) and wife Premka Raj, in front of the metal bear representing the animal of the cold temperate region.  This is situated in the Heritage Park which also houses the Chamber of Commerce office and Rotary Club Monument in Kitimat.
What would surprise a visitor to Kitimat is that in the cold remote North Pole region of Canada is fluttering Fiji’s blue flag with pride and dignity –yes the flag of Fiji. In my recent trip to Kitimat some 3 years ago (July, 2012), I was pleasantly surprised to see the familiar flag of Fiji, adding colour to diversity in this remote part of British Columbia.

In memory of the parents: Raymond Raj, with his wife Premka, has dedicated the flag to his parents, Mr and Mrs Hans Raj, and this engraved plaque decorates the flagpole , flag and its construction fully borne by the patriotic couple. This is a typical tale of two towns separated by tens of thousands kilometers -- Ba (in Fiji) and Kitimat (in Canada)

A close inspection of Fiji flagstaff pole will show the following inscribed on the pole: DEDICATED TO MEMORY OF MR. AND MRS. HANS RAJ, PARENTS OF MR RAYMOND RAJ - BY PREMKA, RAYMOND RAJ AND FAMILY FOR FIJI CANADIAN COMMUNITY.  I got hold of Raymond Raj who explained that he has his roots in Rarawai, Ba Fiji. He was a mechanic at Rarawai Sugar Mill, and came to Canada in 1974. For the last 36 years, he has been a resident of Kitimat and had been an employee of Alcan for all that time since he was hired by Alcan from Vancouver in 1976.

“Racism was at its peak in Vancouver then, and it was difficult for a qualified mechanic, which I was, to get a job even to pump petrol, because I was identified as an East Indian, and excuses were made. But through hard work, things have changed and those migrants who were once discriminated against now run the country through hard work”, he said.
Raymond said that the idea of having a flag was initiated fifteen years ago when other richer migrant communities with rich associations erected their country’s respective flags to celebrate Flag Day which is the Saturday before Canada Day on the first of July. Kitimat then only had six Fijian families and a request to contribute towards a flag was turned down.

“They said what had Fiji given them, they had so many coups, and they are better off using the money for something else. I told them that I am still a Fijian and have pride in my country, irrespective of what happens there. If Fiji flag is not flying, I take it as an insult. Hence I contributed full money alone in erecting the flag, I spent 25 years in Fiji, that is still my mother land,” he said.
He proudly whispered secret of his Fiji days with nostalgic thoughts of his days as a cane cutter in Fiji and starting DAV College in Ba at an advanced age. He told about Fiji Independence at Gujarati Grounds where he became famous for singing on behalf of DAV College, Ba, Fiji. He sang the famous Mahendra Kapoor and Manoj Kumar song,”ek tara bole…tun.tun”

“In absence of support from others from Fiji, I have taken the full responsibility for Fiji flag and have dedicated it to the memory of my dead parents in Fiji who I was fortunate to show around Kitimat in 1977 when my daughter Kathleen was born. When some tragedy strikes Fiji or its people around here, we request the flag to be flown at half mast,” he said.
When asked whether he was a representative of Fiji in Kitimat, he proudly says that he is proud to be a Fijian and the only one who represents Fiji on international occasions in Kitimat. One of such occasions is pot luck dinner for Fiji and the couple cooks variety on Indian, Chinese and Fijian foods to reflect diversity and multiculturalism in Fiji.

Former Fiji residents, now "native" of Kitimat, couple, Raymond  and Premka Raj in Heritage Park, with Chamber of Commerce building in background, and the Fiji flag proudly fluttering overhead
Indeed we are so proud to have sons and daughters of Fiji spread around the world, who despite the freezing snow and cold North Pole snow, still carry warm hearts typical of Fijians scattered around the globe. As I board the Greyhound Bus for my next leg of trip to Edmonton and Calgary from Terrace, near Kitimat, I am forced to salute Premka and Raymond Raj for having such a warm spot for their motherland in a cold country.

Indeed, Fiji is proud to have proud Fijians like Premka and Raymond Raj. God bless you, brother and sister-in law.

EPILOGUE: Back to the future to 2015

On Saturday, 28 June 2015, the Saturday before Canada Day on 1 July, the flag raising ceremony was held. The following was reported by Walter McFarlane of Kitimat BC media:
Walter McFarlane
Mayor of Kitimat, Phil Germuth (left) with Raymond Raj , President, Kitimat Multicultural Society at Chamber of Commerce-Heritage Park, Kitimat during  Flag raising ceremony

It was time to raise the flags at the Kitimat Chamber of Commerce on Saturday, June 28th. The Multicultural Society of Kitimat, and the members of the various countries who have come to Canada to make Kitimat their home were out to raise their countries flag.

“It is a very proud day for all of us to be at Kitimat. Kitimat is, as far as I know, the only community in British Columbia, or Maybe Canada, who got a heritage park and they have over 20 different countries flags flying here,” said Multicultural Society President Ray Raj. “We as Canadians are very proud that we are not a melting pot. We are like fruit salad. You know you put everything in there, you mix it up and they have their different identity.”

The Flag Raising Ceremony , June 2015: From Left,  Raymond Raj, Kitimat Multicultural Society President. In the middle is Constable Kim from Royal Canadian Mounted Police -Kitimat Detachment and on the right is Nathan Cullen, Skeena-Bulkley Valley Member of Parliament -  cutting the cake at flag raising ceremony in Kitimat. 

A Proud Fiji flag fluttering in the cold mountainous Canadian winds of British Colombian Mountains up north, in Kitimat, with other flags
Well said my brother from Ba. It appears anywhere people from Ba are settled they naturally become trailblazers. Thank you for being one in the northern wilderness of Canada, near Alaskan border, mere Bhai. Aayushmaan Bhava - blessings to Canada’s tangible and visible show of multiculturalism.

[E-mail: thakurji@xtra.co.nz]

[Thakur Ranjit Singh is a political analyst and media commentator based in Auckland, New Zealand. He was on a trip of Canada and USA between July and August 2012 and reported on his visits. Now he has his blog site, FIJI PUNDIT where he is posting this story. He approached the then Air Pacific (now Fiji Airways) to bring travel stories to market the local airline, but was turned down. Perhaps they still think that only a White Man can write. Next story on Canada will be D.A. V. College, Ba Reunion in Vancouver that was held on 4 April, 2015. Coming soon –another human interest story]

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