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New exhibit at The Reach in Abbotsford highlights South Asian history

Des Pardes, highlighting culture and contemporary character, opens Oct. 14
Sunder Singh Thandi (“Joe”), left, and Jassa Singh stand front of a flatdeck truck on Main Street in Vancouver in 1939 when Thandi purchased a new threshing machine. (Photo courtesy of The Reach Archives)

The history, culture and contemporary character of the South Asian community in Abbotsford is the subject of a new exhibition organized by The Reach Gallery Museum.

Des Pardes opens Saturday, Oct. 14 from noon to 3 p.m. with a family-friendly event featuring hands-on activities and entertainment.

The exhibition title is borrowed from the Hindi/Punjabi phrase which can translate to “home and abroad” or “Motherland/Other Land,” which is commonly used to describe the South Asian Canadian experience, where families have deep ties in Canada and abroad.

The project showcases the unique and major contributions of the ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse South Asian diaspora to the social, economic and cultural fabric of Abbotsford and beyond.

Des Pardes is one of the most significant projects ever presented by The Reach and includes contributions from hundreds of participants and collaborators from the community.

Several contributors are featured in interviews on flat-screen displays, and several families loaned heirlooms and other artifacts that are on view.

The large-scale, multi-sensory experience uses historical photographs, oral histories, contemporary interviews, historical objects, and newly commissioned works of art to illustrate six themes – migration, faith, family, business and livelihoods,oppression and opposition, and contemporary culture.

At the heart of the project has been a major initiative to digitize and make accessible to the wider public a vast array of South Asian heritage resources.

The project was funded by a Digital Access to Heritage grant from Canadian Heritage, with support from the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre’s B.C. History Digitization Program at the University of British Columbia, and the South Asian Studies Institute at the University of the Fraser Valley.

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The exhibition makes visible a vast array of personal histories, images, and documents that represent three years of community-based research and many more of collecting.

Among the newly digitized materials is the Punjabi Patrika archive. The local newspaper is one of only two bilingual newspapers in Canada.

The Reach has digitized the entire hard-copy archive spanning from October 1996 to 2014.

Another interactive kiosk features the Baltej Dhillon Archive, which documents the challenges faced by Dhillon in his quest to secure the right to wear the dastar – or Sikh turban – with his RCMP uniform.

“This project is important to our community, and to the broader historical narrative of the region,” says Laura Schneider, executive director of The Reach.

“The Reach has featured exhibitions about various aspects of South Asian-Canadian history in the past, but the scope of community involvement that was undertaken to develop this project better represents the diversity of experience that exists in our community and makes it truly special.”

Des Pardes will be on view until May 18. Visit for the full schedule of public and educational programs that will accompany the exhibition.

For exclusive behind-the-scenes content related to the project, follow @despardes.exhibition on Instagram and Tik Tok.

Baltej Singh Dhillon in 1991. Dhillon was instrumental in removing the ban on beards and turbans in the RCMP. (Photo courtesy of the Baltej Dhillon Archive)