By Gary Thandi, MSW RSW
Some of my fondest memories of my childhood, growing up in Campbell River, involve hopping in the family car with my older brother Gurp and heading down with our dad to watch his team play soccer. The Ravens were named after the lumber mill where many of the men worked. Many South Asian men moved to Campbell River from India to work at Raven Lumber in the 1960s and 1970s, with later migration waves arriving in the 80s and into the 90s.
The team was started in 1971 by Jogi Bains, Mo Sangha and my dad. My dad had never even kicked a soccer ball until he was in his early 20s, having previously been a competitive wrestler and kabaddi player. All three worked at the mill together, and soon recruited others from the mill to join them. Those men were already a close group – newly arrived immigrants in a strange new land, working at the same place – and their love of soccer drew them even closer together. Eventually, throughout the following couple of decades, many of their children joined them on the team.
Many hours per week were spent playing soccer in Campbell River during my teen years in the late 80s and early 90s. While the city did produce a few high-level talents, most of us just saw it as an opportunity to spend time with friends and uncles while getting in some exercise. Many friendships formed during those years continue to withstand the test of time. Those soccer practices also allowed me to continue the father-son bond started many years prior when as a child I watched from the sidelines.
Until the community built a temple in 1988 (another major event in the history of the South Asian community in CR), there were few opportunities for members to gather as a large group. While an annual summertime sports day mela still continues, the team has long since folded – as many of its players, their children, and grandchildren had moved away after the mill shut down in the mid-1990s.
In my humble opinion, that sport of soccer – and that Ravens team – was one of the factors that contributed to such a tight knit South Asian community in Campbell River. Of course, it was for the most part men gathering to play or watch, but even those who weren’t involved invariably were related to someone who was part of the Ravens Soccer Club. The sons and daughters of these men had at the very least that in common.
I believe as well that the sport facilitated the integration of the South Asian community into the larger CR community – without it, many of the immigrant men that comprised that team may have had limited interactions with others outside the community. My parents have since moved to the Lower Mainland, but still reminisce often about their time in Campbell River. While both were born in India, they spent most of their lives in CR, and very much consider it to be home.
Like all communities, South Asian communities have a long way to go to address and end the harm created by patriarchy, sexism, classism, casteism, homophobia, ableism; I don’t want to gloss over those issues, but I also want to honour the strength and resilience of the South Asian community in CR. Attachment is defined as emotional bonds created between a child and the adults in their lives. I had the privilege of developing strong attachments to not just my parents, but to many aunties and uncles within the South Asian community in Campbell River. They say it takes a village … that was my village.
Gary Thandi, MSW RSW
*Photo: Collage, by Mark Nagra