Roots in a new land
Celebrating Canada's 150th Birthday with heartwarming stories from our family of suppliers who chose to make Canada home.
By Shelley Boettcher
Rani Mann and her parents came to Canada in 1988, with little in the way of material belongings — just a handful of family and a lot of hope. “We had nothing, really,” she recalls. “Just $20.”
The family emigrated from Punjab, in Northern India, following Rani’s older brother, who had settled on a small farm near Oliver, British Columbia, a few years earlier. “He said it was a nice, quiet place to live,” Rani remembers. A vast contrast to over-crowded, blaringly loud Indian cities.
It wasn’t an easy transition. Back in India, Rani had been in her second year of a science degree at university, with dreams of a professional career—maybe a doctor—and a big salary. There were no guarantees a higher education would have led to a rewarding career, however. “In India, there was massive unemployment. Even with a degree, it would have been hard to find work,” she says.
|Rani Mann's sari colours match the cherries|
So, when Rani moved here, she had to give up all aspirations of a professional career completely. Her parents — farmers in India — couldn’t afford to send her to university in Canada. Neither could her brother.
She and her family were hired on as fruit pickers for local farmers. “We worked for other people for six dollars an hour. My first work, I was picking apricots,” she says. “I remember I came home that first day and I just sat outside my house and cried. It was so hard. My whole life had changed.”
Slowly but surely, things got better. A couple of years later, Rani’s parents sent her back to India for an arranged marriage to a police officer. After all the paperwork was approved, her new husband, Surinder Mann, followed her to BC.
“He was happy to give up his job and move with me to Canada,” Rani says with a laugh.
|Rani & Surinder discovering the joys of a Canadian winter.|
For years, they scrimped and saved, putting away every extra penny they had. There was work and food, but never enough cash, as her family struggled to get established in their new world. “Everyone was struggling financially, and my parents said, ‘No, don’t even think about school,’” she recalls. “For higher education, I needed too much money,” and the move to Canada had cost too much.
The sacrifice paid off. Ten years after moving to Canada, the Manns bought their first piece of land. A five-acre plot of bare land with a little house on it. Next a business of their own, planting green peppers and tomatoes.
Like that first garden, their business grew. And grew. They continued to “save and struggle,” Rani says, and eventually, they could afford to buy more land. And more.
Now they are the owners of Surinder Mann Produce in Oliver, BC. One of the suppliers for Italian Centre Shops, they own and operate a large-scale wholesale farming operation that ships fruit and vegetables—peaches, prune plums, tomatoes, apricots, nectarines, peppers, plus 60 acres of cherries—around the world, including China, Europe and across Canada.
|Rani & Surinder overlooking the farm|
What once seemed like hard work has become a way of life. “Now we love it,” Rani says. “We are very happy to do this.” Give Surinder a phone call, and you’ll likely find him in the field. Maybe Rani, too.
|Surinder and Rani's children grew up on the farm. They all studied hard and did very well at school.|
When they’re not working, you may find them in the kitchen, cooking a good meal with some of their own produce. “We never go to the store to buy tomatoes, peppers, fruits,” she says. “We love to cook, whatever we grow.”
Rani never did return to university to finish that degree. But the next generation is seeing the benefits of the family’s early sacrifice. Rani and Surinder’s three three children are all studying at the University of British Columbia. Their eldest daughter is graduating with a biochemistry degree and starts studying pharmacy this fall. The younger is working on a psychology degree. Their son is studying engineering.
“I told my children, ‘I want to see you graduating and getting a good education because I missed it,’” she smiles. “But in the summer, they help us with farming.”
|Mann Family. Left to right, Depinder (25) , Dad Surinder, Navneet (21), Karan (19) & Mom Rani.|
Every January, when business on the farm is quiet, Surinder and Rani go back to India to visit Surinder’s mother. India will always be part of who they are, and she enjoys visiting there. “But I never feel like India is home anymore,” Rani says.
“My children are here in Canada. We are doing very good. We have a nice house. We make good money. I am happy.
“Our home is Canada now.”