Gurdial and Swarno Rai took a leap of faith, left their native India and moved to a small town in the Canadian Rockies in search of a better life.
Forty-five years later the couple is leaving town to be closer to family, but only after having accumulated a lifetime full of memories first.
The arrival of the Rais marked the dawning of a new era for Golden, one that has seen the growth of a substantial Indian community over the years.
In 1968 there were approximately 35 single Indian men working at the mill and living in Donald, but no families. That changed with the arrival of the Rais and their three young children; Kulbinder, Dalbinder and Rupinder.
The Rais say they weren’t nervous when making the move. Swarno’s father had already been working in Donald for seven years and had given them a good idea of what to expect in Golden, including a full weather report.
“We were told that it was a nice place and that it was a small town and very cold with lots of snow,” Gurdial laughed.
They were able to make friends quickly as the small Indian community was close with one another, and after their arrival the number of Indian families moving into the area began to grow. Soon the number of families in the area swelled to nearly 20 and they banded together to build a Sikh temple, which remains a central hub of the community today.
The Rais were an integral part of the group that built the temple and recently received a Sroppa – an orange scarf that is the highest honour that can be given to a member of a Sikh temple – in recognition of all of their hard work over many years.
“When we received that, we were honoured that they would bestow that kind of respect upon us,” Swarno said.
Tragically, Dalbinder, the couple’s only son, was killed in a car accident at the age of 21. Gurdial stressed that the support the family got from both the Indian community and the rest of Golden was incredibly helpful as they dealt with that tragedy.
“The entire community support was very key for us,” he said.
In fact, the Rais say they never felt like outsiders in Golden and were welcomed by both the Indian and non-Indian community in town as soon as they arrived.
After vacationing in India and Australia, the Rais will move to live in either Calgary or Vancouver, but their home will always be in Golden.
“Wherever we go in our lives, we’ll always remember what Golden’s done…and the friendships that we’ve made here,” Swarno said.
“We’ll stop by every time we go to Calgary or Vancouver,” Gurdial added.