Key figure in creation of North Island College sets up Legacy Award

Hardev Shergill had quite the journey in getting to North America many years ago. He is now setting up a Legacy Award with the NIC Foundation with a $100,000 donation.

Hardev Shergill played a crucial role in the formation of North Island College during the 1970s. Now retired in California, he is leaving another legacy to the College.

He is setting up a Legacy Award with the NIC Foundation with a $100,000 donation. The new award will support students in visible minority groups or refugees to Canada. The award is to be given for the first time in 2024.

Shergill is making the donation in memory of his late mother Mata (Mother) Kartar Kaur Sangha-Shergill, whom he credits for supporting his education, even though her own was limited to a few grades of primary school.

“I come from a family of ancestral farmers, from the time farming was first invented. Nobody in our family attended schools because there were none. In my family I became the second person after my uncle, six years older, to go to school,” he said.

He obtained his master’s in geography and a bachelor’s in teacher training while still in India, then completed a master’s in audio-visual education in Bellingham, Wash., before his teaching career brought him to Canada.

It was not an easy trip from the start, and he did experience racism in his new home. For his epic 1960 journey from the Punjab region, his grandfather had given him $1,200 for a year’s expenses at school. He took three months and travelled more than 15,000 miles, including a free voyage on an oil tanker and spending only $18 while hitchhiking over land to get to the Pacific Northwest. Newspapers in Bellingham and Seattle chronicled the story of his trip, and his backpack and other items from the trip are now part of the Smithsonian Museum collection.

In 1962, the federal government in Canada changed immigration laws to remove overtly discriminatory language based on race, and Shergill headed north. As in other countries on his journey, he experienced discrimination in his new home. However, he persevered. After a few years working on northern Vancouver Island, he moved to Ontario, then came back to British Columbia to work in the college system, eventually back to Vancouver Island.

“I have never in my life given up easily,” he said.

In late 1973, the province created the Task Force on the Community College, on which Shergill sat as a representative for the College Faculties Federation of B.C. He put together a lengthy report that provided the basis for creating the permanent home for what is now North Island College. He was asked to continue his work after the report, so he served as the first administrative director for a brief time.

“In two years of working non-stop to establish this college and after giving 14 years of my life to Canada’s education system, I had achieved the highest position I could. This was enough,” he said.

He did not stay in B.C. but returned to the U.S. in 1976, where he moved to California. There, he obtained credentials for the state’s college system “but never did try for a job.” Instead, he changed careers.

“I settled in my own real estate business where I still am, living in the same house since 1982,” he said.

Shergill moved on from education into real estate and insurance, but through his businesses, he has been able to support higher education through his philanthropy efforts—specifically a half dozen endowment funds for schools with which he or his family have been associated, including NIC.

Through the NIC Foundation, he has decided to honour his mother and the emphasis she placed on his getting an education, so he got in touch with the College about setting up the award. He also went through his files to provide some archival material for North Island College, including his report about forming a college in the region.

“We are grateful to Hardev Shergill for his generosity in sharing his story and for his ongoing support of newcomers to Canada,” said NIC President Lisa Domae.

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