Hari Family Farmers

Hari Family

The story of Harnam Singh Hari is one that is tied to the very history of Calgary. Hari’s journey from his homeland has an almost mythic quality. In 1903, Hari left India / Burma for the greener pastures of Canada. Telling his wife, “I am going to the next village to buy cows!” He had no idea how far away Canada really was nor did his wife. Like most immigrants, his journey was long and hard, and it would be many years before he returned to India. Arriving by ship in Vancouver, he was not allowed to disembark because his eyes were “red”. Harnam Singh Hari landed in San Francisco and was greeted by a family friend who accompanied him back to Vancouver by train.

Mr. Singh, as everyone called him, began working in the saw mills of Mission / Abbotsford, BC; he didn’t like it much and decided he would make his way East to Alberta to start farming. Riding the rails, he disembarked in Revelstoke, and then again in Golden, BC and worked in the saw mills. Once again, focused on his goal, riding on the top of the rail cars he headed East, but was kicked off at the park gates outside of Golden, where he and a few other Canadian boys walked along the tracks, eating food scraps tossed from the dining car, on their journey to Calgary. His first job in Alberta was in Exshaw bagging and loading cement onto the rail cars (circa 1906). His second employment was at the Eau Claire Lumber Company, loading lumber onto the rail cars.

The Eau Claire Mill owner told the local grocer to provide him with a $15-20 dollar line of credit that he would be responsible for and set him up in a shack to live. Telling Mr. Singh he could take any old lumber, Hari used the lumber to build a fence and bought a couple of pigs. He sold his pigs at the local auction, beginning his life-long friendship with the auctioneer; saying, “I made more money from two pigs than I made all year in the mills!”

Hari bought a horse and wagon, and started building up his hog farming in Nose Creek, aptly named “Farm #1” He made his rounds through the restaurants of downtown Calgary and picked up scraps in exchange for a couple of chickens and making good friends along the way.

His arrival in the West was greeted with employment restrictions and menial jobs regardless of his army qualifications. Yet, he pressed on to become ‘the first Indo-Canadian to set foot in Calgary.’ (100 Year Journey, pp. 8), and well settled in Alberta by 1908.

In true rags-to-riches fashion, Mr. Singh,

“…amass[ed] enough money to buy his own five-acre farm two years later. From there on, his land holdings and livestock business gradually grew so that whenever he attended an auction in Alberta, his auctioneer friend now introduced him as the “Indian Emperor” who could outbid anyone in the area. These were no idle words, as at one time Harnam Singh owned 5,000 acres of land on which much of the present city of Calgary is now built.” (100 Year Journey, pp. 10)

Singh Hari’s descendants continue to live in Calgary, though many have pursued careers other than farming. However, some still persist in this 100-year-old family tradition. Kris Hari currently farms and ranches on “Farm #3” in Dewinton, AB, the last Canadian home of Harnam Singh Hari. “Most people involved in farming in the Foothills know the Hari clan.” Brothers Jesse and Harji Hari both farm in the Tongue Creek area outside of High River and Aldersyde, AB. (Careen, pp. 1).

It is no surprise that the Hari family was awarded the 2011 BMO Farm Family for the Municipal district of Foothills.  The Farm Family award is presented by the Calgary Stampede and BMO in order to ‘…recognize outstanding farm families in southern Alberta… who best exemplify the value of the family farmer.” (Careen, pp. 11)

Indeed, family comes first with the Hari’s and this mantra also extends to the community itself. Hari and his wife, Khem Kaur retired in his childhood home of Ranike, India where he built a gurdwara (Sikh Temple), turned his large home with running water (uncommon at the time) into a dispensary and medical centre. The third and fourth generations of Singh Hari’s family are heavily involved volunteering in Calgary and the local community.

Calgary is a city built on farming and agriculture. But even more so, it is a city built on community and history, where each and every citizen is part of something bigger. Jesse states that, “When you get into a rural community, they really are an extension of your family… And if anyone in the group faces some adversity, you tend to come together as a community to help out.” (Calgary Stampede Agriculture, 8); exemplified by the 2013 floods in southern Alberta.