By Gurmukh Singh
TORONTO: When you think of the Indian diaspora in Canada, you invariably think of Gerrard India Bazaar in Toronto – the oldest and largest and most well-known Indian market in North America.
And when you think of Gerrard India Bazaar, you think of its helmsman Chand Kapoor.
A chartered accountant by profession, Kapoor has been the chairman of the bazaar for years. Indeed, his name has become synonymous with this Punjabi-dominant bazaar.
And his immigrant story runs parallel to the story of Gerrard India Bazaar.
As Kapoor, who landed in Toronto as an immigrant in 1979, says, “Gerrard India Bazaar started off as a weekend mela around the Naz cinema owned by an Indian family to show Hindi films in the 1970s. The very few Indians in Toronto in those days used to come to this place to watch Hindi films. Then, our people started opening shops here. That’s how this bazaar started. It became the most well known Indian place in North America, and it still is.’’
He says his association with the bazaar began when he bought some properties and started a unique restaurant called Sangeet. “The restaurant ran from 1996 to 2000 and offered live music at weekends from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m.’’
As the Indo-Canadian population has increasied rapidly over years, many Indian bazaars have come up across cities.
“But Gerrard still remains the most well-known Indian bazaar and it still has its old identity,’’ he says.
Under his watch, Gerrard India Bazaar hosts each summer what is billed as the biggest South Asian festival in Canada. “It is also the longest-running outdoors South Asian Festival featuring choicest cuisine, dance, art and fashion, folk arts, bhangra, Rangoli, and Bollywood,’’ says Kapoor.
Sponsored by Canada’s top bank TD Trust, this festival – TD South Asian Festival – attracts up to 300,000 people over two days. “This festival helps us to keep the South Asian character of Gerrard India Bazaar,’’ says Kapoor.
Interestingly, this Punjabi man is also deeply respected in the local South Indian community as Kapoor has played a big role in the setting up of Canada’s only Sringeri temple in Toornto.
“I have great devotion for the Adi Shankara and I love community work. That’s why I got involved in the temple project,’‘ says Kapoor who is one of the founding trustees of the Sringeri Vidya Bharati Foundation which runs the temple.
He says he went to Sringeri in India in 2007, and “felt divine bonds with the place. The local temple makes you feel the same way.’’
Unlike so many new Canadian immigrants who struggle to survive in their initial days, Kapoor says he faced no struggles. “I had the qualifications (CA from India) and I got a job with a known accounting firm within 15 days of landing in Canada in November 1979,’’ says Kapoor who today runs his own accounting firm.
In India, Kapoor is involved in supporting handicapped children. “My sister runs Amar Jyoti School for Disabled Children there and I support her. We brought 20 kids to Toronto and they impressed people here with their skills. My mission is to bring 20 kids to Canada each year so that they can see the world.’’ (This article appeared in the Times of India on June 12)