If you’re out and about in Surrey this summer, be sure to keep an eye out for the Re-enactors – an award-winning heritage re-enactment troupe bringing life to true characters from the city’s past.
This season, there’s a new character with a Cloverdale connection: Sarjit Singh, or “Mac” Singh as he was known, was a businessman and farmer.
Mohit Anand, a 27-year-old professional actor from Vancouver, plays the trailblazing Singh, who owned Cloverdale Produce, and was one of the first South Asian Surrey residents to own a commercial farm.
Singh broke new ground, marrying a Caucasian woman in 1956 and challenging race barriers both personally and professionally.
Singh also chaired the Surrey Damming and Dyking Commission, and became an advisor to the Minister of Agriculture.
Anand – and the character of Mac Singh – made their debut at Surrey Doors Open in June, after two weeks of rehearsals.
“It is an honour to play this character,” says Anand, who met Singh’s family during the character’s inaugural performance.
Re-enactors have three different scripts, or stories, and are also expected to rove through the crowd answering questions in character – even, in this case, with those who knew the man best.
“I technically couldn’t break character, so I had to introduce myself as Mac!” explains Anand, who wasn’t nervous, but felt some pressure knowing he was portraying a real person who was a husband and father.
“You want to do justice to that. I felt like it was positively taken by them and they felt I was doing a good job,” he said, describing how he was able to chat with the family after the performance was over.
“It was really nice, because I could talk with them about what he was like.”
The Re-enactors have been around for several years, appearing at City of Surrey events and breathing life into such pioneers as Reeve T.J. Sullivan, carpenter Eric Anderson, school teacher Mary Jane Shannon, and veteran Zennosuke Inouye through interactive and fun performances.
Last spring, the troupe announced the creation of a new character, Mac Singh, a man who represents a major storyline in Surrey’s evolution into a culturally-diverse, modern city.
Re-enactors creator Yvette Dudley-Neuman contacted Singh’s wife Gerrie and two of his brothers, Sucha and George, along with Bob Bose, his former business partner.
Hours of inspiring recollections have been boiled down into three scripts developed for the character. The stories span about 30 years, between 1941 and the early 1970s, giving him an innately modern appeal.
[NC178C IMAGE COURTESY SURREY ARCHIVES Sarjit Singh, left, and Bob Bose, right, at a Jay Cee meeting in December 1950.]
Anand was thrilled to land the role, even though it meant learning 28 minutes of dialogue and a couple of songs in just two weeks of rehearsals.
“I can really relate to him a lot,” he said. “Whether it be through peer pressure or racism. Being the first to try to make a name for himself.”
Anand, who was born in India but grew up in Kelowna, has an undergraduate degree in biochemistry. He decided to pursue acting as a career about six years ago, setting aside an earlier goal of becoming a naturopath. Initially, his parents resisted the plan because “It’s against the norm,” he said.
Anand also experienced racism growing up, but he persevered thanks to his drive and determination, qualities he recognized in Singh, who faced more than his share of adversity, from losing his father to quitting school in order to help out on the farm.
“But he believed in himself, pushed on and became such a successful man that we are here today helping people remember him,” said Anand.
Singh’s commercial farming operation, a 250 acre farm on 168 Street, grew carrots, potatoes, onions, turnips, celery, artichokes and even green peppers. He co-owned a 50-acre potato farm at Fry’s Corner.
“I like the idea that even back then, he was promoting a plant-based diet,” grins Anand, who is a vegan.
“Along with his partner Bob Bose, these guys were really in the forefront of the agricultural field. He was ‘with it.’ He was a smart guy. I can pick up on that. It’s easy for me to bring myself to it.”
He hopes to leave people with a better understanding of Mac Singh’s role in farming – and in breaking down race barriers in Surrey.
“It’s so fascinating to tell the human experience, the human story.”
The Re-enactors performance season runs from May to October, and the troupe will be making 18 appearances as formal performances or as characters mingling with crowds.
They’re back in Cloverdale on Aug. 6 at Cloverdale Station, operated by the Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society.
The Re-enactors will also be at the Fibre Arts Festival Saturday, Aug. 13 at Surrey Museum from 1-4 p.m. and at Cloverdale Market Days on Aug. 27 (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
For more, visit Surrey.ca/heritage