Gurdev Gill MD’57, DSc’96

Dr. Gill is a UBC MAA 2018 Wallace Wilson Leadership Award recipient.

The history of Asian immigration to Canada is characterized by prejudice, discrimination and exclusion. When Dr. Gurdev Gill arrived in Vancouver from India’s Punjab region in 1949 immigration policy was still biased towards Europeans and residents of South Asian origin were not treated as equal members of society.

Gill became a citizen in 1954, but the 1950s and 60s continued to present human rights issues for minorities. Over the years he has been centrally involved in several organizations that support new immigrants from South Asia, helping them adapt to Canadian culture and promoting equality and intercultural understanding.

In 1957, Gill became the first Indo-Canadian to graduate in medicine from UBC and subsequently the first to practice medicine in Canada. As a student, he co-founded the East India Student Association and served as its first secretary. During the 1960s he lobbied government in his official capacity as president of the East Indian Welfare Association. In 1970, the Khalsa Diwan Society, under his leadership, raised funds to build a Sikh temple on Ross Street in Vancouver, an important resource for the Indo-Canadian community.

In 1976, Gill founded the Indo-Canadian Friendship Society of BC. Initially focused on improving race relations in Canada, from the mid-1990s the organization has set its sights on improving living conditions for rural communities in Punjab. Since India’s sanitation is recognized as among the worst in the world, the projects have focused on providing clean, running drinking water, and building underground sewage systems and waste water treatment plants. The result is a marked decrease in disease – especially gastroenteritis, responsible for 400,000 deaths in India annually.

Starting with Kharoudi village, where Gill was born, projects have so far been carried out in 16 communities at a cost of approximately $3M. As well as improved sanitation, they have introduced solar street lighting and computer education in schools. Along with the health benefits, Gill is happy to report improvements in gender equality, education, governance and employment.

Gill achieved all this with grass roots support, fending off corruption by insisting on as much transparency in the process as possible and keeping costs low. Now retired from his New Westminster practice, he spends half the year living in India overseeing projects.

Gill’s work has improved the quality of life for thousands of people in India and Canada and his global citizenship has helped to foster a stronger and more inclusive society. In 1990 Dr. Gill became the first Indo-Canadian to receive the Order of BC. On the 125th anniversary of confederation, he received a commemorative medal from the Government of Canada. He received an honorary degree from UBC in 1996 and the Global Citizenship Alumni Achievement Award from alumni UBC in 2013.

Profile courtesy of alumni UBC