TheSinghmar family initially wanted to create a chair for Sanskrit studies at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. But Prem Singhmar, 62, had bigger plans. Instead, the Edmonton-based billionaire developer decided to establish a chair of ancient Indian history at the university — a first for Canada. The chair will focus on the history of ancient India from 500 BC to 500 AD, characterized by two great empires, the Mauryas and the Guptas. “Our glorious period,” Singhmar says. In 2007, the Singhmars donated $1.5 million, which was matched by the government of Alberta, to establish a $3 million endowment that gives a minimum annual revenue of $100,000 for the Saroj and Prem Singhmar Chair in Classical Indian Polity and Society in perpetuity. “At this time,” explains Singhmar, “there’s a lot of interest in India. We have informed University President Indira Samarasekera that if this experiment is successful we will take the initiative of going to the community and raising further funds for additional chairs on India.”
“We’ll go from zero positions in the area of India to four,” says Dr Daniel Woolf, dean, department of history and classics, “none of which would have happened without the generous donation of the donor.” Singhmar’s generosity was evident once more when Edmonton’s 40-year-old Art Gallery was being refurbished for $80 million. After Singhmar donated $1.2 million for an endowment, a section in the gallery is being designated the Singhmar Center for Art Education, where students will receive vocational art training. But Singhmar didn’t just want his name on the gallery, his second condition for donating the money was that the gallery would pledge to organize Indian festivals. “As immigrants we shouldn’t only give but we should be seen to be giving,” says Singhmar. “That will help our acceptance level in this country.” An alumnus of the Srinagar Medical College and the Regional Institute of Ophthalmology, Rohtak, Haryana, Singhmar was also an ophthalmology consultant for the Libyan government’s department of health before he arrived in Canada in 1984. In Canada, he shifted focus and his primary business activities include land development, hotel construction and management, commercial, residential and industrial construction, and agriculture farms.
“Though I come from a farming family in Punjab, I don’t manage farms here as it is a full-time job,” says Singhmar. “I develop farms and lease them.” Among his community causes, Singhmar was a member of the Judicial Council of Alberta from 2000 to 2004. He has raised funds for India, including for victims of the super-cyclone in Orissa and the Guajarat earthquake. He has also donated a Volunteer Wall of Fame in the Alberta legislature. “Our efforts should be to preserve this country the way we found it when we arrived here,” says Singhmar. “We should bring the positive part of our culture here and not try to change the local culture in a negative way
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