A Surrey-based farmer is nurturing and growing local talent to turn them into national-level hockey players 

By Surbhi Gogia

When Ron Brar started selling herbs from his farmer father’s small garage in Surrey, he realized growing local and self-reliance could do wonders. 

He diversified from his father’s way of outsourcing. He built an in-house supply chain to package, market, and deliver locally-grown produce. From a humble beginning, Evergreen Herbs has grown into a leading provider of fresh herbs and vegetables to grocery stores nationwide.

The importance of growing locally stayed with him. A sports philanthropist and a visionary, Ron is now leveraging his resources to nurture local talent to become national-level hockey players.

Ron and his brother, TJ Brar, became the first-ever Indo-Canadian owners of a junior hockey team last year when they bought Surrey Eagles from Chuck Westgard.

“We are a sports family,” Ron says. “My daughters have performed exceptionally well in soccer at the provincial levels, and my son excelled in hockey. When my son excelled in hockey, we considered nurturing more local talent.”

The opportunity presented itself at a party during a conversation with the previous owner of Surrey Eagles, Chuck Westgard. Buying a home team also aligned with his goal of giving back to the community. “My brother and I were born and raised in Surrey, and that’s where our passion for hockey started,” Ron explains. “Our love for community and family has always played a significant role in our lives. The Surrey Eagles allowed us to continue to grow and to give back to our cherished community.”

Often considered a white man’s or a rich man’s sport, first-generation immigrants largely have remained distant from hockey, be it as fans, spectators, or players. “I want to break this glass ceiling for new immigrants, especially our Indo-Canadian community, and bring them closer to this cold sport.” 

When he took over Surrey Eagles, it was a team that had yet to engage much outside South Surrey. However, after their ownership, they have organized many charity events, fundraisers, and awareness campaigns to attract more Indo-Canadians and other immigrant communities to feel connected to hockey. 

“Sports attract two categories of spectators,” Ron elaborates. “Some come to watch the game and have a good time with their families. Then, serious hockey fans come for the love of the game. We want to offer a space to both fans. We want to build a community center for people from all backgrounds and ethnicities to call home. I want young people to leave their walls and watch hockey players instead of screens. I want kids to watch the players and get inspired to play for Surrey.”

There are Surrey Eagles Punjabi hockey nights for spectators in South Surrey Arena. Last year, King of Bhangra Jazzy B, local Surrey singer Luv Randhawa, and dhol artists performed at the event. In one of the firsts, the spectators saw their favorite Surrey Eagles players wearing jerseys, displaying the rustic beauty of Punjab with farms and tractors. The jerseys were specially designed by a local Punjabi artist, Simran, from A1 Sports.

Talking about his vision for the Surrey Eagles team, Ron wants them to play at the NHL level. The brothers have invested $250,000 in upgrades in the new gym facility and a new dressing room, medical room, and coaches’ room.

Ron knows hockey can unite people, promote physical fitness, and foster essential values like teamwork, discipline, and perseverance. He explains how hockey arenas in other parts of Canada have played an essential role in raising national-level athletes. 

“I have seen, in many parts of Canada, that hockey arenas are a place for the community to make connections, celebrate, and raise athletes. All these great players come out of these cities because they had incredible connections with their community.”

The four pillars of Surrey Eagles are hockey, academics, community, and, most importantly, building new leaders. “This is bigger than (hockey). We’re all about community. We were looking for an opportunity not just to have hockey as a focal point but to create something where kids can use this sport and this team as a lightning rod to get scholarships and to avail higher education in top universities,” says Ron.

Ron’s daughter Saje Brar, is an example of how far competitive sports can take you. The Centre forward player in Vancouver White Caps REX secured a scholarship to Yale University because of her exceptional performance.

Ron wants youngsters to view Surrey Eagles as a conduit that can be used to improve the community. Indeed, Ron’s philosophy of growing local and thinking global will go beyond Surrey’s boundaries to create lasting change and build sports leaders.