Canada Sikh History

First Sikhs in Canada

In 1897, Queen Victoria invited her Indian troops to attend her Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London. These Sikh soldiers, having crossed Canada on their way home, returned to India with stories of an attractive land waiting to be settled by British subjects.
The first Sikhs came to Canada in 1902 as part of a Hong Kong military contingent travelling to the coronation of Edward VII. The first Sikh immigrants arrived in 1904 and by 1908, when an immigration ban was imposed, morethan 5000 South Asians, over 90% of them Sikhs, had arrived in British Columbia. From then on, the population gradually dwindled to about 2000. Most who remained were Sikhs.

HISTORY

The first people from India to migrate to British Columbia were Sikhs from Northern India (mainly from Punjab). These men were actually on an official trip as part of the Hong Kong army regiments who were travelling through Canada in commemoration of the Queen Victoria of England’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Following this initial visit, a second contingent of Punjabi soldiers visited British Columbia in celebration of the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902. Arriving in Victoria on the Empress of Japan, on June 3, 1902, and led by Sardar Major Kadir Khan Bahadur, it was this group of South Asians who became intrigued at the possibilities of residing in British Columbia. Even in terms of the hospitality and reception they received, the larger British Columbian community tended to treat the Punjabi soldiers with respect, as the local papers exclaimed “Turbaned Men Excite Interest: Awe inspiring men from India held the crowds.”

 

The robust and agriculturally rich landscapes were very appealing to those Punjabi soldiers because it reminded them of the terrain in their homeland of Punjab. And thus, the first period of significant migration of Indians from the Punjab area commenced between 1904-1908. Within these four years, approximately 5,000 Punjabi men (women were a rarity) arrived in Canada to begin their new lives. At this earlier point in the history of South Asian migration, the Canadian government did not pay much attention as it was too busy restricting Chinese migration to Canada with regulations such as the $500.00 head tax, etc. However, although the initial two years of rapid South Asian migration into Canada tended to remain unnoticed by the larger Caucasian community, such sentiments did not remain.

 

Almost all the men who arrived in British Columbia worked in such labour industries including: forestry, fishing and railway. And because the Canadian government was preoccupied with restricting Chinese and Japanese immigration at the time, these South Asians were quite easily able to find such work. On average, these men earned from $1 to $1.25 a day, which was less than the pay received by Caucasian workers. Some workers however, did pay their South Asian workers up to $1.50 to $2.00 a day. Because wages were so low for them, most South Asian men lived together and there were often between twenty to fifty men living under the same roof. These homes were commonly referred to as bunkhouses.

HISTORY of the Canadian Sikh Study and Teaching society

There was and continues to be many Gurdwaras and Sikh organizations around the Vancouver Mainland but none of these institutions had a specific mandate to educate Sikh youth and publish books on Sikh history and theology. The Sikh youth who were born in Canada had many questions, remain uncertain about their faith, but there was no established institution to support their inquiries. In 1987, under the guidance of Dr. Gurbakash Singh Gill (form Dean and professor PAU, Ludhiana) and a number of dedicated members of the Sikh community from Vancouver and other towns, decided to form an organization, specifically designed to inform the community about the history and religion of the Sikh population. The mandate of the Society included publishing authentic materials/literature on the Sikh faith in English, in order for Canadian born Sikh children to learn about their roots of their faith.

In order to run the Sathya of Guru Granth Sahib (correct reading of Gurbani), Late Giani Harbhajan Singh Ji was invitied from Stockhom California. Giani Harbhajan Singh was a great preacher (kathakair) and he had expertise in the field of Gurbani Viakarn (grammar). Hundreds of Sikhs took advantage of his scholarly way of teaching and learning Gurbani. The Society also started other projects, such as holding of youth camps in the summer for children.  Gurbani path classes and Punjabi language classes Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond, and Surrey. The Society was formally registered as a non-profit organization in 1988.

In 2011, the Society started a free homework club to assist local students from grades 4 to 12 with their homework every Saturday, 9am- 12 noon from September to June. Dedicated volunteers with a university and college background assist students with math, English, history, and their projects.