Sikh communities were among the first South Asian communities to settle in Canada, migrating predominately to British Columbia, though recent waves of Sikh migration have settled in Ontario as well.
1897: Sikh soldiers arrive in Canada after Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee
1904: First Sikhs migrate directly from Asia, coming via a Canadian Pacific Railway (C.P.R.) liner
1906: Khalsa Diwan Society founded (Vancouver, British Columbia)
1908: Vancouver Gurdwara built
1910: Victoria Gurdwara built
1913-1917: Ghadr party active in Sikh communities in the U.S. and British Columbia, Canada
1913: Sikhs are amongst those who travel on the Panama Maru, reaching the shores of British Columbia and making a successful argument to stay
1914: Komagata Maru incident occurs; most on board are Sikh
1919: Sikh men who were residents in Canada could now have their wives and children migrate as well
1920s: Six sawmills and two shingle mills now owned and operated by Sikh community members
1930s: Migration of Sikhs to Canada slows
1947: After years of pressing for franchise, Sikhs & all South Asians in Canada) are given the right to vote
1967: Limitation on Asian residents’ right to sponsor/nominate non-immediate relatives removed, thereby allowing Sikh community members to sponsor other members of kinship circles
1970s: Sikh community members employed as migratory farm workers in the Lower Fraser valley
1972-1975: Vandalism against Sikh property increases significantly in Vancouver area
1984: Indian army overruns the Golden Temple in Amritsar; Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards; riots in Delhi where many Sikhs are killed
1987: 174 Sikhs arrive off the coast of Nova Scotia, claiming asylum – while the small town they stumble into is supportive, the Canadian government responds negatively (and general public becomes alarmist)
2003: Spinning Wheel Film Festival begins in Toronto
2010: Sikh Feminist Research Institute (SAFAR) formed in Toronto
2012: Global protests after an announcement that Balwant Singh Rajoana would be hanged, including in Edmonton and on Parliament Hill. Rajoana’s executive eventually stayed.
SAFAR – The Sikh Feminist Research Institute was formed in 2010 by a group of Sikh women scholars, academics, activists, community organizers, educators and independent researchers. With the broader goal of “re-connecting with a feminism that long pre-dates the western paradigm,” SAFAR work includes community engagement, an academic conference, a Sikh feminist journal, and more.
The town of Paldi (formerly Mayo), British Columbia highlights one example of Sikh community members’ organizing efforts. Mayo Singh Manhas, who had migrated to Canada in 1906, was working in the lumber industry for some time, and by 1918 he had purchased a mill and invited three Japanese men (who he had worked with prior) to come and work for him in Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. By the late 1920s, the community was an interesting mix of Indians, Japanese, Chinese and whites. In addition to the mill, there was a company store, housing, a school, a gurdwara and a Japanese temple. Renamed Paldi, after Mayo Singh’s village in Punjab, the town flourished for decades.
From 2003 through to 2009, the Spinning Wheel Film Festival showcase Sikh heritage through art and film to engage diasporic Sikh communities. The Festival presented the Sikh world view and encouraged the production of high-quality films. It is global in its scope, though its roots are in Ontario.
In 2006, the Royal Ontario Museum commissioned UK-based Singh Twins to produce a painting on Sikh communities in Canada. Completed in2010, Sikhs in Canada was unveiled in 2012 and is now in the ROM’s permanent collection. Among the many intricate details of the painting are: Gurdit Singh (of the Komagata Maru incident) and a depiction of Sikhs in the lumber industry in British Columbia,
There are countless examples of activist organizing amongst Sikh communities in Canada, including:
- In the early 1900s when racist and exclusionary immigration policies were being challenged by the small number of Sikhs in British Columbia.
- Community-supported standoff between the Komagata Maru and immigration officials in 1914.
- Consistent pressure on the Canadian government to grant franchise to Sikh (and other South Asian individuals), eventually occurring in 1947.
- Labour organizing around issues facing farm workers in British Columbia (e.g. Canadian Farm Workers Union).
- Various struggles around the visible and core parts of Sikh identity (the turban and the kirpan), especially in the context of broader attacks on markers of religion in provinces like Quebec – for example, a 17-year old in LaSalle was told he would not be allowed to play house league soccer because of his turban, as per a Lac St. Louis Regional Soccer Association directive – which is contrary to a ruling from a Féderation International de Football referee in England who stated that the turban conformed to FIFA rules.
- The Sikh Activist Network (SAN), based in Peel Region, Ontario identifies itself as “A Youth Movement for Peace, Love, and Justice.” SAN works to “reignite the culture of social activism in the Sikh path” through public engagement, community events, and connecting to other social justice fights, such as migrant justice, gendered violence, etc.
- Dedyna, Katherine, “Canada’s Giant Lumberman,” 2008. Retrieved from http://www.sikhchic.com/history/canadas_giant_lumberman
- O’Connell, Joseph T. , “Sikh Religio-Ethnic Experience in Canada” in The South Asian Religious Diaspora in Britain, Canada, and the United States, edited by Harold G. Coward et al., 2000.
- "Sikhs." Multicultural Canada. n.d. http://www.multiculturalcanada.ca/Encyclopedia/A-Z/s4