Becoming Canadian: Pioneer Sikhs In Their Own Words


Section 2

At this time the Canadian Pacific Railway operated an Empress Passenger Line, which most travelers going from Hong Kong to Canada took. It cost $100-$200 in Canadian funds depending on the type of accommodation. " There were four CPR boats that traveled this route to Canada, " explains Sardara Gill, who traveled on the Empress of Asia in 1925. " The Empress of Asia, the Empress of Japan, the Empress of Canada and the Empress of Russia. Every fifteen days one was leaving or arriving in Hong Kong or Vancouver. I think we paid about $100 Canadian. Our first stop was Japan, Tokyo and Nagasaki, then on to Honolulu. The journey was very rough leaving Japan, I could not eat much, I got sick. From Honolulu on it was better. Then we landed in Victoria and on to Vancouver. "

Empress of Canada
Empress of Canada
Dedar Sihota remembers leaving Hong Kong on the Empress of Canada.

" The food on that particular ship, of course, was Canadian. I was not used to eating meat or eggs and it felt very strange. When the food was brought I found very little that I could actually eat, potatoes, rice and vegetables. Occasionally, I would take an egg, but it was not in my religion to eat that and I found it rather difficult to deal with that. "

" I do remember going up on the deck, as the ship was travelling, watching the flying fish and watching the other fish swimming by the boat. That journey took about a month. "

The Sikhs almost always traveled together, but at times this was not possible and some had to make the boat trip alone. Kuldeep Bains describes this ordeal: " When I got on the Empress of Canada, I was the only Indian guy. There was a big room, up and down, just like the army, lots of bunks. There must have been thirty-five to forty beds in there all occupied, except one, which I took. There were all Filipinos. "

In Hong Kong, they used to tell stories about the Filipinos, how they were bad and vicious. I did not get a good impression about the people from the Filipinos. `I lay there but I could not sleep there all night. You have this fear instilled in you. This was the first time I came in contact with foreigners, living with them day and night. You see them on the street, itís a different story. I was scared like hell. "

" Gradually, you would chum around with them, actually they were very nice to me. They were to get off in Honolulu, and the night before getting there nobody slept in the ship. We were partying, talking, and everything. They all got off. I saw them getting off the gangplank and then the ship sailed. I came back to my empty room. I never cried when I left home, or in
Mr.Manga Singh Jagpal (left)
and Mr.Nand Singh Langrhoa (right)
Mr.Manga Singh Jagpal (left)
and Mr.Nand Singh Langrhoa (right)
Calcutta, or anywhere else along the way. This is the first time I cried, when I was left alone in that big room there. I was all by myself, I was really scared. "

Finally, after being in the transit for several months, the Sikhs saw Canada for the first time. Mr. Manga S. Jagpal describes his initial impressions of his new homeland, as seen from the ship: " When our boat was still out on the harbor and we approached the city of Victoria, I thought what kind of a place is this? I didnít see any farms or crops, just forest, like a jungle. Where do they get their food? What am I going to do in such a poor country? All I saw were trees, I couldnít see any big buildings yet, and just tiny little shacks. Can this be Canada? "

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