Becoming Canadian: Pioneer Sikhs In Their Own Words


Section 3

This was Canada, the end of the Sikhs’ long journey. It was a new land and it appeared strange at first. The newcomers would land and join their loved ones in either Victoria or Vancouver, both of which had Sikh communities in the early days. The Vancouver Sikh temple on West 2nd Avenue was built in 1908 by Mrs. Dhan Kaur Johal’s husband, Chanan, and the other pioneers: " Our elders built this temple by carrying rocks in baskets on their heads to clear the land. They moved huge rocks by hand, going to great pains to level and prepare the land for construction. There was a lot of bush and forest that had to be cleared first, big huge trees cut and cleared away by hand. It was a lot of work but they built this temple with pride so that we would have a place of our own here. " The Victoria Temple was built soon after in 1912. A small Sikh temple was established in Paldi, on Vancouver Island, in 1918, by the Mayo Lumber Company. On the mainland, in Abbotsford and New Westminster, two temples were built in 1912 by the Sikh community. At Fraser Mills, there was a company-built temple. Temples were also built in Nanaimo and Golden.

The total Sikh population in British Columbia in the early 1920’s was just over 1, 000, but there was an imbalance in the
BC Sikh community
BC Sikh community
community, as Mr. Gurbachan S. Johl explains. " When I came in 1921, there were no boys in this area (Vancouver).Two boys lived in Abbotsford, Pritam Singh and Nand Singh (Langrhoa). Then when four of us boys landed together the Canadian Sikhs were so happy. They kept saying, " Our boys, our boys " . They couldn’t do enough for us. I felt so much love for these people, they treated us so well. Whenever I went to the 2nd Avenue gurdwara, they treated me so special. The first time I stood in line to eat roti in the langar (eating hall), one old-timer took me by the arm and took me in the center of the hall in front of everybody. He said to me, " My son, we want you to serve us roti so that all of us can get to see and meet you. You’ll get to know us and we’ll get to know you.’ When I went around serving the roti they made me feel so special. They were such loving people.

" There were only three or four women in this area then. Four ladies came on the boat with me, so that made a total of eight in 1921. Then they came in ones and twos.

The infusion of the new Sikhs was a long-awaited and welcome event. British Columbia’s Sikh community saw the arrival of their women and children as their future. The age and gender imbalance would soon be corrected.

The temple played an important role in helping the newcomers. On landing, it was usually their first stop. Here they could seek spiritual strength and salvation. They would thank God for their safe journey, offer a donation, eat a meal and check in with the temple officials. Here they could connect with relatives and friends who would find them housing and work. Accommodations were also available until such time as the newcomers could establish themselves.

Soon after landing, the routine of " Canadianization " usually began,
Mrs.Paritam Kaur Sangha
Mrs.Paritam Kaur Sangha
with the women going out with their husbands to shop for new clothes. It was the custom then to dress Western style in public, saving their Indian dress for inside the home. This was strictly upheld in those days. " On the day that I arrived in 1932, " Mrs. Paritam K. Sangha remembers, " my husband took me to the shop to get new clothes right away. I pleaded with him that I hadn’t had anything to eat and that I was starving, but he did not listen. First, we got the new dresses then later we got something to eat. It was the rule then to dress like the white ladies and keep our hair covered with a scarf at all times. "



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