Becoming Canadian: Pioneer Sikhs In Their Own Words


Section 5

The temple leaders also made sure that the Sikh community maintained high standards of housekeeping. They did not want the city or neighbors to criticize them for being dirty or uncivilized so there were periodic inspections of the Sikhs’ homes and lodgings. Mrs. Johal explains: " There was a man named Dusanj who was the president of the gurdwara committee. He would go to the Sikh homes and check that they were kept clean, the kitchen, all the rooms. He even went to the cookhouses and bunkhouses. He’d say, ‘Why is this so dirty? Clean this, pick this up and throw this out!’ When we bought another house, Nand Singh, Karnail’s dad, asked Dusanj to come and inspect the house. He said, ‘Not yet; in two months, when you’ve lived in it for a while. Now it’s the white lady’s cleaning’. "

The Sikhs were very proud of their gurdwara and they showed their pride by having special functions and inviting guests. On these occasions
Khalsa Diwan Society
Khalsa Diwan Society
everyone would attend. In 1929, the Khalsa Diwan Society invited two very important people to Vancouver and Victoria. Reverend Charles F. Andrews, a friend and collegue of Mahatma Gandhi, and the famous poet Rabindranath Tagore were invited to see firsthand the unfair treatment of the East Indians by the Canadian government.

Sometimes musicians, athletes, politicians or visitors from India would come to the temple. Locally educated Sikhs like Sadhu Singh Dhami and Darshan Singh Sangha would discuss the union movement or local politics. " I would go to the gurdwara on Sundays, " says Darshan, " where I would meet everyone because everyone in those days went to the gurdwara. After the prayers were over we would stay and have debates. The elders would ask the students what was going on in the world. When my turn would come to tell them something I would be terrified. I didn’t know what I should or shouldn’t say. But gradually I got used to speaking in front of the elders. We would talk about Indian independence, our fight for rights and socialism. "

Mrs. Jagdish K. Singh, whose husband Harnam Singh was the priest of the 2nd Avenue temple, recalls these days: " People would talk about the problems in the villages, the lack of freedom because of the British Raj, the lack of education for the children, the poor social and political conditions. They were so helpless in those days. We felt sorry for them so we’d take a collection and send money back to the villages. Some of the men who would lecture were my husband, Mit Singh, Geevan Singh Braich from Mission, Sundar Singh from Abbotsford and other men of respect. "

The Sikhs contributed their time and money generously to their gurdwara. By their own accounts, the Vancouver Khalsa Diwan Society had contributed $295,463 to various social and political causes before 1921:

  1. to sufferers from massacres
  2. to families of political prisoners
  3. to sufferers from political causes
  4. to Congress Tilak Swaraj fund
  5. to religious and educational causes
  6. to Komogata Maru case
  7. to immigration cases
  8. to deputations to Cdn. and Br. Govts
  9. to Hindustani Press in Canada
$ 4,330
$ 2,100
$ 30,700
$ 3,333
$ 50,000
$ 30,000
$ 12,000
$ 15,000

Total $295,463



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