Becoming Canadian: Pioneer Sikhs In Their Own Words


Section 5

Sikhs seldom ventured out of their own ethnic community for a number of reasons: racial prejudice, lack of facility with English, their own insecurity and lack of social opportunity. Some Vancouver men would go to the theatres downtown or to restaurants for a meal but they would go with one another, not mixing with white people. A favourite spot was Gibson’s Dairy on Hastings Street, where they would eat ice cream and drink fresh milk, cream and buttermilk. This was a special treat for them, as these rich dairy products reminded them of their farms in the Punjab.

Lachman Singh Thandi describes the men’s social life downtown: " At the BC Electric Station on the corner of Carrall and Hastings Street, the shoeshine man would not shine our shoes. When we would sit in the chair, he’d either light up a cigarette or open his thermos and take a coffee break. So we avoided him. We used to go to the Capitol and Orpheum theatres with no problems. There were a few rundown theatres on Hastings that would not let our turbanned Sikhs in, so we’d go to the Royal nearby. It used to cost 10 cents, there used to be a live dance at the end of each show. There was another theatre by the police station that charged only 5 cents a show, lots of us would go there to pass time.

" Lots of beer parlours wouldn’t serve us beer. They thought that turbanned Sikhs were troublemakers. Whites were troublemakers too. If some white guy started trouble, the Sikhs would fight back and get a bad reputation for that. It was very rare that a Sikh came home beat up, only if he was very drunk. Sikhs would not take a beating. There was one guy named Thakher Singh Dhesi. He had been drinking and got into a fight outside the Royal Theatre with some sailors. They’d also been drinking. He just kept picking them up and throwing them to the sidewalk, all five of them. He beat them good. Another time at the dairy where a lot of our Sikhs would go, Thakher Singh and another Sikh made a bet to see
Mr.Naranjan S. Mahal
Mr.Naranjan S. Mahal
who could drink the most cream. You may not believe it but he drank forty glasses with two eggs in each glass! The other guy stopped at twenty or twenty-five glasses. Then he gave the girl 10 dollars to cover the bill.

There were other establishments that would not serve Sikhs. " There was Scott’s Cafe on Granville Street, " says Karnail Johl, " and the Beacon Theatre and the Strand Theatre. There was a sign there saying that you are not allowed in if you have a beard and turban. There were some big hotels, like the Vancouver Hotel, that would not allow Sikhs in either. "

Mr. Naranjan S. Mahal, a turbanned Sikh, tells of going to the Ivanhoe Hotel in Main Street in Vancouver with two other Sikhs who both had their hair cut. They got served but the waiter refused to serve Mahal. Mr. Magar S. Rai remembers that in Duncan, " when we used to go to the beer parlour we had to sit in a separate room in the corner, this was for anyone with a turban and beard. This was in 1934 to 1936, then I shaved in 1938 and I could sit with the white people. Same thing in the cinema, they used to make us sit upstairs. "



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