Becoming Canadian: Pioneer Sikhs In Their Own Words


Section 5

Mr. Piara S. Bains, who knew English very well and socialized with white people, would challenge proprietors about their unfair treatment of
The Rex Theatre
The Rex Theatre
their Sikh customers: " I took my uncle Dedar Singh to the Rex Theatre on Hastings. We used to call it Beacon, that’s where the tram used to come in. This was in 1943. There was a good movie he wanted to see and they would not let him in because of the turban. I said that if the turban was going to hinder someone’s view, we would buy the large seat. It was higher up and no one was behind us. I paid extra money for it. He had no excuse then so he let us in. Then, I saw ladies sitting with great big hats on in front of us. So I called over the manager and told him to sit down in our seats and see how these ladies’ hats were hindering our views. So then that opened the gates right there. "

The Sikhs made small gains like this one but it always took an individual Sikh to take a stand, otherwise social discrimination would go on unchallenged.

To widen the social circle, a sports league was established among the Sikh millworkers on Vancouver Island. This mill league was set up more
Volleyball team for Hillcrest Lumber Company
Volleyball team for Hillcrest Lumber Company
for recreation and social purposes than for competition. " This was the first volleyball league for young Sikhs, " explains Ranjit Hall, the league organizer. " We played amongst ourselves. Then we had the idea that we would set up a cup. So we went to Tara Singh Kauni [the foreman at Hillcrest] and said would he set up a cup. We bought a cup and had it inscribed. We [Hillcrest] played with Youbou, Alberni, Victoria and so on with different sawmill teams made up of our people. They used to come to Hillcrest for a tournament. We used to put up notices in the cookhouses and everyone would come. It was a big deal. "

Sports were also a means for a group of Vancouver Sikhs to socialize with and gain the respect of the dominant culture. Some sports-minded
The India Hockey Club in front of the Vancouver Sikh Temple, 1934
The India Hockey Club in front of the Vancouver Sikh Temple, 1934
men began the India Grass Hockey Club in 1934 and joined the Mainland Grass Hockey League. The men would work in the lumber mills or drive wood trucks during the day, and practice grass hockey in the evenings and compete on the weekends. They played against four established teams: The Vancouver Club, The Cricketer’s Club, the Varsity Club, and the University of BC Club. In 1934 they were the league champions, winning the Mainland League Cup and the O. B. Allan Cup.

One of the most influential of all the Sikh leaders and someone who encouraged socializing with the other Canadian people was Kartar Singh. A believer in the " Canadianization " of East Indians, he came to Canada in 1912 and lived in Toronto, apart from any other East Indian people, until 1929 when he was called to Vancouver by the Khalsa Diwan Society. They wanted his help in the fight for their rights, for he had a very good knowledge of the English language as well as the dominant culture of Canada.

Kartar Singh edited a newspaper called India and Canada: A Journal of Interpretation and Informaton. It was written in English and Punjabi and had two purposes: " For its immediate usefulness, this publication will endeavour to place before the Canadian public the truth and nothing but the truth, about the people of North India, now resident in Canada. After giving examples and facts, its appeal will be to invite Canada to scientifically examine now – when sufficient practical results are available – the fitness or unfitness, the merits and demerits, of the Sikh settlers in Canada. The other aspect of the work of this journal will be to inform, through its Punjabee section, the people of North India here and at home, about the life, institutions, problems, requirements, standards and ideals of Canada. "

This journal was published periodically from June 1929 to September 1936. It was very well written and informed both the Sikh and non-Sikh community of significant events here and in India. Since many Sikhs did not socialize beyond their own family or neighborhood, this journal added another dimension to their social lives. It helped give them some legitimacy. Seeing their affairs appear in print made the Sikhs feel more a part of Canadian society.

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