Becoming Canadian: Pioneer Sikhs In Their Own Words


Section 7

The Sikhs have earned the right to call Canada their home. They worked hard, saved, paid taxes, bought property, invested wisely, sent delegations, engaged legal services, prayed and waited for things to change. If they encountered an obstacle they never gave up, but tried a different road going in the same direction. When I asked the elders why the Sikhs were successful in overcoming all the difficulties they faced, there was only one answer: because they are hard workers. Sadhu Singh Dhami, who came to Canada in 1922, writes in his historical novel Maluka: " An idle man, holy or unholy, was not wanted in the New
Sikhs clearing the land in Vancouver, 1908
Sikhs clearing the land in Vancouver, 1908
World. Activity, intense and vigorous, was imperative. And success, ever new and greater, was the crowning prize of all activity. "

For the Sikhs, the work ethic and economic activities are located within a religious and socio-cultural context. The work an individual does is part of " being a good Sikh. " Sikhs are not afraid of hard physical work, and they will take whatever job they can get until they can find a better one. By doing hard honest labor, the Sikhs became stronger physically financially and spiritually. " The old-timers say that there are two things that helped us get established, " says Mr. Kuldeep Bains, " the strength of our arms and the strength of our money. Firstly, with our physical power we can work in the hardest jobs, physically we can endure much more than other people. Others will say " the hell with it " and pack it in. We don ' t do that. Secondly, if they could not fight their battle because of lack of knowledge or education, they could collect money like nobody ' s business. With this money they could hire some people who could do the job. That ' s how we got established here, with muscles and money. "

If the older Sikhs could give advice to a new immigrant from India, most of them would say that newcomers should try to fit in with other Canadian people, in fashion, hairstyles and attitudes. They should adapt to Canadian ways like other Canadians and leave the problems of India behind them. At the same time, Mrs. Jagdish Kaur Singh cautions, " Never forget India, you can ' t. I ' ll never forget my India. "

Their other advice would be to work hard and save money, be honest and help members of the community, as they did in the early days. They stress the value of learning English, and most of them advise getting a good education since the professions have opened up somewhat since the early days. Socializing outside of their own group is very important for new immigrants, since that will help them to gain greater acceptance. Go to night school, they say. Join teams and community centers, go to the YMCA. Overall, immigrants should try to adopt a flexible lifestyle, avoid living in isolation and mix with other Canadian people.

This advice to newcomers today is very similar to the advice to newcomers given in 1929 by Kartar Singh, in the first issue of India and Canada: A Journal of Interpretation and Information. The timelessness of the message is uncanny: " It is a great joy to me to find that here in this distant land you still keep up your own religious faith and do not neglect your Sikh religion. That is the right thing to do if you want to remain in a distant country with moral character and good social and family traditions such as those which still remain in India itself. "



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