|Century of Struggle and Sucess
The Sikh Canadian Experience
by Sandeep Singh Brar
The Struggle Begins
Up to 1950, Sikhs constituted more than 85% of all East Indian immigration to Canada. This is quite amazing, especially when you consider that they only make up less than 2% of India’s total population. Unfortunately these Sikh pioneers were not welcomed with open arms by the Canadian government as European immigrants were. That unfavorable attitude towards Asian immigrants can be traced back right to the founding fathers of this county.
"It is not advantageous to the country that the Chinese should come and settle in Canada, producing a Mongrel Race…" (Sir John A. McDonald, 1887)
"The Dominion can get along very well without Chinese labour and Chinese parsimony" (Sir Wilfard Laurier, 1899)
Sikhs were one of the few Asian immigrant communities who were loyal members of the British Empire. The irony was that greater entry restrictions were placed on perspective Sikh immigrants as compared to their Asian brothers, the Japanese and Chinese. While Canadian politicians, missionaries, unions and the press did not want Asian labour, British Columbia industrialists were short of labour and thus Sikhs were able to get an early foothold at the turn of the century in British Columbia. Of the nearly 5,000 East Indians in Canada by 1907, over 98% were Sikhs, mostly retired British army veterans.
"These Hindus are all old soldiers. They know little outside of their regular drill… I would have White labourers of course if I can get them… But I would rather give employment to these old soldiers who have helped to fight for the British Empire than to entire aliens." (The Daily Province, October 1906)