Century of Struggle and Sucess
The Sikh Canadian Experience
by Sandeep Singh Brar

Part I
The Struggle Begins

Even though Sikhs were succeeding in these few professions open to them, they were still barred from most others. The government laws did not allow Sikhs to vote or hold any public office, civil service job, compete for public works contracts, enter law or pharmacy or buy any Crown timber. What was the use of an education if it was only a one way street to the mills?

"Hazara Singh Garcha, who arrived in about 1927, had his Master of Science degree in agriculture in eastern Canada, and he pulled lumber like we did in the mill. At that time no Hindustani could get a job even if he was a doctor, lawyer or engineer. So it didn’t matter if you were educated or not, if you were Hindustani you would be working on the greenchain." (Darshan Singh Sangha)

"I’m an idealist, I wanted an education for education’s sake. I knew that I wouldn’t get a better job. When I was working at Hillcrest, the young guys would laugh and say, "If you go to school, you’ll be the most highly qualified lumber worker in the country so why are you going to school? ‘The white people aren’t going to give you a job in the offices.’ I’d say, you guys just drink your booze, and have your parties, sing your songs and whatever else you like to do, just let me live my life. I prefer to spend my money over here. I may never become a worker in this place or get this type of position, but if an opportunity ever came up, it wouldn’t be you, it might be me. They made fun of me all the time. Those were the younger guys. The older guys, including my father, were always telling me, ‘Get the most education you can, it’s the only thing that will stay with you.’" (Ranjit Singh Hall)

With the advent of World War II and the internment of Japanese Canadians, Sikhs were able to prosper. Before going to the internment camps Japanese preferred to sell their homes and properties to their Sikh neighbors who they had known for so long. As the war economy picked up speed and moved into high gear, Sikhs were given positions of greater responsibility on the factory floors across the country as well as sharpening their skills as successful businessmen. Just as the war helped to emancipate North American women, showing that they were capable of doing a mans job, Sikhs were showing that they were just as talented as their European counterparts. One of the last major roadblocks remained the right to vote. The year was 1947, fifty years since the first Sikh immigrants had arrived, yet they were still denied this fundamental right. A right that was long overdue and Sikhs rallied to the cause, holding town hall meetings and lobbying local politicians and the government in Ottawa to try change the law.

"Because he is alleged to have cast a vote in Vancouver, B.C. in the Provincial Election on 28th March, Houssein Rahim, a Hindu, was arrested on a charge of perjury. A warrant for his apprehension was issued on the 29th March, 1912." (The Aryan, April 1912)

"The next day the head of the convention asked Pandia to speak. Pandia pointed at Mr. Mayo and Mr. Kapoor sitting there and said, ‘These two men have hundreds of employees working for them. Their workers were allowed to vote and these two mill owners could not vote because they were East Indians’. Right away they put it to a vote and they decided that East Indians should be allowed to vote in municipal elections. That triggered the change, because the law was that if you could vote in the municipal election, that allowed you to vote provincially and in federal elections. And so we got voting rights at every step. From then on we finally got equal rights." (Karm Singh Manak)

Copyright 1997 by Sandeep Singh Brar. All Rights Reserved.