History of South Asians in Canada: Timeline

  • 150 Years of Canada
  • 1897

    Troops from the Hong Kong and Malay States visit BC on their return from London via Atlantic Canada after celebrations of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in London. It is believed they told stories to other troops about the new immigrants and many British subjects that were settling in British Columbia.

  • 1902

    The first Sikhs travel across Canada in 1902 as part of a Hong Kong military regiment en route to England to take part in the celebrations on the coronation of King Edward VII. It is believed by 1908 before the immigration ban, 5000 South Asians had settled in BC out of which 90% were Sikh.

  • 1903

    Indian immigrants begin to arrive in British Columbia. Most of them have army connections from being stationed in the colonies as part of the British army. By the end of 1903 approximately thirty South Asian men have arrived.

  • 1904

    The Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji is first brought to Canada by Bhai Arjan Singh. The scriptures are located at a house in Port Moody.

  • 1904 - 1905

    The number of South Asians in Vancouver number around 100-150, with the majority of them being Sikhs. By the end of 1905 many of these first immigrants are sending letters home to India extolling the potential for immigration to Vancouver. These letters play a large role in the sudden rise in South Asian immigrants in the following years.

  • 1906

    The Khalsa Diwan Society is formally established in Vancouver. Branches of the Society would spread across BC within other Gurdwara’s.

  • 1907

    In March 1907, British Columbia Premier Bowser introduces a bill to disenfranchise all natives of India not of Anglo-Saxon parents. In April 1907 South Asians are denied the vote in Vancouver by changes in the Municipality Incorporation Act. The federal vote is denied by default as one had to be on the provincial voters’ list to vote federally. Click here for more

  • 1908

    Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King and others in the Government devise a plan to send Indian immigrants to Honduras in an attempt to get ‘rid’ of them. The plan is rejected by the majority Sikh community in BC under the guidance of Sant Teja Singh.

  • 1910

    The Immigration Act is overhauled including the Continuous Journey regulation. The amended Act now gives sweeping powers to the government to exclude people explicitly on the basis of race. These amendments are aimed at stopping the tide of South Asian immigrants.

  • 1911

    For three years (beginning in 1908) local Fraser Valley Sikh pioneers carry donated lumber from the local Trethewey Lumber Mill to begin the work of building a Sikh Gurdwara (place of worship). The construction of the Gur Sikh Temple in Abbotsford, under the auspices of Khalsa Diwan Society, is officially completed.

    The census for this year lists 2,342 Sikhs, less than half of that in 1908. Only three are women.

  • 1912

    February 26, 1912, the Gur Sikh Temple in Abbotsford is officially opened. On March 1, 1912, Sant Teja Singh is invited to speak at the Gur Sikh Temple and address the congregation.

    Hardial Singh Atwal is the first Sikh born in Canada on August 28.

  • 1913

    The Panama Maru arrives in BC on October 17, 1913 carrying 56 South Asians to Canada. Most passengers were first time arrivals to BC. A Board of Inquiry allows 17 passengers who could prove prior residency to disembark and ordered 39 others to be deported. Their lawyer J. Edward Bird appears before Justice Dennis Murphy who hears submissions and eventually dismisses the case. Click here for more 

  • 1914

    May 23, the Komagata Maru arrives with 376 Passengers, mostly Sikhs, under the leadership of Bhai Gurdit Singh in Vancouver. During the months of May until July, the Komagata Maru sits in the harbour, becoming a spectacle, with daily newspaper reports of developments and crowds of hundreds gathering at the waterfront to stare at the men. The Komagata Maru is formally ordered out in July.  Click here for more 

  • 1915

    On the morning of January 11, 1915, hundreds of South Asians wait outside the penitentiary to receive Bhai Mewa Singh’s body for cremation. He is cremated at the Fraser Mills where a large number of Sikh men work.

  • 1918

    Sikh population in British Columbia drops to as low as 700. Some have attributed this drop based on increased racism on part of the local press, public and government.

    The Mayo Lumber Company builds a Sikh temple near Duncan, B.C. at Paldi. This town is named after the village in India.

  • 1919

    The Immigration restriction on bringing wives and children under the age of eighteen from India are lifted.

  • 1920

    Sikh women and children begin arriving from India.

  • 1925

    The Khalsa Diwan Society has autonomous branches in Vancouver, Abbotsford, New Westminster, Golden, Duncan, Coombs, and Ocean Falls.

  • 1929

    The Khalsa Diwan Society invites Charles Andrew, a friend of Mahatma Gandhi, and Sir Rabindranath Tagore, Nobel laureate, to see firsthand the unfair treatment of the Sikhs.

  • 1933

    Vancouver Sikhs form the India Grass Hockey Club and they organize an annual sports tournament in memory of the Babbar Akali Martyrs .

  • 1935

    September 7, the opening of the Hillcrest Sikh temple (4 miles from Duncan). A parade is held to celebrate the opening.

  • 1947

    After a forty-year struggle, South Asian immigrants are granted franchise to vote and become Canadian citizens.

  • 1948

    In May, Hardit S. Malik, India’s first High Commissioner to Canada and a proud Sikh, takes up his official post in Ottawa, signifying the end of the battle for South Asians in their fight for franchisement

  • 1949

    Prime Minister Nehru visits the Vancouver Sikh temple with his daughter Indira Gandhi.

  • 1950

    The East Indian Canadian Welfare Association is formed.

    Naranjan Singh Grewall is the first Sikh elected to a city council in Mission, B.C.

    Nsibe Kaur Puri, a resident of British Columbia, becomes the first Sikh woman to graduate from high school.

  • 1962

    The quota system is dropped in favour of non-discriminatory immigration law.

  • 1965

    First Gurdwara in the province of Ontario opens.

  • 1967

    A new immigration regulation based on a points system is introduced.

  • 1969

    March 30, the foundation stone for the Khalsa Diwan Society Gurdwara at 8000 Ross Street is laid.

  • 1979

    The 500th birthday of Guru Amar Das Ji. This is the first year that the annual Vaisakhi Parade (Nagar Kirtan) is held in Vancouver.

  • 1980

    The Federation of Sikh Societies of Canada is the first Sikh organization registered nationally.

  • 1982

    Honourable Wally Oppal is appointed a Supreme Court judge. He later conducts the Royal Inquiry to Policing in British Columbia.

  • 1983

    In February, the Abbotsford Dasmesh Punjabi School officially begins with 142 registered students as a weekend school teaching the Punjabi language. The Khalsa Diwan Society of Abbotsford, in its efforts to preserve the Punjabi heritage in the Fraser Valley, is instrumental in the formation of the Dasmesh Punjabi Educational Association that is to manage the School.

    A Sikh Chair is established at the University of British Columbia.

  • 1984

    A protest denouncing the Golden Temple massacre under Operation Bluestar is attended by 15,000 Sikhs in downtown Vancouver near the Indian High Commission office on June 10.

  • 1986

    Khalsa School, a full-time private school is established in Vancouver. This school teaches Sikh religion and Punjabi language classes.

    Khalsa Credit Union is registered on February 19, to provide financial service to the Sikh Community. Today there are five branches with assets of over a hundred million dollars.

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  • 1987

    A steamer named Amelie with 174 refugees, made up of mostly Sikhs, lands in Nova Scotia.

  • 1988

    March 10, the Canadian Parliament devotes a whole day to debating the issue of Sikhs’ rights and the issue of Khalistan.

  • 1990

    The Municipal, Provincial, and Federal Governments jointly place a plaque commemorating the Komagata Maru Incident at Portal Park in Vancouver on May 23.

    March 15, the Solicitor General of Canada announces that the RCMP dress code would be amended to have a turbaned Sikh join the force. Constable Baltej Singh Dhillon has the honour of becoming the first Khalsa (baptized) Sikh to join the RCMP.

  • 1991

    Three Sikhs are elected to the British Columbia legislature: Manmohan (Moe) Sihota, and Ujjal Dosanjh, who held various cabinet posts, and Harbhajan (Harry) Lalli.

  • 1993

    Gurbax Singh Mahli and Harbans (Herb) Dhaliwal are the first Sikhs elected to the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa.

    A 24-hour radio program featuring Sikh religion and Gurbani Kirtan starts to transmit from Vancouver. It broadcasts across Canada and America via satellite.

  • 1995

    The British Columbia Government officially recognizes the Vaisakhi Parade and publishes a brochure.

  • 1996

    February 15, the Supreme Court of Canada reaffirms a Sikh Army officer’s right to wear a turban.

    There are over a hundred Gurdwara’s across Canada. Fifty of them are in British Columbia.

    In September, British Columbia schools started to offer Punjabi language in its regular curriculum from grades five to twelve.

  • 1999

    The Canadian Government and Canada Post issue a commemorative stamp celebrating the 300th anniversary of the Khalsa (Vaisakhi) and the legacy of Sikhs in Canada.

  • 2000

    The Honourable Ujjal Dosanjh is elected as the 33rd Premier of British Columbia after serving as an MLA, Attorney General, Provincial Minister, MP, and Federal Minister.

  • 2002

    The Gur Sikh Temple in Abbotsford is designated as a National Historic Site of Canada, which is officially carried out by Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

  • 2009

    The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) begins broadcasting Hockey Games in Punjabi with hosts Parminder Singh and Harnarayan Singh.

  • 2011

    The Sikh Heritage Museum located in Abbotsford officially opens in commemoration of the Centennial year of the Gur Sikh Temple (est. 1911).

  • 2014

    An official stamp from Canada Post is released which commemorates the centennial of the Komagata Maru.

    The Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada, located in Mississauga, Ontario, officially opens in April.

  • 2015

    A record 17 Sikh MPs are elected in the 2015 Federal Election—16 from the Liberal Party of Canada and 1 Conservative—the highest number of Sikhs ever elected. In addition, four MPs are appointed as Ministers, including the first Sikh female Minister, the Honourable Bardish Kaur Chagger. Lt. Col. Harjit Singh Sajjan, the first Sikh to command a regiment in Canada—the British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own)—is appointed as the Canadian Minister of National Defence.

  • 2016

    In May, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offers an official apology in the House of Commons for the then government’s role in turning back the majority of the passengers on the Komagata Maru in 1914. The Prime Minister states that “the passengers of the Komagata Maru, like millions of immigrants to Canada since, were seeking refuge and better lives for their families. With so much to contribute to their new home, they chose Canada and we failed them utterly. As a nation, we should never forget the prejudice suffered by the Sikh community at the hands of the Canadian government of the day. We should not and we will not.”

  • 2017

    As Canada commemorates 150 years since its Confederation, the Sikh Heritage Museum launches exhibit looking at the story of the South Asian Vote. This commemorates the 40 year South Asian struggle for the vote (1907-1947).

    May 19th, the Right Honourable Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau makes his first official visit to Abbotsford by visiting the Gur Sikh Temple and National Historic Site.