History of South Asians in Canada: Timeline
- 150 Years of Canada
Chinese Head Tax
The Act to restrict and regulate Chinese Immigration and its head tax system was introduced. This was mainly due to the fear from the white population that Chinese immigrant workers would take away their jobs and establish settlement in Canada with their families as permanent citizens.
The head tax required current and future Chinese immigrants to pay money for migrating to Canada. The head tax started at $10 and increased in increments over the years: $50 in 1896, 100 in 1901 and $500 in 1903. This is the equivalent to roughly $14,000 today.
Image courtesy of www.library.ubc.ca
The Immigration Act
Canada implemented the first immigration policy following Confederation. This act ensured the safety immigrants on their route to Canada and ensured they were not taken advantage of upon arrival . This policy by the government was put in place to attract European descent immigrants to the west.
“Cover of Canada West.”, 1922, (CU11054187) by Unknown. Courtesy of Glenbow Library and Archives Collection, Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections, University of Calgary.
South Asian migration to Canada commences
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. This resulted in South Asian migration to Canada.
Image courtesy of http://komagatamarujourney.ca/node/9110
Coronation of Edward VII originated South Asian Immigration
The first Sikhs to travel across Canada in 1902 were part of a Hong Kong military regiment en route to England to taking 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. They arrived in Victoria on the Empress of Japan before sailing to Vancouver for a grand welcome. Upon arriving they were inspected by the head of the Armed Forces in Canada, General Sir Charles Parsons. The Sikh contingent left by train to Montreal where they embarked for England with the Canadian contingent on June 14, 1902.
Image courtesy of www.legacy.sikhpioneers.org website
First South Asian men arrived in Vancouver and Victoria
By mid 1903 five men had landed in Vancouver and five in Victoria. Altogether approximately 30 men came between 1903-04 as immigrants to Canada. Without exception the first few hundred South Asian immigrants to Canada came from Hong Kong or one of the other British Far Eastern strongholds. The majority of them were Sikhs.
Source courtesy of : Continous Journey, A Social History of South Asians in Canada. pg.7
South Asian immigration starts to increase in Canada.
The number of South Asians in Vancouver number around 100-150, with majority of them being Sikhs.
Image courtesy of Continous Journey, A Social History of South Asians in Canada pg. 7
Government raises the Chinese Head Tax
The Canadian government raises the Chinese head tax from $100 to $500, putting restrictions on immigration, attracting less skillful workers for the labour market and the CPR shipping lines. Due to the decrease in immigration from the East to Canada, the labour force was suffering. By March 1906, there were fewer than 300 South Asians in B.C.
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.
Article courtesy of the SASI website http://www.ufv.ca/sasi/research/pdfs/
In August 1907, the Asiatic Exclusion league was formed in Vancouver, with the support of both the liberal and conservative local associations. September 7, 1907 Hundreds of people broke out into riots through Vancouver’s Asian district to protest Asian Immigration to Canada. They did extensive damage to the Chinese and Japanese businesses and homes.
Image courtesy of Library and Archives Canada
The Canadian government's first attempt to restrict immigration
The government passes an order-in-council on January 8, 1908 prohibiting immigration of persons that did not travel on a continous journey to Canada
Article courtesy of www.pier21.ca website.
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.
The federal government imposed a $200 tax on all Asian immigrants on arrival into Canada. The strict regulations were put into effect to prevent the entry of wives and families of residing South Asians.
Immigration from Fiji
In February 1908, six South Asians from Fiji made the first attempt according to the passage regulation. they sailed from Fiji, but were held for deportation due to the interpretation of the immigration officials of the Continuous Passage Regulations Act.
Continuous Journey, A Social History of South Asians in Canada. pg. 24
First Sikh gurdwara in North America was built on 1866- West 2nd Ave. Vancouver, BC
January 19, 1908 The first official South Asian organization in Canada was established. The Vancouver Khalsa Diwan Society was created early in the year to deal with the expansion of Sikh religious establishments.
Image courtesy of http://komagatamarujourney.ca/node/9739
The Guru Nanak Mining and Trust created
The interest in real estate for South Asians lead to the creation of the Guru Nanak Mining and Trust Company in Vancouver. Teja Singh supported this company to buy and develop agriculture land for the South Asians. This company was one of the earliest entrepreneurial ventures by South Asians in British Columbia.
South Asians workers employed across BC in mills, farms, and logging sites.
By 1909, in the lower Fraser valley alone, 35 South Asians were working on farms in Mission and Matsqui, 15 worked in construction in Abbotsford while 160 worked at mills in Abbotsford, Huntington and Harrison mills. Another 40 were workers at a brick company in clay burn.
Image courtesy of the www.komagatamarujourney.ca website
The Immigration Act is amended
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 South Asian immigration.
Completion of the Gur Sikh Temple in Abbotsford
In 1908 local Fraser Valley Sikh settlers carry donated lumber from the local Trethewey Lumber Mill to begin the work of building a Sikh Gurdwara . The construction of the Gur Sikh Temple in Abbotsford, under the auspices of Khalsa Diwan Society, is officially completed, in the year 1911 . The gurdwara officially opens in 1912. On March 1, 1912 Sant Teja Singh speaks to the Abbotsford congregation.
Delegation Travels to Ottawa
A delegation led by Dr. Sundar Singh is sent to Ottawa to plead for more relaxed immigration regulations to allow the entry of wives and children of the South Asian men residing in British Columbia.
Article courtesy of http://komagatamarujourney.ca/ website
South Asians arrive on the Panama Maru
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.
Continous Journey, A Social History of South Asians in Canada
May 23, The Komagata Maru arrives with 376 South Asian passengers, 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 passengers. The Komagata Maru is formally ordered out in July. According to the Canadian law of the “continuous Journey” which forbids immigrants on ships from travelling to Canada unless they are sailing straight from their country of origin. The Komagata Maru had sailed to Canada via Hong Kong, having challenged the Canadian law of continuous Journey and therefore being returned.
Image courtesy of: http://komagatamarujourney.ca/
Execution of Bhai Mewa Singh
On the morning of January 11, 1915, hundreds of South Asians wait outside the penitentiary to receive Bhai Mewa Singh’s body for cremation. Bhai Mewa Singh was executed for his assasination of immigration inspector William Hopkinson. He is cremated at the Fraser Mills where a large number of Sikh men work.
Ticket to view Mewa Singh’s Hanging.
Image courtesy of Library Archives of Canada
Mayo Singh establishes Logging operations in Paldi (Cowichan Valley).
Mayo Singh establishes logging operations iin Paldi ( Cowichan Valley). The company establishes a community and provides jobs and housing for South Asians, Japanese, Chinese and Europeans. The Mayo Lumber Company built a Sikh Temple near Duncan, BC at Paldi. This town is name after Mayo Singh’s village in India.
Image courtesy of http://komagatamaru website
The immigration restriction on bringing wives and children under the age of eighteen from India are lifted.
December, Order in Council ( PC2498) an immigrant in Canada was allowed to apply for his family. Only eleven dependents were allowed in between 1914-1922. (- Buchignani, pg. 66) The immigration application procedure in India for families to enter into Canada was a very difficult and lengthy process.
Image courtesy of The Banga family, Abbotsford
The government restricts entry into Canada for some South Asians
“From 1921 on, the government stiffened entry further by setting three years as the maximum time a South Asian Canadian could be out of the country without losing domicile, registering out certificate or not. The majority of men who had returned to the families in India prior to 1920 were never allowed back into Canada and were lost forever to the community. An adequate system of registering families in India was not worked out until 1924-25 and many men were so concerned that they would not be let back into Canada that they were reluctant to go to India to get their families. During the five-year period between fiscal 1914-194 and 1920-21, only one South Asian family member was allowed into Canada” (Buchignani et al, 1985, p. 72).
South Asian Businesses Grow
By the year 1923 South Asians in British Columbia were a small size community but still managed to own or operate a number of businesses.
SOUTH ASIAN BUSINESSES IN BRITISH COLUMBIA, 1923.
Types of Businesses Number Logging Camps 7 Lumber Companies 6 Shingle Factories 2 Grocery Stores 2 Fuel Dealerships 60 Farms 25 TOTAL 102
Continuous Journey, A Social History of South Asians in Canada
By 1924 the majority of the South Asians residing in British Columbia were employed in lumber mills across the province.
609 out of 680 South Asians were employed in the lumber mills. ( -Buchignani pg. 80) There were many changes in the economic situation of South Asians in Canada in 1920’s.
Image courtesy of the Vancouver Public Library
Sir Rabindranath Tagore visits
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. Tagore was introduced to the community members at the Victoria theatre, where hundreds of people attend. He also visits the West 2nd Avenue Gurdwara.
Image courtesy of http://komagatamarujourney.ca/
Co-operative Commonwealth Federation , a democratic socialist party.
The CCF, was founded in 1932, it was formed by farm and labour organizations in the western provinces of Canada . CCF supported the South Asian right to vote and would figure prominently in applying the necessary political pressure to improve the lives of South Asians in Canada.
Mayo Lumber Company's mill burns down.
This was a tragic economic loss to the South Asian community. Only two mills remained open; Hillcrest Lumber Company and the Yuba Lumber Mill. Quite a few men went back to India, to wait out the depression on their family farms. (Buchignani, pg. 89)
Hillcrest Sikh Temple
On September 7, the Hillcrest Sikh temple opens (4 miles from Duncan). A parade is held to celebrate the opening.
Dr. Pandia goes to Ottawa
Dr. D.P. Pandia, an Indian lawyer and former secretary to Gandhi, travels to Ottawa to petition for the plight of “illegal” South Asian immigrants living in British Columbia. The Federal government agrees not to deport them as long as they are willing to come forward and register.
The IWA Union gives equal pay for Asian workers (millworkers) The union disputed the inadequate bunkhouse conditions tolerated by South Asian and Chinese worker at Fraser Mills and other plants.
South Asian immigrants are granted franchise to vote and become Canadian citizens.
Attaining the franchise after a forty- year struggle, was also a powerful step towards changing the continuous passage restriction law. Dr. Pandia plays a key role in assisting the journey of South Asians enfranchisement in British Columbia
Commissioner Hardit S. Malik
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
First South Asian woman graduates from High school
Nsibe Kaur Puri, a resident of British Columbia, becomes the first Sikh woman to graduate from high school.
Image courtesy of
Quota system for South Asian Immigration
The government starts a change in the policy of South Asians in Canada. A quota system is started for South Asian immigration. The quota is set to 150 Indian, 100 Pakistanis and 50 Ceylonese per year to allowed to migrate to Canada. ( Buchignani pg. 104)
The Canadian Government allows South Asian Canadians to sponsor a wide range of relatives, including mothers, and fathers over the age of 65. ( Buchignani pg. 105)
Image courtesy of Dhaliwal family, Abbotsford
Migration of Gujaratis, Bengalis, Tamils, Sinhalese and Angelo Indians from Pakistan.
First four Fijian Indians set sail to Vancouver in response to a newspaper article on Canadian immigration point system. They then send letters to relatives and friends leading to others making their way to Canada. ( Buchignani, pg. 149)
The Government removes almost all racial and national restrictions from its Immigration regulations
The Canadian government adopts new immigration rules in 1962, ending the quota-by-country system. The Immigration Act of 1967 establishes a new point system for determining immigration eligibility. Immigration between the years 1962-1971 was twelve times more than in the early 1900s.
First Mosque in British Columbia
The first Mosque in British Columbia is built by the Pakistan Canada Association on 655- West 8th Avenue, ( Al- Jamia Masjid) It was the first mosque that allowed the Muslim community to grow and form the BC Muslim Association ( BCMA).
A new immigration regulation based on a points system is introduced
The new policy assigned ” points” based on criteria like language fluency, education and job skills. Immigration from South Asian countries increased drastically during the period between 1970 and 1979. Canada began its immigration shift towards becoming a multicultural country.
Image courtesy of: https://edmontonjournal.com
In August the President of Uganda, Idi Amin, ordered the expulsion of the country’s Asian minority
Giving them 90 days notice to leave the country. At that time there were 80,000 individuals of South Asian descent in Uganda. Gujaratis were accepted as political refugees in Canada. Goans also came to Canada during the expulsion.
More than 7,000 Ugandan Asian immigrants came to Canada
It’s the first time in Canadian history that Canada accepts a large group of non-European refugees. Many of them were Ismailis. ( About 1600 settled in British Columbia) Many were professionals or business owners.
John Halani’s interview https://carleton.ca/uganda-collection/people/john-halani/
Image courtesy of library and archives of Canada
Dasmesh Punjabi school opens
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.
First South Asian Supreme Court Judge
The Honourable Wally Oppal is appointed a Supreme Court judge. He later conducts the Royal Inquiry to Policing in British Columbia.
For more information: https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/cntrng-crm/cfac/chr-en.aspx
First South Asian Professional Football Player
David Sidoo, born and raised in New Westminster becomes the first South Asian drafted to UBC to play professional football with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League (CFL)
Image courtesy of https://www.canadianfootballcards.com website
First South Asian elected to any Federal or Provincial riding.
Manmohan ( Moe) Sahota from Esquimalt is elected cabinet minister. He is appointed Minister of Labour and Consumer Services as well as Minister Responsible for Constitutional Affair
Image courtesy of: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moe_Sihota
A 59 metre Tramp Steamer named Amelie carries 174 refugees to Nova Scotia
174 men and one woman from India, mostly Sikhs from the Punjab state, wade ashore on Nova Scotia’s southwestern shore. The battered freighter that carried them, the Amelie, is later seized by the RCMP at sea and towed to Halifax. Sikhs claimed refugee status for being persecuted in their homeland.
Image courtesy of https://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca
First South Asian to play in the NHL
Robin N. Bawa a North Cowichan native is signed by the Washington Capitals of the National Hockey League ( NHL).
Commemorating the Komagata Maru Incident
The Municipal, Provincial, and Federal Governments jointly place a plaque commemorating the Komagata Maru Incident at Portal Park in Vancouver on May 23.
Image courtesy of: http://www.readtheplaque.com
First Sikh joins the RCMP
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.
Image courtesy of http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca website
Vancouver’s Punjabi Market at 49th Avenue and Main Street was officially recognized with bilingual signs in English and Punjabi.
Gurbax Singh Mahli and Harbans (Herb) Dhaliwal are the first Sikhs elected to the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa.
The British Columbia Government officially recognizes the Vaisakhi Parade and publishes a brochure.
Punjabi language becomes part of the public school curriculum
In September, British Columbia schools started to offer Punjabi language in its regular curriculum from grades five to twelve.
A Commemorative stamp for the 300th anniversary of Khalsa
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.
First South Asian Premier in BC
Ujjal Dosanjh is elected as the 33rd Premier of British Columbia after serving as an MLA, Attorney General, Provincial Minister. MP, and Federal Minister.
Designated as a National Historic Site of Canada
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.
National Hockey Broadcasting in Punjabi
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) begins broadcasting Hockey Games in Punjabi with hosts Parminder Singh and Harnarayan Singh.
Image courtesy of: https://awfulannouncing.com
Sri Lankan refugees arrive in BC
The MV Sun Sea, a cargo ship, brings 492 Sri Lankan Tamils to British Columbia. They are seeking shelter as refugees in Canada.
Tamil migrants look over the side of the MV Sun Sea. (image courtesy of Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)
The Sikh Heritage Museum first exhibit
The Sikh Heritage Museum located within the National Historic Site, Guru Sikh Temple in Abbotsford officially opens in commemoration of the Centennial year of the Gur Sikh Temple (est. 1911). The first exhibit highlights the early Sikh settlers in the Valley who helped build the site.
Highest number of South Asians elected in Federal elections
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.
Image courtesy of: http://shmc.ca/
Canada Apologizes for the Komagata Maru
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.”
The 40 year struggle for the vote exhibit
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.