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A timeline of South Asian Canadian History

Posted on 27 June 2013 by admin

Badri Murali


            For over a hundred years, South Asians have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into this country. We have had a long and important presence in Canada since the turn of the century. What was once a hostile and discriminatory environment for any minority, is now a land that welcomes everyone. The policy of multiculturalism has changed the makeup of the country. As the world’s second largest country celebrates 146 years of independence, here is a timeline of a few important milestones in South Asian Canadian history, celebrating and remembering the red, the white, and the brown.

 1902 – The first South Asians were a group of Sikh soldiers who were in Victoria, B.C. to celebrate the coronation of King Edward VIII. They saw a land with plenty of opportunities for hard workers, and for the next five years, more and more Punjabi men come seeking a better life. Most men work the sawmills of the interior of B.C.

 1908 – Construction begins on the first Sikh temple in North America in Abbotsford, B.C., and is officially declared open Feb. 26, 1912. It was named the Gur Sikh Temple, and has been designated as a National Historical Site of Canada.

 1908 – The Canadian government implements the “continuous journey” act, requiring immigrants to travel directly from country of birth or citizenship to Canada. This drastically reduces the amount of Indians arriving in Canada.

On May 23, 1914, the Komagata Maru landed in Vancouver, B.C. This ship was carrying 376 Indians, mostly Sikh, but included Hindus and Muslims. However, Canadian and provincial authorities prevented the passengers from disembarking, because they did not directly come to Canada from their point of origin (the ship stopped in Hong Kong and Japan after leaving from India) The authorities were waiting, and for two months, did not allow anyone to leave the ship. On July 23, 1914, the ship was forced to leave and return to Asia. This incident displayed the blatant hostility the Canadian government had towards Indian immigrants.

 April 2, 1947 – South Asians are finally allowed to vote and participate in politics across Canada.

 1972 – Idi Amin expels all Asians out of Uganda. The primarily Gujarati community numbered close to 90,000 arrives in Canada and Canada accepts 7,000 refugees.

 1960’s-70’s – Immigration laws are gradually amended to allow skilled immigrants from around the world, without emphasis on nation of origin or ethnicity. This allows tens of thousands of South Asians to immigrate to Canada.

 1983 – Ethnic tensions lead to communal rioting in Sri Lanka, causing almost 500,000 Tamil people to flee the country. Canada provides refugee status to tens of thousands fleeing the conflict, with the majority of them settling in Toronto.

 June 23, 1985 is the date of Canada’s worst mass murder. Air India Flight 182 exploded over the Irish coast, after departing from Toronto’s Pearson International Airport destined for London’s Heathrow International. This attack was organized by a small group of Sikh extremists, in retaliation for the Indian government’s military actions in the Golden Temple in 1984. All 329 people on board were killed, in what was Canada’s deadliest terror attack.

 In 1986, Moe Sihota became the first South Asian to be elected to a legislature in Canada. Sihota was a member of the New Democratic Party, and represented the riding of Esquimalt-Metchosin in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. He held the position until 2001.

 In 1987, Ontario had its first Member of Provincial Parliament of South Asian descent elected. Murad Velshi was the Liberal MPP for the riding of Don Mills, and held the position from 1987-90.

 July 21, 1988, was the date that the Canadian Multiculturalism Act became law, enforcing that Canada is a society built on the contributions and hard work of all its peoples, and development can occur through harmonious coexistence.

 1993 was an important year, because three South Asians were elected to the House of Commons in Ottawa for the first time. Gurbax Singh Malhi of Bramalea-Gore-Malton, Herb Dhaliwal of Vancouver South and Jag Bhaduria of Markham-Whitchurch-Stouffville, all members of the Liberal Party, became the first South Asian Members of Parliament in Canada.

 In 1997 Rahim Jaffer became the first Muslim to be elected to the House of Commons. Jaffer is of Ismaili origin, his family being from Uganda. He represented the riding of Edmonton-Strathcona from 1997-2008 as a Conservative MP.

 2001 was when South Asian Heritage Month was signed into law in Ontario’s Legislature, to recognize and pay tribute to the contributions made by the South Asian community.

 In 2010, Naheed Nenshi becomes the first Muslim mayor of a major Canadian city, Calgary, AB. His family is of Ismaili origin, from Tanzania.

 A 2011 National Household Survey, conducted by Statistics Canada, shows that approximately 1.6 million people identify as South Asian, amongst a national population of close to 33 million.

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