My Journey to Canada: Part 10..........by Balwant Sanghera
March 28, 2021: The aviation industry in the early 1960s was just growing. When I landed at Vancouver airport from New Delhi, via Tehran, London, Prestwick, and Winnipeg at the end of January 1966 our Vancouver airport was still very small. It is now the South terminal for mostly local air traffic.
Since then, Vancouver International Airport (YVR) has undergone tremendous growth. It has now become one of the best airports in the world. Another interesting feature of YVR is that it is the only airport in the world that greets passengers in Punjabi along with some other languages. This is a reflection of the Punjabi community’s contribution and recognition. It has been a very tough and challenging struggle for our pioneers and their descendants to reach this point.
From a few hundred of our pioneers at the beginning of the twentieth century, our community has now grown to more than a million. A recent headline in the media, including the popular Indo-Canadian community newspaper The Link, declared that 200 Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) occupy leadership positions in 15 Countries including Canada. 60 of them hold Cabinet positions.
Headlines like this are reflective of the adventurous and hard-working nature of members of the Indian diaspora including Punjabis. For a long time, western countries, including Canada, have been the favorite emigration destinations for Punjabis in particular.
In the Punjabi community, it has been a majority of Sikhs who took the initiative to try their luck in foreign lands including Canada. For example, in 1904, there were 258 Sikhs in Metro Vancouver.
During the next three years 5,000 immigrants, mostly Sikhs from Punjab arrived in Canada. On January 19, 1908, the first Sikh Parade (Nagar Kirtan) took place to celebrate the opening of the Khalsa Diwan Society’s Gurdwara at 1866 West Second Avenue in Vancouver.
The prevailing racism against Asians resulted in the Asian Exclusion Act and very restrictive immigration rules by the government. Consequently, the Asian community, including ours was hit very hard. By 1918 the number of people of Indian heritage, mostly Sikhs, had declined to only 700.
However, our pioneers led by the Khalsa Diwan Society, Vancouver never gave up. Their efforts resulted in the loosening of immigration rules and our community began to grow again.
1947 was the turning point for our community in Canada as India became independent from the British. Our pioneers regained the right to vote. This sparked gradual progress and increased immigration from India. Expo 1967 in Montreal and Canada passing the Multiculturalism Act were the other landmarks that gave a big boost to our community.
The arrival of a large number of young professionals from Punjab in the early 1970s completely changed the demographics and dynamics of our community. It has never looked back. Members of our community began to take an active part in the political process.
Also, several new Gurdwaras opened up. Now we have elected officials at every level-local, provincial and federal. Festivals like Vaisakhi and Diwali have become mainstream.
The latest Nagar Kirtan held in Vancouver before the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic attracted more than 150,000 people. The one in Surrey is reported to be the largest Nagar Kirtan outside India as it attracted more than 500,000 people. In addition to its numerical strength, members of our community also stand out in many other ways.
A recent report by a prominent Vancouver Sun reporter Douglas Todd, states that there are more than two million South Asians, the majority of them of Indian heritage who call Canada home. Douglas goes on to state that a vast majority of South Asians have far more educational degrees than the general population. Also, they consider homeownership as their priority.
Consequently, the majority of South Asians own their homes. In short, our community has made huge strides since it arrived in Canada more than 130 years ago.In addition to other things unlike the 1950s or 1960s, they can now even fly directly between India and Canada in less than14 hours. This is how far we have come.
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