Exploring The Rich History And Contributions Of The Sikh-South Asian Community In Mission

By Ken Herar

I am honoured and privileged to being doing a three-part series on the history and contributions of the South Asian (Sikh) community of Mission in celebration of the 125th anniversary of our city.

Having been born and raised in Mission and coming from a pioneer Sikh family, the diverse history and the amazing personalities that have shaped our town is a story that needs to be shared. Every generation has their diversity story that rejuvenates with them. Looking and examining the young history of my community is that of struggles, inspiration and love for community. One thing is very clear is that looking back at the125 years and as Canada celebrates its 150th, we as a collective community can be extremely proud of our hometown, where diversity flourishes.

South Asians, who came from the Punjab, felt very comfortable to live in such a friendly community where foreigners were welcomed with such warmth. My mother Kuldip  often shares a defining example when she came to Mission it was the kind Rotarians and citizens, who took her out to go shopping because her English wasn’t perfect just, yet. These are the kinds of stories I constantly hear from other South Asian families where neighbours were getting to know their neighbours while adjusting to their new home country.

Many of the South Asian families started arriving in the 1930’s and Mission City was an attractive place where the mill and lumber industry were thriving. Even though the Sikh temple was in Abbotsford the majority of the Sikh families resided in Mission City. South Asian families came with very little to Canada and had to make many personal sacrifices to provide for their families. Pioneer Sikh families made a real big effort to adjust to their new land by learning English and wearing western clothing when outside of their home.  Some even took off their turbans because they wanted to fit in and didn’t want to be looked down upon or discriminated against. In a 2006 census, 2,220 South Asian visible minorities resided in Mission, making up 63.2% of the city’s visible minorities, and 2,180 persons in Mission claimed South Asian ancestry, making up 3.8% of the total persons in the city.

When we look back at the last century and a quarter, in my humble opinion there have been four memorable moments that are cemented in history for the South Asian community that Mission City is our home. In 1950, Naranjan Grewall became the first Hindu in Canada, as it was phrased at that time to public office, where the voting franchise was extended to visible minorities groups in 1947. In 1954, he was appointed to the position of mayor of Mission City by the board and later ran for the CCF in the Dewdney riding in 1956. On October 27th, 1965 in this paper the East Indian Community of Mission as it was phrased, are pictured donating a cheque to the local hospital setting an example that cross cultural relationships were essential.

On July 23rd, 1977 there was a violent incident that took place in Downtown Mission where a few members from the South Asian community got in a violent fight with each other. The Concerned Canadian East Indians Citizens of Mission took ownership and took an ad in this paper to apologize for the actions of a few. This outpouring gesture showcases that they wanted to be recognized as Canadians first and foremost and didn’t want any stigma or stereotypical comments attached to a young growing Sikh community.

The opening of the Sikh Temple on the Lougheed Hwy in 1989 was also a major highlight. The struggles and the divisive debates that occurred in the previous years to get it zoned and built is long behind us now.

Ken “Kulwinder” Herar is a Mission-based writer and a winner of the champions of diversity award for his columns in the LINK newspaper and other Fraser Valley newspapers. Herar can be reached atkenherar@gmail.com or view his blog at http://www.kenherar.blogspot.com


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