Watch a documentary about the Indian immigrant community in Peterborough, Ontario. From YouTube.
View highlights of a traditional Indian wedding ceremony in Toronto, Ontario. From YouTube.
The ethnic diversity of South Asian Canadians reflects the enormous cultural variability of South Asia's people. About half of South Asian Canadians were born in India, where 14 major languages are spoken and hundreds of discrete ethnic groups exist. This pluralism extends to religion; although approximately 80% of Indians are Hindus, over 50 million practise Islam, and 15 million practise SIKHISM. Many others are Christian or Jain. Islam is the predominant religion in Pakistan and Bangladesh, yet both countries are culturally diverse. A third major world religion, BUDDHISM, is practised by most Sri Lankans, but large Hindu, Christian and Muslim religious minority groups exist among Sri Lankans as well. Communities established outside South Asia are much more homogeneous, and in each community people have developed a unique identity and way of life which is distinct from any in South Asia.
The first South Asian migrants to Canada arrived in Vancouver in 1903. The great majority of them were Sikhs who had heard of Canada from British Indian troops in Hong Kong, who had travelled through Canada the previous year on their way to the coronation celebrations of Edward VII. Attracted by high Canadian wages, they soon found work. Immigration thereafter increased quickly and totalled 5209 by the end of 1908; all of these immigrants were men who had temporarily left their families to find employment in Canada. Perhaps 90% were Sikhs, primarily from Punjab farming backgrounds. Virtually all of them remained in BC.
Seeing in them the same racial threat as it saw in JAPANESE CANADIANS and CHINESE immigrants before them, the BC government quickly limited South Asian rights and privileges. In 1907 South Asians were provincially disenfranchised, which denied them the federal vote and access to political office, jury duty, the professions, public-service jobs and labour on public works. In the following year the federal government enacted an immigration regulation which specified that immigrants had to travel to Canada with continuous-ticketing arrangements from their country of origin. There were no such arrangements between India and Canada and, as was its intent, the continuous-journey provision consequently precluded further South Asian immigration. This ban separated men from their families and made further growth of the community impossible.
Vigorous court challenges of the regulations proved ineffective and in 1913 frustration with government treatment culminated in the evolution of the Ghadar Party, an organization which aimed at the overthrow of British rule in India. The immigration ban was directly challenged in 1914, when the freighter KOMAGATA MARU sailed from Hong Kong to Canada with 376 prospective South Asian immigrants. The continuous-ticketing requirement that was enacted to prevent immigration from ships such as the Komagata Maru had the desired effect and, because the ship had not arrived directly from India but had come to Canada via Hong Kong, where it had picked up passengers of Indian descent from Shanghai, Moji and Yokohama, prevented immigration of its passengers. Immigration officials isolated the ship in Vancouver harbour for 2 months, and it was forced to return to Asia. Revolutionary sentiment thereafter reached a high pitch, and many men returned to India to work for Ghadar.
The federal government's continuous-journey provision remained law until 1947, as did most BC anti-South Asian legislation. Because of community pressure and representations by the government of India, Canada allowed the wives and dependent children of South Asian Canadian residents to immigrate in 1919, and by the mid-1920s a small flow of wives and children had been established. This did not counter the effect of migration by South Asian Canadians to India and the US, which by the mid-1920s had reduced the South Asian population in Canada to about 1300.
During the 1920s South Asian economic security increased, primarily through work in the lumber industry and the sale of wood and sawdust as home heating fuel. In addition, a number of lumber mills were acquired by South Asians, two of which employed over 300 people. The effects of the GREAT DEPRESSION on the community were severe but were mitigated by extensive mutual aid. By WWII South Asians in BC had gained much local support in their drive to secure the vote, especially from the CO-OPERATIVE COMMONWEALTH FEDERATION. In 1947 the BC ban against voting, as well as other restrictions, were removed.
Faced with the coming independence of India, the federal government removed the continuous-passage regulation in the same year, replacing it in 1951 by an annual immigration quota for India (150 a year), Pakistan (100) and Ceylon (50). At that time there were only 2148 South Asians in Canada. Moderate expansion of immigration increased the Canadian total to 6774 by 1961, then grew it to 67 925 by 1971. By 2006 the South Asian population in Canada was 1 316 770.
As racial and national restrictions were removed from the immigration regulations in the 1960s, South Asian immigration mushroomed. It also became much more culturally diverse; a large proportion of immigrants in the 1950s were the Sikh relatives of pioneer South Asian settlers, while the 1960s also saw sharp increases in immigration from other parts of India and from Pakistan. By the early 1960s, two-thirds of South Asian immigrant men were professionals - teachers, doctors, university professors and scientists. Canadian preferences for highly skilled immigrants during 1960-70 broadened the ethnic range of South Asians and hence decreased the proportion of Sikhs. Nondiscriminatory immigration regulations enacted in 1967 resulted in a further dramatic increase in South Asian immigration.
In 1972 all South Asians were expelled from Uganda. Canada accepted 7000 of them (many of whom were Ismailis) as political REFUGEES. Thereafter a steady flow of South Asians have come to Canada from Kenya, Tanzania and Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly known as Zaire), either directly or via Britain. The 1970s also marked the beginning of migration from Fiji, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Mauritius. During 1977-85 a weaker Canadian economy significantly reduced South Asian immigration to about 15 000 a year.
Until the late 1950s, virtually all South Asians lived in BC, but when professional South Asian immigrants came to Canada in larger numbers, they began to settle across the country. The South Asian population of the urban corridor from Metro Toronto to Windsor grew dramatically to about 713 630 in 2006, and India was the number one source country of immigrants settling in Toronto. BC's South Asian population at that time was 265 595, mostly concentrated in the Vancouver area. Virtually all South Asian Canadians live in urban contexts in Ontario (833 315), BC (265 595), Alberta (107 690) and Québec (76 990). In addition, some ethnic South Asian populations are quite localized, primarily as the result of chain migration. For example, Sikhs are heavily overrepresented in Vancouver, as are those from Fiji; those from Guyana and Trinidad in Toronto; and Ismailis in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary.
Early Sikhs in BC were almost exclusively involved in the lumber industry. They are still active in this industry, both as workers and mill owners. Skilled South Asian professionals of various ethnocultural backgrounds who arrived between 1960 and 1985 are now well established. The occupational distribution broadened in the 1970s with the arrival of an increasing proportion of South Asian blue- and white-collar workers. The exodus of Ugandan South Asians brought many business people to Canada, many of whom undertook entrepreneurial activities ranging from the ownership of taxis to the control of corporations. The participation of other South Asians in businesses has also been high. In South Asia few middle class women worked outside the home until the 1990s, but Canadian South Asian women have steadily become active participants in the economy in a variety of blue- and white-collar jobs, and a large majority of South Asian women aged 20-45 now have paid work. South Asians have also been involved in farming, especially in BC.
Social Life and Community
South Asian Canadians have such widely varying backgrounds that few generalities can be made about their social and community life. One critical cultural commonality is that they all come from places where extended families, kinship and community relations are extremely important. Generally, immigrants from South Asia quickly accept many Canadian cultural patterns, but they have tried to maintain a core of continuity in family and community practice. Parents generally attempt, often quite unsuccessfully, to instil in their children key South Asian family values. This goes hand in hand with massive acculturation among the population who are Canadian-born. Husband-wife relations are changing, especially as wives acquire access to economic and social resources. Future family changes are likely, particularly in regard to intermarriage, as the second generation matures.
As a rule, informal social links between individuals of similar backgrounds are strong. South Asians do not usually form strongly geographically concentrated urban communities, and relationships are supported chiefly by continual visiting. In contrast, links between the various South Asian communities are extremely weak and are chiefly restricted to contacts among leaders. As a consequence, it is inaccurate to speak of "the" South Asian community of a given place, for there are likely to be many. Contacts between communities most frequently arise when communities are small or where culture, language or religion are shared.
Religious and Cultural Life
South Asian communities vary widely in the emphasis they place on extra-familial cultural activities. As a rule, groups with high ethnic consciousness, eg, Canada's 279 000 Sikhs (2006), maintain a full round of these activities, whereas groups such as Fijians and Guyanese, and South Asians of the professional classes, do not. A similar degree of variability exists in regard to religious institutions. Sikhs are numerous, their identity is both ethnic and religious, and their religious institutions have been in place since the first Canadian Sikh temple was founded in 1908. They have consequently been very successful in establishing and preserving their religion in Canada.
Ismaili Muslims are also both an ethnic and a religious group numbering over 580 000, and they have founded strong religious institutions. Canada's South Asian Sunni Muslims (chiefly from Pakistan and India) have generally allied themselves with other Sunnis in support of panethnic mosques, and they too have effectively transmitted their religion to their children. In Hindu populations of sufficient size, people have established both community-specific and multicommunity Hindu temples which are used by a range of different ethnic groups for prayer, for the presentation of annual ceremonies and for important rituals linked to marriage and death. Sinhalese who practise Buddhism established their first temple in Toronto. (See HINDUISM; ISLAM; SIKHISM.)
Most communities support a variety of other activities and institutions. Nominally religious organizations frequently support language classes for children and cultural activities such as South Asian music and dance. In addition, there are now over 250 South Asian sociocultural associations in Canada. Folk and classical music and dance traditions are popular. In addition, South Asian Canadians now support newspapers and newsletters across Canada. South Asian programming on radio and cable television has expanded rapidly with dedicated programming and channels, especially in major centres.
Until 1965, South Asian politics were devoted primarily to lobbying for elimination of the legal restrictions enacted by the BC Legislature and to changing immigration laws. Since then, South Asians have become increasingly involved on other political fronts. Their associations now actively lobby for government support for cultural programs, for greater access to immigration, and for government action to reduce PREJUDICE AND DISCRIMINATION. South Asians have frequently held local level offices, but their federal participation was not extensive until the 1980s. Sixteen South Asians ran for federal office in 1993, and BC had two South Asian provincial cabinet ministers in the same year. South Asians are sometimes involved in home country politics; for example, Canadian Sikh communities provided support for the post-1983 rights for Sikhs in Punjab.
In 1994 approximately 80% of South Asian Canadians were immigrants. Only the Sikhs have been in Canada long enough to have demonstrated a clear pattern of group maintenance through the generations. Strong group consciousness and minority-group status resulted in high rates of cultural retention among BC Sikhs. Virtually all of the second generation are knowledgeable about Sikh culture and language and marry other Sikhs.
Other groups, eg, Ismailis, Pakistanis and other Sunni Muslims, have stressed religion above cultural and linguistic maintenance. For most South Asian groups, acculturation in the second generation appears extensive, partially due to South Asian patterns of marriage and family maintenance. Whether social integration will be equally thorough will depend chiefly on the future development of relations between South Asians and other Canadians.
Author NORMAN BUCHIGNANI
Norman Buchignani and Doreen Indra, with R. Srivastava, Continuous Journey (1985); R. Kanungo, ed, South Asians in the Canadian Mosaic (1984); G. Kurian and R. Srivastava, eds, Overseas Indians: A Study in Adaptation (1983); S. Sugunasiri, ed, The Search for Meaning: The Literature of South Asian Canadian Writers (1983); M. Israel, In the Further Soil: A Social History of Indo-Canadians in Ontario (1994).
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Multiculturalism Day
Canadian Heritage's guide to celebrating Canadian Multiculturalism Day.
PASSAGES TO CANADA
Immigrants to Canada from around the world have encountered many hardships, opportunities, and successes as they set out to establish a better life for themselves and their families in their adopted country. Listen to some of their personal stories at the "Passages to Canada" website. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
This beautifully illustrated site explores the relationship between East and West from earliest times to the present with a focus on the very complex Asian experience in Canada. Search for specific topics and themes. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples
The website for the "Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples." Click on the links for feature articles about Canada's many multicultural communities, access to their extensive digital archives collection, learning modules, and much more. From "Multicultural Canada."
The Komagata Maru: Continuing the Journey
A comprehensive online resource that explores the infamous 1914 Komagata Maru "incident" through primary documents, oral histories, private archives, art works, and interviews. From Simon Fraser University.
The Voyage of the Komagata Maru
A synopsis of the book "The Voyage of the Komagata Maru." From the website for UBCPress.
Serving others is in Narine Dat Sookram’s blood
An article about Narine Dat Sookram, award-winning Guyanese Canadian community organizer, volunteer, and entrepreneur. From sharnews.com.
This site is dedicated to Diwali, a community-based South Asian performing arts festival and celebration of the beginning of the New Year. Check out the introductory video and photo gallery of previous events.
Ethnocultural Portrait of Canada
This website offers Canadian population data (2006) by ethnic origin. Also, find information for individual provinces and territories by clicking the "Select a view" window above the chart. For more information, click on the "Ethnocultural Portrait of Canada" link at the top of the page. From the website for Statistics Canada.
The website for explorASIAN, celebrating Asian Heritage Month in Canada.
Virtual Museum of Asian Canadian Cultural Heritage
A wide-ranging online resource about Asian Canadian history and culture. Also features profiles of prominent Asian Canadians. From the Canadian Foundation for Asian Culture (Central Ontario) Inc.
The website for AsiaNetwork Canada, a network that promotes awareness of Asian culture and heritage in Canada. Also sponsors the annual AsiaNetwork Asian of the Year Awards, which recognize extraordinary Canadian citizens of Asian descent.
The West Asian Community in Canada
A profile of Canadians of West Asian origin from Statistics Canada.
Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada
An extensive resource about economic, security, political and social issues related to Canada's relations with Asia. Check out the "National Conversation on Asia" to voice your opinions about key Canada-Asia issues.
A map of South Asia from the United Nations website.
A map of the South Asia region from the website for the United Nations.
A map of the Middle East and North Africa from the United Nations website.
Asian Religion and Ethics Unit
The website for the Asian Religion and Ethics Unit at the Faculty of Religious studies of McGill University.
100 South Asians who are making a difference in British Columbia
Brief profiles of 100 leading British Columbia citizens from a truly global mosaic of communities hailing from South Asia. From The Vancouver Sun.
Canadian Asian Studies Association
The website for the Canadian Asian Studies Association, a national voluntary, non-profit organization which seeks to expand and disseminate knowledge about Asia in Canada.
Transplanting the Hindustani Classical Music Tradition
A brief note about Wasanti Paranjape and Regula Qureshi and their commitment to raising the awareness of Hindustani music in the Edmonton cultural community. From the University of Alberta's Canadian Centre for Ethnomusicology.
TD Festival of South Asia
The website for Toronto's TD Festival of South Asia featuring South Asian music, cuisine and culture.
Traditional Indian Wedding
View highlights of a traditional Indian wedding ceremony in Toronto, Ontario. From YouTube.
Punjabi Music - Utsavam at The Horniman
View a video that examines the Punjab and its music - from folk music to bhangra. Featuring footage from the Utsavam Exhibition at the Horniman Museum (London, UK), interviews with its curators and musical experts like DJ Ritu and Sonia Mehta of ADFED. From YouTube.
Watch a documentary about the Indian immigrant community in Peterborough, Ontario. From YouTube.
Some Kind of Arrangement
Watch a documentary film online about a modern twist to the age-old tradition of arranged marriages. From the National Film Board of Canada.
South Asia Calling
The website for South Asia Calling, a free festival showcasing the diversity of South Asian culture through music, film, dance, food and visual arts. From the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto.
Transcultural Dialogues: Asma Sayed Examines Linguistic Hybridity in South Asian Canadian Writing
This article concerns research into South Asian Canadian writers and the the interrelationship of language, culture, and diaspora. From the University of Alberta.
Komagata Maru memorial approved for Vancouver
A CBC News story about a Vancouver memorial marking the Komagata Maru incident.
An Intellectual History of Islam in India
Read the full text of Aziz Ahmad's scholarly work "An Intellectual History of Islam in India." From the questia.com website.
Ont. musician mixes cultures for Bollywood mash-up
A CTV News story about composer and producer Vikas Kohli creating fusions of North American and South Asian sounds.
The website for the Goan Overseas Association, an organization that seeks to preserve the Goan identity and develop a wider appreciation of Goan culture throughout the Greater Toronto Area and worldwide. Features an overview of the history of the Goan community in Canada and the latest news about related social, cultural, athletic, and educational activities.
Bollywood at the Naaz Theatre
A feature on the creation of North America's first Bollywood cinema, the Naaz Theatre, in Toronto. From Toronto in Time.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...