Celebrating South Asian contributions to B.C.’s shared history

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Christy1The South Asian contribution to the province’s and the country’s shared history will be on permanent display in the B.C. legislature after today’s announcement by Premier Christy Clark that an historically symbolic flag would be installed inside the Parliament Buildings.

The 1874 version of the Red Ensign flag is one of the first Canadian flags to display the emblem of British Columbia after the province joined Confederation in 1871.

The flag was presented to the province by Steven Purewal, founder of Indus Media Foundation Canada, in honour of the contributions made to British Columbia, Canada, and the British Crown by the Punjabi community.

It is dedicated to Kesur Singh, a Risaldar Major Captain in the British Indian Army who arrived in B.C. as one of Canada’s first Sikh immigrants. It is the version of the Canadian flag that would have flown over government buildings when he arrived.

“With Remembrance Day two weeks away, this is a meaningful time to commemorate our history – and better understand how we got to today,” said Premier Clark. “The prosperous, free, and multicultural province we’re so fortunate to call home was built through the hard work and sacrifice of people who came from halfway around the world in search of a better life.”

cadetsMany early South Asian Sikh pioneers were veterans of colonial Punjabi regiments that had served the Crown since 1849, when Punjab became part of the British Empire.

They came to Canada looking for a better life, but faced difficult conditions. In 1914, the Komagata Maru ship carrying 376 passengers from India was turned away from the port in Vancouver. In 2008, the B.C. Legislature formal apologized for the incident.

During the First World War Punjabi soldiers were fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with Canadians. They suffered enormous losses – and in death, 100 years after the war, they lie beside their Canadian brothers-in-arms in 17 cemeteries scattered across French and Belgian Flanders.

“This centennial is an opportunity to commemorate those who lost their lives, but also to engage today’s youth and diverse communities about the significance of the sacrifices that were made,” said Purewal. “During WWI, nearly 500,000 Punjabis fought in a joint cause with Canada, despite the discriminatory conditions prevailing at the time — their service and notion of duty was truly remarkable.”

Premier Clark and Purewal were joined by members of Surrey-based 3300 British Columbia Regiment (Bhai Kanhaiya) Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps, along with leaders from B.C.’s Sikh communities.

christy2The history and contributions of the South Asian communities to B.C. are part of the province’s new K-12 curriculum being phased in over the next three years.

“We’re not just talking about history, we’re talking about today,” said Premier Clark. “B.C. is a place where we recognize and embrace the contributions of all diverse communities, including South Asians, including First Nations, including Europeans – and celebrate the new generation moving forward.”

Quick Facts:

  • B.C. is the most ethnically diverse province in Canada and welcomes nearly 40,000 new immigrants every year.
  • Sikhs are the largest South Asian ethnic group in Canada.
  • Established in 2013, the 3300 RCACC is the first cadet corps in Canada to embrace the Sikh culture and contribution to Canada’s military history as part of their corps identity.
  • One-quarter of the people in B.C. are self-identified visible minorities.
  • Since 1990, B.C.’s Multicultural Advisory Council has promoted cross-cultural understanding and supports the British Columbia Multicultural Awards.

Learn More:

Indus Media Foundation Canada: http://imfc.org

Remembering the Komagata Maru:https://news.gov.bc.ca/stories/remembering-the-komagata-maru

Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps: www.cadets.ca

B.C.’s new curriculum: https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/

BC’s Education Plan: http://www.bcedplan.ca/