New Canadian Media

History

by Anita Singh in Toronto

 In 1904, there were only 40 immigrants from India living in Canada, mostly from the Punjab.  Largely based in Vancouver and surrounding areas, these pioneers came to Canada as labourers, in farms, on the railroad and in factories, creating a foundational community for South Asian immigrants in future decades – which has grown to nearly 1.4 million since the turn of the century.  

As described in a brand-new podcast called ‘The Nameless Collective,’ produced by Jugni Style, the journey towards inclusion for these communities was not always an easy or welcome one.  

The podcast describes the climate of early 20th century Canada.  Previously-settled Canadians were concerned that new immigrants, particularly those from China and India, threatened jobs, culture and a way of life.  Anti-immigrant public opinion was supported by the government, which established a “White Canada” policy, institutionalizing a preference for immigration from Europe.  On the flipside, those from China and India were subject to the Chinese head tax, the continuous journey legislation and ghettoization when arriving in Canada, spotlighted in the recent government apology for the Komagata Maru incident of 1914.  

The hosts, Milan Singh, Paneet Singh, and Naveen Girn, are a self-described team of researchers, time-travellers, detectives and hosts, who tell this history in with an entertaining impression. It unfolds the story of a community, where listeners will be introduced to personalized stories depicting the vividly personal struggles of a small, group of immigrants living and working in a land very different from where they came from. 

The timing and content of this podcast is stunning in its unshakable feeling of familiarity.  In our current political climate, racist killings in Trump’s America, a ban on Muslim immigration, a vote for Brexit in the United Kingdom, make the podcast immediately relevant and scarily contemporary. 

For example, in episode two, the podcast follows the story of two women, Harnam Kaur and Kartar Kaur, wives of prominent members of the Khalsa Diwan society in Vancouver.  In Harnam Kaur’s case, she travelled with her family to from the port of Calcutta to San Francisco enroute to Vancouver.  On reaching the United States, Kaur and her family were held in detention for two months and deported to Hong Kong.  In a second effort, Kaur, her husband and 16 others boarded a ship in Hong Kong destined for Vancouver.   

 

Yet on arrival, Harnam, her son, and the other women on the ship were once again held in detention, while the men on the ship were allowed off to their labour jobs. As discussed by the podcast hosts, the Canadian government was concerned that the arrival of Asian women would begin to settle these unwanted immigrant communities, rather than continuing to be temporary labour migrants. It was several long months of waiting and debating within government, before the women were eventually allowed onto shore.

The strength of the podcast is the willingness of the hosts to go above and beyond to present new evidence and documentation. In episode one, the team makes a huge discovery the archives of the Vancouver public library, diving into a century’s worth of microfiched phone directories.  They found that while ‘mainstream’ Canadians were listed by name and number, the phone numbers and addresses associated with immigrant communities were listed as “Hindoo” “Japanese” or “Chinese” instead of their names. As the hosts explain, “why would anyone want to know where these people lived?” By tracing these addresses, the team is able to identify neighborhoods where early communities settled in Vancouver.  The hosts also acknowledge, that despite these discoveries, they will be limited by a limited evidence based and knowledge of this early community.

Further, the podcast will also be of particular interest to those familiar with Vancouver or the lower mainland.  The hosts do an excellent job showing the connections between existing buildings and communities and key events in immigration history – like Chinatown and Japantown during the race riots, or how communities settled in the Indigenous territory of modern-day Kitsilano.

There are very few flaws in this podcast.  The largest challenge is that the hosts have tailored the podcast towards an audience that is familiar with the basic immigration story of the region.  Yet, if they want to connect with all Canadians interested in how our country became a multiethnic, multilinguistic state, the podcast would benefit with more contextual information for new learners of this history. 

There are only three episodes of the podcast, and as episodes are released (one every week), listeners can anticipate the development of a richer and richer portrait of early 20th century immigration.  With a growing audience, hopefully this podcast will not be nameless for much longer. 

The Nameless Collective podcast can be downloaded on iTunes, Google Play for Android and Stitcher.

Anita (@bisu) is a Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Security and Development at Dalhousie University. Her research examines the role of diaspora groups and their influence on foreign policy, particularly the Indo-Canadian community and Canada-India relations. 

By Laska Paré in Toronto

Trunk Tales: Leaving home … finding home is an exhibit that recently opened in Toronto. Through a variety of heirlooms — trunks, clothes, photos and letters—stories of Ukrainians immigrating to Canada are told.

My great-grandmother, Sophia Lysy, was part of the second wave (1918-1939) of Ukrainian immigrants to reach Canada. In 1926 at the tender age of 16, she left her home in Tyahliv, Ukraine, to live with her Aunt and Uncle in Point Pelee, Canada. Upon leaving Europe, Sophia had been provided with a return passage to Tyahliv. However, struck by the poor conditions of the farming community where her family had settled, she cashed in her return ticket to help her Aunt and Uncle purchase a better farm. And so, Canada became her new home.

Though I’ve heard the stories from my family many times over, it wasn’t until recently when I gazed at my Babsia’s encased obrus (embroidered Ukrainian tablecloth) and read dozens of other narratives from immigrants displayed in the room, did I feel a sense of guilt about my life in Canada.

The Canadian Perks

As a third-generation Canadian, it’s taken years of foreign travel for me to recognize the value of my citizenship. The fact that I can proudly sew our nation’s flag on my backpack knowing it will only be of benefit, and perhaps a bonus, during my international travels says a lot about our country.

I understand why my Babsia sacrificed everything to come to Canada, and why immigrants continue to do so today.

 

Being a Canadian has allowed me to by-pass many extensive processes or requirements for documentation and has omitted me from being seen or questioned as a threat. So yes, there’s no question I’m grateful for my citizenship and the specialized treatment that comes with the nation’s brand.

Gratitude vs Guilt

Gratitude, and being grateful for my national identity, is simple. The only specification is to enjoy the daily ease of one’s life and where appropriate, acknowledge the advantages that come with the citizenship when brought up in discussion.

After travelling, living and working abroad, the real challenge I’m learning is coming home and resuming the patterns of life without feeling a sense of guilt. Once a person has bared witness to real adversity, struggle and strife in the world, it’s easy to come back to Canada and feel grateful about our lifestyle; but it can be difficult to move on without feeling a sense of guilt and shame for enjoying the comfort, support and calm of our nation.

Coming to Terms

I understand why my Babsia sacrificed everything to come to Canada, and why immigrants continue to do so today. Even though she came with the intention to have and—eventually—give a better life to her family, I can only imagine the guilt she must have felt every time she wrote a letter to her loved one’s back in Ukraine; knowing it wasn’t the same, or even remotely close.

My great-grandmother would want nothing more than for me to be happy and enjoy the freedoms we have in Canada, especially because of the sacrifices she unknowingly made on my behalf. Part of me is still learning not to judge myself or criticize others when they claim to have a problem or issue, knowing they may be trivial on the grand scope. Even though our rights and freedoms are evolving, particularly freedom of speech, I still believe Canada is rich in opportunity, comfort and luxury, and that is something we need to step back, embrace and be grateful for more often.

A copywriter for a communications agency in Toronto, when not contemplating ideas around identity or working on her children’s book series, you will find Laska outside seeking adventure. 

by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga

Sports has the ability to unite Canada, show the recently released findings of an Association for Canadian Studies survey.

“A majority of Canadians agree that sports break down linguistic and cultural barriers to unite people,” the report states.

In Canada, immigrants from different countries and origins also bring with them some of their own favourite sports.

Dr. John Shields, interim academic director at Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement (RCIS), highlights the growing popularity of cricket in Canada as an example.

“[There are a] lot of people coming from South Africa, Pakistan and India who are avid fans of cricket,” says Shields.

Immigrants from different countries and origins also bring with them some of their own favourite sports.

Sports history important to know

University of Toronto vice-president Bruce Kidd says including sports history in the country’s narrative is an important step in telling a complete story.

“If you don’t understand the role of sports in Canadian history, you missed an important part and your sense of Canadian history will be incomplete.”

For instance, Canadian national sports like lacrosse and hockey were part of the nation’s culture even before confederation. They were the outdoor games played by First Nations. Curling and golf arrived with Scottish immigrants in the 1600s.

Canadians also played important roles in the early beginnings of popular sports like football and basketball.

Kidd explains that when sports are adopted in Canada they are infused with Canadian values, skills and narratives.

“I would say that Canadians have put their own stamp on the games that we play.”

“I would say that Canadians have put their own stamp on the games that we play.”

Sports as a unifying force

Today, hockey alone can ignite patriotism throughout the country.

Jennifer Anderson, historian at the Canadian Museum of History, says hockey is often reflected in Canadian popular culture. Even those who are not enormous hockey fans come across cultural references to the game in everyday life through TV shows, books and children stories.

“Somewhere there is a link between the game and our culture, and I think it demonstrates the relationship that Canadians have to the game,” she explains.

While sports can be a unifying force, like other aspects of Canadian culture, it can also be divisive, says Kidd.

“During those times when Canadian teams made up of Anglophone and Francophone athletes lead internationally, it forges bilingualism and commonality,” he says.

However, he adds, “When you have the Canada games, which put efforts from each of the different provinces against each other, it may create rivalries on linguistic ground.”

Exclusion also part of sports history

While Shields says that sport “tends to bring people together in terms of common cause,” he points out there certainly has been a history of exclusion and racism in Canadian sports, too.

“Historically it was very hard for Aboriginal people to get into the professional hockey leagues, as was for Black people,” Shields says.

“Historically it was very hard for Aboriginal people to get into the professional hockey leagues, as was for Black people.”

Anderson explains that it’s not that First Nations people are dissatisfied with the way games like hockey and lacrosse have evolved; it’s more about the acknowledgement of their participation.

“They would like to be acknowledged as having participated in the game over an extended period of time,” she states. “Not just the beginning perhaps, not just the origin, but they continued to participate in the sport.”

Similarly, women have always been engaged in Canadian sports, but pre-Confederation, they were often barred from sports and had to participate informally.

Kidd says that women have gradually succeeded in winning opportunities for themselves in this area.

“I would say since the First World War, they played every sport that men played and today are an important, proud part of Canadian sports,” he adds.     

Anderson emphasizes that “this hasn’t always been acknowledged in the same way as men sports has.”

Increasing the media’s coverage of women’s sports has been a long-fought battle, and there have been movements and conversations about ensuring equality.

“Currently [women’s sport is] still underperforming in the kind of media coverage it gets,” Anderson says. “But I think social media has changed this to some degree and to some extent has shifted the way women sports is being covered.”

Sports have long been an important part of the Canadian economy, culture and education system, but experts like Anderson suggest that more efforts are required to promote equality in Canadian sports.

Specifically, they suggest we need to counter the growing cost of playing sports, ensure greater exposure of women’s sports and include more First Nations people in the national sports arena.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga

Although a mass expulsion in 1755 resulted in their dispersal, the Acadians of present day New Brunswick and Nova Scotia remained undaunted and, upon their return, revived their cultural roots.

The Acadians are the descendants of 17th century French immigrants. For 100 years, they lived as a French colony called “Acadie.”

Under British rule since the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, they did not want to bear arms in the event of war and were recognized as neutral subjects within the colony from 1730.

During the War of the Austrian Succession, Governor Charles Lawrence of Nova Scotia refused to trust them because of their religious and linguistic affiliation — Catholic and French. In 1755, the Acadians were deported in small groups to British and French colonies around the Atlantic.

“They (the British) saw them as an obstacle to the larger empire that they wanted to build in North America,” says Maurice Basque, a scientific advisor at the University of Moncton.

Several thousand Acadians died during deportation of illness, drowning and starvation.

Today, as a global strategy, Acadians are working to revitalize their traditions and bring back Acadians from around the world to their origin in Canada.

“[The] 300,000 Acadians that you find today in Atlantic Canada speak French on a daily basis and [call] themselves Acadians.”

The return of the Acadians

The Acadians were allowed to return after 1764 on humanitarian grounds. They rebuilt their villages in eastern Canada and began rebuilding their culture.

“[The] 300,000 Acadians that you find today in Atlantic Canada speak French on a daily basis and [call] themselves Acadians,” says Basque.

The Musée des Acadiens des Pubnicos et Centre de recherché in Pubnico-Ouest has preserved Acadian history and culture since 1653. It prominently features the Acadian craft of quilting.

“We have workshops and classes that we give to people who are interested in keeping the traditions alive,” says Bernice d’Entremont, museum coordinator.

With new techniques and sewing machines, quilting is not usually done the way it was 350 years ago. But at “Quilting Bees”, d’Entremont and others enthusiastically teach the art of hand quilting to a new generation.

 “There is a pride in doing the quilting and having it displayed,” she explains.

In eastern Canada, the Acadian flag proudly flies next to the Canadian flag.

Acadian revival

With time, Acadians have become “open-minded.” Basque says that they have proudly adopted Canadian identity. In eastern Canada, the Acadian flag proudly flies next to the Canadian flag.

Basque adds, “Canadian identity is very elastic.”

Now many Acadians work at the international level with Francophone organizations that focus on the youth. Association acadienne des artistes professionnel.le.s du Nouveau-Brunswick supports individual, French-speaking artistes and collectives.

The association, through its immigration initiatives, invites people to delve into Acadian artisan and take missions to other countries. 

René Cormier, president of the Société nationale de l’Acadie says, “We go to promote this region as the real region; we bring with us artists so the people of other countries can see, hear and feel what we are.”

They organize the World Acadian Congress every five years, which invites people from all over the world. The objective is to promote Acadian culture as an active and present part of the Canadian community.

“Our objective is to contribute to the development of Canada — what Acadian people can bring through the development of our culture,” says Cormier.

The group has members in almost all the provinces of Canada. They work for Francophones’ immigration that includes post-graduate students, young entrepreneurs and artisans.

Cormier adds, “We [are] really an organization that brings people together, not only to talk, but to work together.”

Future challenges

Among the challenges facing Acadians today is creating a closer relationship with the First Nations people of New Brunswick and helping them preserve their language.

“Acadians are Francophone and should understand, in my opinion, the wish of the First Nations to keep their languages, so the first languages of this continent won’t disappear,” says Marque.

It’s still mostly what we could call traditional white.”

Historically, the Acadians were allies of the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet First Nations who taught them how to survive extreme cold, dyke marshland, fish, farm, and locate spices and medicines.

“I must say as a historian that there is lots of goodwill, but concrete actions may be missing,” suggests Marque.

Acadians also need to build bridges with new groups that are arriving in Canada. New Brunswick is one of the least multicultural provinces in the country. “It’s still mostly what we could call traditional white,” Marque explains.

Marque concludes, “But the city I live [in], Moncton, is changing. More people that are arriving and settling here with different cultures, Acadians are now opting to the cultures of the world that are becoming part of their culture now.”

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

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