Sikh history in Canada now on display at permanent exhibit

·2 min read
The Sikhs in Canada exhibit is on permanent display at the Ottawa Sikh Society Gurdwara in Nepean.   (Buntola Nou/CBC - image credit)
The Sikhs in Canada exhibit is on permanent display at the Ottawa Sikh Society Gurdwara in Nepean. (Buntola Nou/CBC - image credit)

For Mandeep Singh, the launch of a permanent exhibition of Sikh history in Canada brings a hope that it will help others like him, who have to reckon with dual identities as a Canadian and a Sikh.

"[As a child], when I went to India, people said, 'Well, you're not Indian.' And when I was here, I didn't feel like I was Canadian," said Singh, a member of the Ottawa Sikh Society.

"Now I have history going back to Punjab. But I also have 200 years of history in Canada."

The Ottawa Sikh Society launched the exhibit of Sikh history in Canada, which dates back to 1809, on Saturday at the Ottawa Sikh Society Gurdwara in Nepean.

Buntola Nou/CBC
Buntola Nou/CBC

The timeline was developed by researchers at the Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada. It starts in 1809 and takes the visitor through landmark events such as the turning away of the Komagata Maru in 1914, of Sikh soldiers fighting in the First World War and the first turbaned officer being inducted into the RCMP.

"For us in the Ottawa Sikh Society, it was important to bring this exhibition here. It's the story of the Sikhs in Canada. Or you could say it's the story of Canada through a Sikh lens," said Singh.

Sikhism originated in the Indian subcontinent in the late 15th century. The exhibit goes through the ties Sikhs have had with Canada that date back more than 200 years.

Buntola Nou/CBC
Buntola Nou/CBC

"What was our Canadian heritage? Where does that exist? Where's our history there? Where are our ancestors?" Singh asked.

"This exhibition here, that was designed by those historians in Toronto and in B.C., is our story, actually dating back to even before Canada was formed."

This exhibition here, that was designed by those historians in Toronto and in B.C., is our story. - Mandeep Singh, Ottawa Sikh Society

Inderjit Singh Sambhi, secretary of the Ottawa Sikh Society, said this exhibition would be of great value to a younger generation of Sikhs in Canada who want to connect with their Canadian heritage.

"They want to find out how many years we have been here in Canada, what our struggles have been and what our successes have been, so that they can learn from our mistakes and they can move on from our progress and progress more."

Sambhi also said this exhibition is meant to fill a hole in public knowledge.

"We know that Sikhs fought many wars alongside the British, because we were British subjects in India," Sambhi said.

"But after that we don't know what happened in Canada. So this particular exhibition connects us to that gap."

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