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  • Malkiat Singh Duhra

The Story of Punjabi Canadians


In Canada, the Punjabi Canadian population is approximately 950,000 and it accounted for roughly 2.6% of Canada’s population as per the 2021 census. In 1897 the first Punjabi person, Kesar Singh Risaldar, a Major of Punjabi origin, was considering settling in Canada (British Columbia). The soldiers were transiting from India to the United Kingdom during the diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. The Punjabi ( British Punjab ) became the first South Asian-origin group to settle in Canada. Previously, mostly European people had already settled in Canada.


In 1900, the population of Punjabis increased to 100 and it further increased to 1500 in 1906, but later it declined to reach only 2000 in 1914. The population started declining due to discrimination and that many people had joined the Ghadar Party and went to India to struggle for freedom from colonial rule. In 1908, they were prevented from voting. The majority were Sikhs who came from Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Amritsar, and Ferozpur to work on the Canadian Pacific Railways, Handson’s Way, sawmills, fisheries, and agriculture. In 1907, one Sikh died, but the city didn’t allow the use of the cremation place for him, and they had to perform the cremation outside the Municipal Corporation limits. Then, Punjabi Canadians established their own religious institutions.


  1. Gurdwara, Golden BC 1905.

  2. Gurdwara, Kitsilano Vancouver BC 1908.

  3. Gur Sikh Temple, Abbotsford BC 1911.

  4. Gurdwara, Victoria BC 1912.

  5. Gurdwara, Fraser Mills BC 1013.

  6. Gurdwara, Queensborough New Westminster BC 1919.


Later on, many religious institutions were established as per the need of the people. Many other Gurdwaras, Temples, and Mosques were established in different places in Canada. Indians continued their struggle to get voting rights and finally got them in 1947.


In Canadian history, Punjabis were faced by racial discrimination. In 1914, the Komagata Maru ship carrying 376 passengers from Punjab docked in Vancouver. After 2 months of waiting, 24 were admitted to Canada, but the other 352 passengers were not allowed to disembark in Canada and the ship was forced to retuned to India. The passengers comprised 337 Punjabi Sikhs, 27 Punjabi Muslims, and 12 Punjabi Hindus. When the ship docked at Calcutta, the Colonial Government fired on the passengers to prevent any revolt against the Government. Some of them were killed and some injured.


Meva Singh Lopoke was a Sikh activist who came to Canada in 1906 for a better livelihood, and he belonged to the village Lopoke in the Amritsar District. He was a member of the Vancouver branch of the Ghadar Party, which called for the overthrow of British rule in India. On October 21, 1914, Meva Singh murdered a Canadian Immigration inspector, W.C. Hopkinson, who had been responsible for the deaths of two Sikhs in a Gurdwara. Meva Singh was executed by the Government for the political act of violence. In the eyes of the Sikh Canadians, Meva Singh's assassination of Hopkinson was a display of martyrdom.


The Indian population went on increasing slowly and they started participating in civil services. Sardar Naranjan Singh Grewal was elected as a public officer in 1950 and 1952, and in 1954 he was elected Mayor of Mission. He was a union official known as a sportsman and humanitarian philanthropist as well as a timber man, and he established himself as one of the largest employers and most influential business leaders in Northern Fraser Valley. He had six saw mills and was running for Provincial Elections of 1956, and at that time he received a threat, while the six sawmills he owned and his house were all set ablaze by arsonists. One year later, on July 17 ,1957 while on a business trip he was found dead in a Seattle motel, having been shot in the head. In 1984, Moe Sahota was the first Indo-Canadian to be elected as MLA and was also later elected as Alderman of Esquimalt in 1984.


During 1950s, immigration restrictions were loosened and Vancouver remained the centre of Punjabi immigration through the mid-50th century. Punjabis were geographically dispersed in the lower mainland, South Vancouver in the 1960s. In 1967, all immigration quotas based on specific ethnic groups were scrapped in Canada, which resulted in rapid growth of the Punjabi population. Later in 1970s, the Punjabi population started to be concentrated in North Delta, Surrey, and Richmond.


In 1980, Ontario became the important centre of immigration to Canada. Large populations began to appear across the Greater Toronto area specifically Scarborough, Markham, Brampton, and Mississauga. At the same time, Alberta also became another important immigration centre in Calgary and Edmonton. Many oil companies were established in Alberta for betterment of its economy.


According to the 2021 census : The population of Punjabi Canadians was 942170 in Canada, 397865 in Ontario, 315000 in British Columbia, and 126385 in Alberta. The population increased rapidly after 1980. It was 73000 (1981), 338715 (2001), 545730 (2011), and 942170 (2021). The population of Sikh Canadians was 770000 and the population of Indian Canadians was 1.4 million as per the 2021 census.




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