Remembrance for Sikh Veterans
By Jessy Bains
When most Canadians think of Flanders Fields, they probably don’t picture Sikh soldiers wearing turbans, but they were right there fighting for the country.
“We have the attestation papers of nine Sikh Canadian soldiers from the early 1900s that couldn’t vote or get Canadian citizenship,” Harry Mann, curator of the Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada, told Humber News.
One of these Canadian Sikh soldiers is Bukham Singh, who arrived in Canada in 1907 and settled in Smith Falls, Ontario.
“In 1915 Bukham Singh joined the 59th battalion near Kingston and went to England on the SS Scandanavian,” said Mann.
Bukham Singh got tuberculosis in 1917 while serving in the First World War and was sent back to Canada for treatment where he died that same year.
“He is one person out of nine whose story we have been able to trace, and he went unnoticed,” said Mann.
“This is one person who went and fought for Canada, wasn’t a citizen, came back, was awarded a medal and died on Canadian soil never getting a Canadian citizenship.”
Mann said there are many reasons why the role of Sikhs fighting with the Allied forces is not well known.
“If you weren’t white at that period of time, you weren’t really seen as an equal person in the Commonwealth,” said Mann.
Another possible reason for the military efforts of Sikhs going under the radar is that there are many misconceptions about their immigration into Canada.
“People aren’t aware of how long Sikhs have been in Canada. People aren’t aware of what the roots are and what the challenges are,” said Mann. “We’ve had immigration on the B.C. side since the early 1900s.”
Mann said he doesn’t think there has been a deliberate attempt by the Canadian government to suppress the history of Sikhs serving in the military.
“If a certain fact is not really valuable to the average individual, even though it’s been recorded, there’s no reason to bring it to the forefront,” said Mann. “I wouldn’t say that there’s been anything deliberate.”
The Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada will be putting on an exhibit Sunday at the Pearson Convention Centre in Brampton called In Remembrance: The Sikhs.
“We have a letter by Sir John A. Macdonald where he asks for an army of Sikhs in 1867. We have pagri badges, medals, toy soldiers, postcards and a series of trinkets/artifacts that evidence a military presence that was there,” said Mann.
Mann said the ribbon band of Ishar Singh, the first Sikh Victoria Cross winner, will also be on display.
Colin Singh Dhillon, director of marketing for the Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada and a former industrial design professor at Humber, told Humber news that this is the second exhibit the Sikh Heritage Museum has put on Sikhs in the military.
“The last one was at the Khalsa school in Malton and we had over 600 students and 250 additional people attend,” said Dhillon.