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Canadian Sikh History — July 19, 2022

Canadian Sikh History

By Prabhnoor

Sikhs began to immigrate to Canada at the beginning of the 20th century, but they faced many hardships to get to where they are today.

In 1887, the first Sikhs visited British Columbia. The Sikh soldiers from the Hong Kong Regiments were traveling through Canada after celebrating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The Sikh Soldiers were impressed with the warm climate and beautiful landscape of British Columbia. When they returned home, they told the others about the beauty of Canada and by the turn of 20th century, many Sikhs began to arrive in Vancouver by ship.

Firstly, the Sikhs worked very hard and were determined to create a better life in Canada. They worked at the hardest jobs while being paid less than other workers and working in terrible conditions. But they still made enough money to make it possible for their families to immigrate to Canada. The Sikhs also opened many Gurdwaras in Canada, which provided shelter, food, spiritual education, and a safe place for Sikhs to come together. They also opened their own lumber mills, which created many jobs. However, during this time, Sikhs were facing a lot of discrimination due to their distinct appearance with turbans and beards. As a result, Sikhs were denied many rights and freedoms and were not allowed to work in certain professions. But the labour shortage during WWII, allowed the Sikhs to prove themselves as successful businesspeople and skilled workers.

Unfortunately, in 1908, the Canadian government passed two exclusion laws to try to restrict Sikh immigration to Canada. Under the laws, immigrants had to come to Canada by continuous journey from their home country and they needed to have $200 in savings. At the time, there was no continuous journey from India to Canada, so Sikh migration greatly dropped. Fortunately, in 1914, Gurdit Singh Sandhu purchased the Komagata Maru to help Sikhs immigrate to Canada. The ship sailed from Hong Kong on April 4, 1914, but, when the 376 passengers arrived in Vancouver Harbor, no one was allowed to leave the ship. The Canadian Government then tried to force the Sikhs to leave by cutting off their communication, refusing to supply them with food and water, and trying to take control of the ship. As a result, an Indo-Canadian shore committee was formed by the Sikhs’ friends on land. They launched a legal challenge, but the BC Court of Appeal ruled in the Canadian Government’s favour. The ship was forced to return to India with the help of the Canadian Navy.

When the ship arrived in Calcutta in September 1914, British officers placed the passengers under guard and the ship was diverted to Budge Budge. When the police tried to force the passengers onto a train to Punjab and arrest Gurdit Singh along with the other leaders, the Sikhs resisted. As a result, the police opened fire and there were many casualties. Gurdit Singh along with many other Sikhs was imprisoned while some of the Sikhs escaped. This incident became known as the Budge Budge Riot. In 2016, the Canadian Government formal apologized for the incident.

Importantly, the Sikh continued to work to show their loyalty to Canada, even after all the hardship they faced. Many Sikhs fought under the British in the First and Second World War and nine Sikhs served in the Canadian Army for the First World War to win Canada’s trust and respect. However, unlike the British Army, the Sikh Faith was not accommodated in the Canadian army. The Sikhs faced many hardships, and many Sikhs sacrificed their lives to prove that they were loyal, determined, and patriotic to Canada and Britain.

Furthermore, in 1943, Sikhs began working hard to gain the Right to Vote. A 12-man delegation, led by Dr. Pandia presented the South Asian Voting Rights case to British Columbia’s Premier Hart and to the Canadian Parliament. The Sikhs were supported by war veterans, international leaders, and many Canadians. They said that without the ability to vote, they were just second-class citizens. After a long struggle, on April 2, 1947, an amendment to the Provincial Elections Act was passed, allowing South Asians to vote in BC, 40 years after the right was taken away. The Sikhs soon won the right to vote in Canada’s federal elections too and in 1946, the Canadian Citizenship Act was passed, granting citizenship to South Asian immigrants.

In conclusion, the Canadian Sikhs worked very hard, faced many hardships, and sacrificed a lot to create equality for Sikhs and other communities in Canada. The Sikhs faced a lot of discrimination and were not welcomed by Canadians, but they chose to fight for their rights, stay together, and not give up until they were treated with respect. We need to be thankful for all the Sikhs settlers did to create a happy, safe, and successful life for everyone in Canada today and we need to respect the rights, freedoms, and opportunities that the Sikhs won for everyone. Finally, we need to be thankful for all the Sikhs did to create the multicultural, peaceful, and Great Canada we live in today.

Sikhs in Their Own Words by Sarjeet Singh Jagpal
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sikhism_in Canada
http://www.indocanadianheritage.ca/vote/timeline/ Becoming Canadians-
Pioneers https://www.sikhnet.com/news/two-world-wars-and-sikhs

Japanese Immigration to BC — July 12, 2022

Japanese Immigration to BC

By Trevor, Alumni Council

When we think of immigration, we think of someone coming to a new country to start a better life for themselves and their families. No matter what walk of life an immigrant comes from, they have one thought in mind, to create a better life for themselves. Through the history of British Columbia, many nationalities have found themselves calling this province home. Japanese immigrants are no different. They came in the late 19th century, looking for employment and a brighter future. Eventually, we are to find out that what awaited them was bitterness towards them from a large majority of society. 

Prior to 1885, Japanese citizens were not allowed to emigrate from their country. When Japanese were able to finally emigrate abroad, a large number of them decided to come to Canada to seek their fortune. Not being able to speak very much English, industries such as fishing, railroading, lumbering, and mining became ideal areas to focus on as they needed very little training to be able to secure a job. 

The first documented immigrant was Manzo Nagano who came to British Columbia in 1877. As the years went on, many more Japanese would arrive in Canada, and by the year 1914, as many as 10,000 people had come to call Canada their home. Mainly they settled in three provinces, British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario. The period between 1877 and 1928, has come to be known as Issei or the first generation Japanese immigrants. Mostly, young males came seeking employment, and eventually when immigration became limited in 1908, women came to be with their spouses or unmarried women came to marry men already residing in Canada. 

There were many areas of British Columbia where Japanese immigrants came to reside. The first was the Powell Street area in what is now Downtown Eastside of Vancouver where they started their own businesses after having sought employment in the Hastings Mill on the Burrard Inlet.

Black and white photo of three people standing outside a building. A child is standing in the centre, while two adults are on the left. The man is sitting on the steps holding a hat and cane. The woman is standing behind him.

The Steveston area of British Columbia became another area where the Japanese decided to live. Gihei Kuno came to the area and was astounded by the salmon in the Fraser River and thus, he went back to Japan telling people to go to Canada to fish there instead of Japan. Steveston became the second largest Japanese-Canadian settlement to be populated before the Second World War.

Port Alberni, located on Vancouver Island became the home to a small settlement of Japanese. Logging and the lumber industry became the draw for the people populating this area. They operated out of the McLean Mill and eventually a school was built for the area where half of the students were Japanese-Canadian. Eventually when the internment of the Japanese occurred, the school closed in 1942.

Lastly, Woodfibre BC was home to a large population of single, Japanese men who had come to work at the local pulp mill. Even though they were paid less for their labor being Japanese, they were still making more money than they would have in Japan, and they continued their jobs there, so that they could still send money back to their families in Japan.

It is a very sad history for the Japanese people who immigrated to Canada. Not only for the first generation immigrants, but their Canadian-born children as well. They have been plagued by discrimination and prejudice by their fellow Canadians. Many laws were created excluding Asians from various types of work. They were given the lowest menial jobs in many areas and paid much less than their Caucasian counterparts. At the start of 1942, during the Second World War, Japanese-Canadians became the most feared individuals of society. They were sent to internment camps where nearly 90% of the total Japanese-Canadian population living in BC were forcefully removed from their homes and businesses and relocated as a form of security for Canada. Many of these individuals had been born in Canada. However, with the declaration of war on Japan, by Canada, the rights of these Canadian citizens were removed. In some cases, they were forced to sell their belongings, and to relocate to unfamiliar areas or risk being sent to Japan. In other cases, the government confiscated properties and businesses to pay for their internment. Sadly, what had once been thought of as a bright future for these Japanese-Canadians, now became a nightmare.


https://digitize.library.ubc.ca/digitizers-blog/japanese-canadian-communities-in-bc-before-relocation/ (Photo is also from this site)


Interview with a Sponsor: Rob Ho, CCHSBC — July 5, 2022

Interview with a Sponsor: Rob Ho, CCHSBC

by Daniel & Oliver

Back in August 2021, fellow Alumni Oliver and I (Daniel) had the pleasure of talking with a representative from one of our sponsors. The interviewee was Mr. Rob Ho, BA, MA, a PhD candidate and the Vice-President of the non-profit Chinese-Canadian Historical Society of BC (CCHSBC). He also heads the Awards Committee of the organization.

For many years, Mr. Ho has been studying how racism manifests itself in our societies. One way is in the form of the model minority myth, in which supposedly “positive” stereotypes regarding a race, such as that they are hard workers, turn out to still be consequential and harmful for the victims. One way is when this misconception results in racism’s many deplorable effects being downplayed. And it is especially important that we disrupt these discriminatory views and beliefs, because during the COVID-19 pandemic there have been many horrible instances of racism against Asian peoples. 

The mission of the CCHSBC has been to “research, document, preserve and educate.” They have focused for a long time on the history, culture, and achievements of Chinese-Canadians – whether it be through online seminars, hosting galas, recognizing notable work with awards, or fundraising for communities (such as Lytton BC, which was devastated last year by a wildfire that also destroyed its Chinese history museum). We are proud to be sponsored by this organization. “We’ve really wanted to help support those initiatives all across the province,” Mr. Ho had said. 

Throughout the interview, a major motif was education. Mr. Ho stressed that this occurs in multiple forms – he noted workshops, post-secondary courses, art, books, statistics, and social media as vehicles for learning. Knowing your audience was a crucial element when it came to teaching about culture and history. “Not just an academic one,” Mr. Ho remarked. “But also to a public audience that may know nothing about this type of demographic.”

Another important thing which Mr. Ho emphasized was the fact that the fight against racism is very much an ongoing struggle. He said: “[The] government and schools can always do more to tackle this matter of racism. I think that it could be said that there’s never enough work done. We can always do more; we can always work harder. We can’t ever rest on our laurels and think that the work is done. That’s true from decades ago and that’s true nowadays. We can always try to make the lives of people who have suffered from racial oppression and racial injustice better. And we do that by continuing to work; by continuing to understand how insidious racism is, how it affects people’s lives, and what we can do to actually promote equality and equity amongst all people.”

“All minority groups and Indigenous histories need to be better represented and they need to be better promoted […] For minority histories in particular, all of those stories need to be shared more […] So not just Chinese-Canadians, but all sorts of people of colour and Indigenous peoples who have had a range of experiences; that’s what we need to look at closer. And thankfully, we are starting to see that more and more in our school systems, we’re starting to see that more and more in our museums.”

“[Education has] really been influenced by social movements, like Black Lives Matter […] [Anti-Asian racism has brought] out more calls for social justice, the understanding [of] some of the ways in which the lives of people – minority groups – have been impacted by racism; structural racism, institutional racism… and those all need to be brought to the forefront.”

The CCHSBC has been applying this principle to its work for years. As part of its efforts towards dispelling hate and bigotry, it participated in a public discussion panel last year called “Negative Numbers” to describe the effects of systemic racism and what we can do to make society more equitable. As a leader in this organization,  Mr. Ho has frequently applied his expertise regarding these subjects to what he does – which includes tracking the effects of racism today.

Something else Mr. Ho noted was how education could be used to discover one’s cultural and historical background. Mr. Ho is a second-generation Chinese-Canadian, and his background played a major role in his passion for history and decision to join the CCHSBC. “[It] left a lot of questions, especially when I was growing up, even when I went through elementary and secondary schooling and through university, about what it means to be second-generation Chinese-Canadian,” he said. “I, particularly for the first several years of my life, didn’t have the knowledge of my family’s background […] [and] what that meant in the larger context. What I mean by that is that there are sort of distinct waves of Chinese migration to Canada. And understanding where my family’s place [was] within that was quite eye opening.”

But the subject of Heritage Fairs was not far away! Mr. Ho advised creators of these projects to look into what their own past is. Each generation has many stories to tell the next generation:

“Trying to get a clear picture of that wide range of experiences is what I think I’d emphasize. A great project for BC Heritage Fairs would involve anything that looks at specific immigration stories of Chinese-Canadians […] And there’s all sorts of stories that we know that existed but we haven’t yet uncovered all of them. As people get older; as the decades go by, those stories will start to disappear. And so we kinda need to capture them; we try to get them. Even for a lot of the students who are considering doing projects, even their own family histories are very important. Some of them might come from families that have had a very interesting and fascinating immigration journey from China. What are those stories? What type of influence did they have? And there’s lots of families that have made quite a mark in BC history. Well, what were they? What were they like? And so having those types of projects always becomes fascinating. Personalize it to see how we can really expand our knowledge of what Chinese-Canadian life has been like.”

For a long time, the CCHSBC has been working to support and celebrate student projects about family history – and not just ones about Chinese-Canadian stories. They have often given awards to projects that focus on other ethnic and racial backgrounds. The broader intention of the CCHSBC is celebrating multiculturalism and how it is a part of Canada’s identity.

Overall, our interview with Mr. Ho was an enlightening experience. We learnt about the forms racism can take and how we can collectively fight it, and we also discovered ways to explore Canada’s many heritages and cultures. We once again thank the CCHSBC for supporting the BCHFS. 

“[Our efforts are] about inclusivity, and to promote the diversity of our experience […] in our case, Chinese-Canadian history, but the wide range of multicultural and diverse peoples who have helped make the province what it has become.”

My Opa’s Immigration Story — June 27, 2022

My Opa’s Immigration Story

by Arwen, Alumni Council

My Opa Erich Rauguth passed away this past Fall, but I really wanted to share this family story connected to my Opa’s immigration journey to Canada because I feel that it deeply speaks to how far Canada and Canadian society has come over the past few years in the ways of embracing immigration. This story really showcases the multicultural and accepting society that Canada has established, and how that society has real benefits to Canada because it encourages immigration and diversity. My Opa was a world traveler for the majority of his life. He grew up in Germany, lived in Africa for some time, and he traveled to many places in Europe, but when it was time for him to find a more permanent place to live, my Opa chose Canada, and this story tells why.  

This story starts with my Opa leaving his work in Africa in the late 1960’s to go on holiday in Canada, specifically for the purpose of visiting Expo 67 in Montreal. After visiting Expo 67, my Opa actually purchased a motorcycle to continue his travels across Canada. He eventually found himself in Dawson City, which is located in the Yukon Territories. At this time, my Opa was deciding on whether or not Canada was the right place for him to live and set down roots, but the events of one morning ended up being the deciding factor that he needed. On that morning, my Opa was purchasing a coffee in a Dawson City restaurant called the Midnight Sun. My Opa was short of Canadian currency change at this time, but he did not notice until he was paying for the coffee that he planned on purchasing. My Opa asked the waitress how much the coffee would be, and she informed him that it was 10 cents, and my Opa realized that he was 5 cents too short and was prepared to leave the restaurant. When the waitress heard that my Opa was short 5 cents, she reached into her pocket and grabbed a nickel to cover the remaining cost of his coffee.

It was that small act of kindness and generosity that reassured my Opa that Canada was the place for him. My Opa ended up staying in Dawson City, establishing gold mining roots, and he lived in the Yukon until his passing. He still loved traveling even after the time in which this story took place, but things beyond this point changed because my Opa knew that he could travel and stay anywhere he wanted but Dawson would always be his home. My Opa ended up passing away in Dawson City surrounded by the community he had met and built there, and we could not have wished for a better place for him to pass.

Introducing the BC Heritage Fairs Interview Cast! — June 26, 2022
Latin Immigration — April 8, 2022

Latin Immigration

By Lucy


Many Latin American countries have a history filled with war and suffering. Fighting leads to many people leaving their home countries searching for safer homes. My parents are one of these. They immigrated from Cuba to Canada in search of a future. They came to Canada so their children could have a bright future. There are many families here in BC with the same intentions. I have heard many stories over the years, all scarring. Children no older than 12 are forced to live alone because their parents have to work. Close encounters with soldiers and guns were and are common in quite a few Latin countries. 

Effects and hardships of immigrating:

Immigrating can be hard for adults and children. Adults must learn a completely different language and find a job. Most Latin immigrants begin working in construction. A lot of their degrees have nothing to do with construction, but their degrees are not often valid in Canada. Adults must also learn how a completely new country works. Children must also relearn everything. Latin countries are very different, and it can be hard to make friends. Xenophobia makes this transition even harder. Prejudices and stereotypes can make it hard for adults and kids to feel welcome. I remember in the first grade, I would be separated from the class because I was the daughter of immigrants. Despite being born in Canada and speaking perfect English (I often got in trouble for speaking too much with other classmates), they would pull me aside. I do not remember much of what I did during those times, but I remember feeling isolated. Many Latin kids feel alone in the early years of immigrating (and even after due to discrimination and stereotypes). Immigrating is hard for everyone, although some face more discrimination than others. 

History of Latin immigration to Canada:

The 2016 census found that around 674,640 Latin American people currently live in Canada. However, in the 70s there were only 3,000. Many Latins came during the 70s because of the Canadian law at that time. From 1969 to 1972, Canada had an ‘open-door’ policy. This policy allowed people to visit without a visa then apply for immigrant status. Some programs were put in place, like the Special Movement Chile refugee program in 1976. About 4,600 Chileans came to Canada because of this program. From there, laws changed, but many Latin Americans still immigrated. By 2001, 250,000 Latins lived in Canada, and by 2006 there were over 527,000. Most Latins live in Montreal and Toronto, but there are Latins pretty much everywhere. 

Influential Latins in Canada:

Dr. Manuel Buchwald is a geneticist and academic from Toronto. He was born in Lima, Peru in 1940. He was a co-discoverer of the Cystic Fibrosis gene. He made many more advancements in genetics and was honoured with the Order of Canada.

Paola Ardiles is a professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. Originally from Chile, she has helped the community greatly. She has created programs to help others when it comes to health and safety. She encourages youth and students to get involved, all while helping the community.

Jorge Filmus is a senior scientist at Sunnybrook Institute. He is from Argentina but currently resides in Toronto. His main focus is cancer diagnosis and therapy. One of his discoveries was the identification of Glypican-3 as a marker and target in hepatocellular carcinoma.

Both Jorge, and Paola, were recognized by TD Bank in 2017 with their list of 10 Most Influential Hispanic Canadians.


Many people say that Latins are an invisible community here in Canada. There are no large Latin communities that can be seen clearly. I belong to a small community of Latin immigrants in Vancouver. My family history takes place in Cuba, because of this, the way I think and speak has been shaped differently. Cuban culture also influences me physically, it’s present in the food I eat, what I watch, and what I do.  This influence on my being is why I call myself Latin. It’s special to me because it’s what I’ve grown up with. However, I have also grown up in Canadian culture which is very different from Cuban culture. Although the differences can cause problems for many immigrants, it allows Canada to have an amazing mix of cultures. I have grown up surrounded by this mix, and I wouldn’t change it. We are here, and we are Canadian. Despite not being many, Latins have impacted Canada and are a fundamental part of Canada’s multicultural kaleidoscope. 










The Lost Neighbourhood — March 1, 2022

The Lost Neighbourhood

By Judy

The Underground Railroad is a hallmark of Canadian history, widely known and taught in schools. However, the experiences of black immigrants after settling in Canada is less illuminated. What are the stories of these black communities, and why, despite the city’s multicultural population, does Vancouver not currently have one?

Well, it once did. Behind the cement structure of the Georgia Viaduct lies the history of Hogan’s Alley—Vancouver’s first and, to this day, last Black community. Situated between Prior and Union, this cultural centre was present from the 1900’s to 1960’s.

Illustration map of Hogan’s Alley.

Porters and Oklahomans

Hogan’s Alley was born from trains. Its proximity to Great Northern and Canadian National Station, both of which are now Pacific Central Station, made the location an ideal lounging area for porters—people who serviced train passengers. This profession was dominated by Black men and thus, the first Black institution established in the area was a lounge where porters could stay during train layovers in Vancouver.

Another stream of settlers came from the US. Strict segregation laws in Oklahoma motivated around a thousand African Americans to move to the prairie provinces where, in order to promote growth, local governments were offering land for immigrants. As Vancouver entered a period of prosperity during the early 1900’s, many moved to Vancouver and established themselves in Hogan’s Alley.

Jimi Hendrix and Soul Food

The years went on and Hogan’s Alley continued to blossom. By the 1930s, it was a centre for music and performance. Hogan’s Alley’s nightclubs attracted black vaudeville performers who would stop in Vancouver on their tour. One of these performers was Nora Hendrix, Jimi Hendrix’s grandmother. In 1911, she settled in Hogan’s Alley and thus, Jimi grew up in the Strathcona neighbourhood, surrounded by music. During her time in the community, she helped establish the Fountain Chapel Church (Black Strathcona video). This became the central church for Black residents of the area, and combatted issues affecting African Canadians such as discrimination in the justice system and police brutality.

Nora Hendrix’s residence, 827 Georgia Street, is a designated Heritage House.

Chicken houses (fried chicken restaurants) were also a focal point of Hogan’s Alley.These businesses also doubled as speakeasies where people could drink illegal liquor during prohibition, The most famous one was undoubtedly, Vie’s Chicken and Steak House, circa 1948, where Nora Hendrix worked. Open from 5pm to 5am, this restaurant attracted notable Black musicians from Nat King Cole to Ella Fitzgerald to Louis Armstrong.

Urban Renewal and the Georgia Viaduct

So, what happened? How did this beloved and incredibly vibrant community become nothing more than a memory? Starting in the 1940’s, Hogan’s Alley became a target for urban renewal plans. Despite hosting world-renowned names, it was still a working-class, immigrant neighbourhood, scrutinised by some as a place of squalor and dilapidation.

During this time, car culture was also taking over Canada and the need for freeways dominated the minds of city planners. These structures would be constructed across poorer, immigrant neighbourhoods like Hogan’s Alley since residents wouldn’t have the power to object.

Thus, from 1967 to 1971, construction of the Georgia Viaduct began. Hogan’s Alley and part of Chinatown was levelled to make room for the cement overpass, destroying decades of black culture in the process.


Remaining portion of Hogan’s Alley, with a painting of Jimi Hendrix.

After the Georgia Viaduct’s removal was confirmed in 2015, the Hogan’s Alley Society has been championing the revitalization of Vancouver’s black community and the construction of a Black Cultural Center in what once was Hogan’s Alley. The society also established “Nora Hendrix Place”, a low-income housing facility, on Union and Gore. Along with the Vancouver Heritage Foundation, they have placed a plaque commemorating Hogan’s Alley on Union and Main.

Location of plaque from https://www.placesthatmatter.ca/location/hogans-alley/

Sources (also resources for further reading)

African American Exodus to Canada | The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture.

Black Strathcona

Fountain Chapel • Vancouver Heritage Foundation

Hogan’s Alley Memorial Project

Hogan’s Alley Society

Hogan’s Alley | The Canadian Encyclopedia

Hogan’s Alley • Vancouver Heritage Foundation

Hogan’s Alley | Vancouver Public Library

Secret Vancouver: Return to Hogan’s Alley

​​Sleeping Car Porters in Canada | The Canadian Encyclopedia

Summary of the Underground Railroad — February 27, 2022

Summary of the Underground Railroad

By Daniel

Black individuals have long been an important part of Canadian history and society, from regular kind-hearted folk like Joe Fortes to leaders like Lincoln Alexander to media creators like Eleanor Collins. But if we really go back in time, we come across an era vastly different from the one we now know. Canada’s early Black population was free but often discriminated against, and down South, in America, many such individuals were enslaved. We explore now the path to freedom which many slaves in America took, and how it is linked to Canada: the Underground Railroad. 

In the 1860s, the American Civil War began. During this conflict the Northern states in the USA fought against the Southern states over the issues of Southern separatism and slavery. Generally, the South wanted to continuing perpetuating slavery, but the North had become a hub for abolitionists. This meant that Black individuals and families in the South who wished to escape their enslavement initially fled to the Northern states via the Underground Railroad. It was a perilous route. What happened was that slaves escaped their owners and made their way from hiding place to hiding place, nicknamed “stations,” with the support of abolitionist individuals, nicknamed “conductors.” Some of these conductors were followers in the Quaker denomination of Christianity, whose faith meant they regarded slavery as evil. Some were Indigenous persons. But many were free Black individuals who wanted to help others achieve freedom. The bravery of the slaves seeking freedom and their helpers cannot be overstated. Sadly, many slaves seeking freedom never made it due to illnesses or accidents, or were caught and sent back to their owners – where they were often punished horribly.

In 1850, the North became an unsafe place for ex-slaves, as the Fugitive Slave Act permitted bounty hunters from the South to arrive with the task of whisking the ex-slaves away back to their owners. Consequently, freed Black individuals turned their eyes further North – to Canada (then known as British North America). See, a law from all the way back in 1793 stated that enslaved individuals who entered Canada were freed – and in Canada, the American bounty hunters couldn’t get at the slaves. Thus, the Underground Railroad was extended. It is estimated that around 30,000-40,000 fugitives made their way to Canada using it.

One notable Black conductor was Harriet Tubman – a freed slave, and an independant, resilient, and resourceful woman. Tubman was born in around 1820 and died in 1913. She dedicated a great deal of her life to the cause of abolition, and was often on the ‘front lines’ herself, assisting many Black individuals as they made their way to freedom in the Northern United States, including members of her own family. When the Northern United States became too treacherous of a place to stay, Tubman began moving people to Canada, saying “I wouldn’t trust Uncle Sam with my people no longer, but I brought ’em clear off to Canada.” She took up residence in St. Catharines (present-day Ontario) in December 1851, where hundreds of former slaves lived and worked. Tubman was a generous woman, and helped look after the population through food drives and other charitable actions. She personally ventured at least ten times into America to bring people to Canada, rescuing at least 70 people in total, and she never wavered in her resolve – indeed, it is believed that she never lost a single person on her missions. She continued even during the Civil War. Overall, her compassion and sheer guts saved many from the clutches of slaveholders and improved countless lives. 

And have you ever heard of the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe? It is a famous novel which followed slaves as they tried to achieve dignity in the face of abuse and neglect, and inspired strong antislavery sentiments in the Northern United States and around the world – so much so that upon meeting Stowe amidst the Civil War, it is said that Abraham Lincoln had jokingly remarked that she was “the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.” But did you know that while the characters of the book themselves are fictional, Stowe was inspired to write the novel upon meeting Josiah Henson – a Black man who had made his way to Canada? Henson was born in 1789. He experienced much brutality in his childhood as a slave. At one point, he was punished for simply trying to learn to read. Eventually he escaped to Canada with his family, with help from Indigenous peoples, where he became a businessman and prominent Christian minister. He assisted 118 slaves with getting to Canada, and in 1851, he put into publication an autobiography, titled The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself. It caught the eye of Harriet Beecher Stowe, who met Henson in person, and was inspired to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The titular character shares Henson’s strong religious beliefs. Following his writing, Henson helped Black families involved with the Civil War, supported freed Blacks by employing them in businesses, bought his brother’s freedom, and travelled. And when he died in 1883, his city of residence – Dresden, Ontario – underwent a widespread period of mourning in which both Blacks and Whites participated.

Overall, the Underground Railroad meant that many Black persons were able to escape their slavery in America and achieve a better life in Canada. The truth is that here in Canada they too were prone to discrimination and marginalization for many years – which still goes on today. So we can’t just sit back and rest on our laurels: we must always be open to understanding the inequities in society, and unite to address them. 


Cumberland’s Chinatown: Coal, Community, and Culture — February 22, 2022

Cumberland’s Chinatown: Coal, Community, and Culture

By Liam

Did you know that in the early 20th century, Cumberland, a small town on Vancouver Island, British Columbia housed one of the largest rural populations of Chinese individuals in North America?
It was one of the largest Chinatowns in Canada by the end of World War 1 and where part of my family history begins in Canada. I knew a few facts about my great-great Grandfather Lau Sheung and how he had emigrated from China to Canada in 1913. Canada represented opportunity for many Chinese immigrants, and he had hoped to help earn enough money as a miner to support his family back home.

What I did not have was an appreciation of his experience as a newcomer to Canada residing in Cumberland BC and how it shaped the lives of my family moving forward for over a century afterwards.
Today, the Village of Cumberland is a charming town with a thriving, resilient and diversified economy. It is quickly growing in population over the past decade with many young residents and families (resident median age of 39.2 years).

To learn more about this history, we visited the Cumberland Museum and Community Archives to discover more about our family heritage and the history of our region. It was a short drive-up Vancouver Island to get to Cumberland, as it is about a 3-hour drive north of Victoria.

The Cumberland Museum and Community Archives houses a treasure trove of artifacts and history within its walls supported by incredibly knowledgeable historians and archivists who helped me learn much more about my great grandfather’s experience in Cumberland’s Chinatown.
At the turn of the 20th Century, Chinese workers were brought in by the Dunsmuir family (Union Colliery Company) to build and then work in the mines and to build the Wellington Colliery Railway to transport the coal to the seaport of Union Bay. Paid half of the wages of their European co-workers, Chinese miners were hard pressed to repay the company loan of the head tax, send money home overseas and eke out a living. They worked in the worst conditions and were the first to be laid off in hard economic times.
The written accounts and pictures of these Chinese Miners gave me an appreciation of the hardships my great grandfather must have endured in pursuit of a way to improve the lives of those he loved. Despite all the hardships he faced, my great-grandfather sent what meager wages he earned back to China to support his family to help improve their lives. My great grandfather loved Cumberland and Canada and relayed this love back to his family in China.
One of his grandsons would pick up on this love and how his grandfather described the natural beauty of the Cumberland in letters back to his family. When his grandson emigrated to Canada in 1956, it would be this love that launched the career of Stephen Lowe who would become an internally acclaimed artist thanks to the support of his grandfather and his new home in Canada.

Stephen’s art depicted Cumberland and Canada in an artistic medium that caught the attention of the art world.

“This is my hometown in Canada,” Stephen noted on the painting. “When I went back to Cumberland for a visit, things in front of my eye were not the same. There were only a few of the old Chinese people left and some old broken homes. It was very desolate seeing this and remembering when I had first come there, and the old people had told me about the past life.”

In 1971 Stephen painted the Cumberland watercolor from memory and took it to show his grandfather, who was now living in Victoria in long-term care. A year later, grandfather, who had mined and later farmed in the Cumberland area, died peacefully at the age of 90.
Thanks to the hard work of the Cumberland Museum and Community Archives, I can now understand the nuances of the artwork that was created by my great uncle Stephen. I have a better appreciation for the legacy and emotions that are conveyed in my uncle’s work but most of all, I can see the love of Cumberland through the eyes of my great grandfather Lau Sheung who passed on his love of Cumberland to Stephen so he could paint it for the world to see.






Bowen, Lynne.  Boss Whistle: The Coal Miners of Vancouver Island Remember . Oolichan Books, 1982.

Wood, Lon.  “The Art of Stephen Lowe” Comox District Free Press, May 12, 1978.

The Recipe of an Immigrant — January 25, 2022

The Recipe of an Immigrant

By Rehma

We all know opening up a successful business is no easy job, especially if you’re an immigrant. 

British Columbia is known for its ethnic diversity. Immigrants are a vital piece to the ethnic diversity in B.C. About 30% of British Columbians are immigrants from all over the world. Thanks to the new immigrants arriving in the province, the entrepreneurial environment has stable growth. Opening your own business in B.C. is a risky thing to do, but as an immigrant, the process can be particularly daunting. 

My mother Maria is the owner of “Minute Bakery” in Surrey B.C. From being a housewife to having an at-home business to opening up a shop, her baking business has been quite the journey, but as an immigrant, she had some extra obstacles to overcome.

Maria was raised in Lahore, Pakistan; in 2003 she got married and decided to immigrate to Canada. At this point in time, her reason for immigration had nothing to do with her passion for baking, but it was for her soon-to-be family. The relaxing atmosphere and beauty of B.C. were the perfect invitation for her to migrate there. 

It wasn’t until 9 years after Maria immigrated that she realized baking is what she wanted to do with her life, but she couldn’t take her first career step yet. She wanted to make sure her priority was raising her three kids, but even as a stay-at-home mom she found plenty of opportunities to improve her baking skills. She baked for a lot of school fundraisers and took baking classes in her spare time. Even though Maria had minimal time to focus on her baking skills she was grateful to be in B.C.; the opportunities she had to improve her passion were endless.

Opening a bakery was one of the most challenging things Maria has ever had to do. Being an immigrant made the already challenging process even more difficult. Since she had left her whole family behind in Pakistan, she had no one for support. She was experiencing the stress of balancing her home life and work-life to the maximum. The biggest difficulty Maria faced while opening her bakery was the cultural difference. When she first opened her bakery and holidays like Christmas rolled around, she didn’t treat it as anything special. As an immigrant, she based her thinking process on what it was like back in her home country. She thought that since back in Pakistan Christmas wasn’t a big deal, then it also wouldn’t be a big deal in B.C. Maria realized that she needed to create a broader mindset on the multicultural aspect of B.C. to understand what the community and customers want. 

With all these difficulties also came doubts; Maria’s biggest doubt while opening her bakery was that she was going to experience failure. This doubt is normal for anyone who’s going to open their own business, but as an immigrant, the lack of knowledge of a new market can be a very significant reason for your downfall.

After all the learning and growing Maria had to do to understand how the business in B.C. works, she is thriving more than she ever imagined. She took some of many entrepreneurship opportunities in B.C. to help her achieve her goals. Even though Maria’s reason for immigration was not for her business, there are many immigration programs in Canada that are made for entrepreneurs. If you seize the right opportunities and have the courage to take your first step, you can make B.C. the home for you and your business.