This article is part of community-wide centennial celebrations honouring the building of the National Historic Site Gur Sikh Temple (est. 1911). It was submitted by Navneet Sidhu from the Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies at the University of the Fraser Valley.
Immigration restrictions for the South Asians began to weaken after India’s independence in 1947.
India became a republic in 1949 and this eliminated the immigration threat posed by possible British subject status.
However, little changed until 1951, as there were still only 2,148 South Asians in Canada, out of which 1,937 were in British Columbia.
Pressure from India and the fact that community members were dying off as fast as they were being replaced, all forced the Canadian government to change its position on the immigration ban and to initiate a quota system.
A quota was set at 150 Indians, 100 Pakistanis and 50 Ceylonese (Sri-Lankans) to be allowed to immigrate yearly.
Initially, Indian citizens who were relatives of Indo-Canadians already living in Canada used this system.
Because most of the immigrants in Canada were Sikhs, this system allowed very few Pakistanis and Ceylonese to immigrate and between 1951-56, about 900 Indians and their dependants had immigrated to Canada. British Columbia remained the heartland of South Asian Canadian life during the 1950s and many reforms were brought into immigration law. By 1961 there were as many as 4,526 South Asians in British Columbia.
Lowering of these restrictions made the settlement of the new immigrants in Canada much easier. These new immigrants were much more westernized and assimilated easily into the Canadian society.
The fact that most of the older South Asian families were well settled by now gave an opportunity to their children to attend universities and gain better education.
As the community grew, the caste distribution amongst Sikhs changed. The pioneers were mostly Jats (belonging to the farmer class), but this solidarity was broken by the arrival of others like Rajputs, Khatris, Aroras etc. Sikhs worshipped together, thus temples continued to be the focal point for all community affairs. Even though many changes were occurring in the society, discrimination at workplace and even schools still continued.
What forced the government to further dismantle the immigration ban was the post-war expansion of the Canadian industry.
Until now the immigration had only brought in unskilled labour, and now the goal of the government was to create a system to bring immigrants into high-demand occupations.
Throughout the 1950s many South Asian professionals, both managerial and technical, came to Canada. This expanded the South Asian community across Canada as skilled workers settled in provinces where job prospects were the best.
This so-called “westernized” middle class easily adapted to the Canadian culture as most of the higher level of education in India was in English, and also long-term associations with the British had made them take up many elements of the British culture.
This decade was crucial in setting up a milestone for occupational, cultural and ethnic diversity in Canada and to make Canada one of the most ethically diverse nations in the world. Fundamental changes in immigration had already taken place and the 1960s were to see an exponential increase in South Asian immigration and the removal of racial and national restrictions in immigration regulations.