Aerial view of Camp Vernon, where Sikh soldiers Gill and Sangha trained during World War Two.
Sikh Heritage Month
Since 2019, April has been recognized as Sikh Heritage Month in Canada. The Sikh population in this country numbers more than 500,000 people, one of the largest in the world outside of India. Sikh Canadians have greatly contributed to the country’s social, economic, and political history, and to its cultural fabric.
World War One
One aspect of history in which the contributions of Sikh Canadians is often overlooked is their service during the World Wars. Despite being denied the rights of citizenship, ten Sikh men did serve during World War One—and, tragically, most of them did not survive (to learn more, check out the documentary Canadian Soldier Sikhs under the “Resources” section below).
World War Two
Meanwhile, during World War Two, Sikh men were conscripted; however, Vancouver’s Khalsa Diwan Society, which represented the Sikh population in British Columbia, intervened on their behalf, and called on community members to refuse service until they were granted full franchise rights.
However, some Sikh Canadians did decide to enlist, and were trained at Camp Vernon. The book Becoming Canadians: Pioneer Sikhs in Their Own Words, by Sarjeet Singh Jagpal, describes the experience of Phangan Gill, who was trained in Vernon before heading to Halifax for advanced instruction. Due to a finger injury, he did not go overseas, but was stationed at Exhibition Park in Vancouver, where he witnessed the internment of Japanese Canadians.
Darshan Sangha was also trained at Camp Vernon, and was the only Sikh in his troop. Sangha was later released from the army, and returned to working in a mill. Like many Sikh men, he felt that the war was not his to fight.
Eventually, the Canadian Government relented on compulsory service for Sikh men, and in 1947, Chinese and South Asian Canadians were given the right to vote.
- Documentary: Canadian Soldier Sikhs: A Little Story in a Big War
- Sikh Heritage Month Act
- Buckam Singh and Sikh Canadians in the First World War
- Indo-Canadian Population in Vernon
- Podcast: The Secret Life of Canada – Shout Out to Private Buckam Singh
- Becoming Canadians: Pioneer Sikhs in Their Own Words
- History of the Vernon Military Camp
To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts!
Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator