Browse The Gjenvick-Gjønvik Archives Home Page

Canada's New Immigrant - The Hindu - 1907

Ex-Hindu Soldiers at Victoria, BC.

Ex-Hindu Soldiers at Victoria, BC. Canada's New Immigrant, February 1907. GGA Image ID # 14a5857f9d

By J. BARCLAY WILLIAMS and SAINT N. SING

Mr. Williams, a Canadian, and Mr. Sing, a native of India, widely differ regarding the desirability of Hindu immigrants.

Mr. WILLIAMS writes: The Province of British Columbia seems doomed to have a standing trouble in the matter of immigration. For years the intrusion of the Chinese and Japanese gave rise to all manner of difficulty. It resulted in the passing of exclusion acts by the local legislature, to be, in turn, disallowed by the Federal Government at Ottawa.

This difficulty was overcome some seventeen months ago when the Dominion Government practically excluded the Chinese by the raising of the head tax to $500. As a precautionary measure, the Japanese Government had before this taken upon itself to restrict the emigration of subjects from that country, rather than submit to the indignity of having exclusion laws enacted against their admission.

But no sooner had the Chinese and Japanese immigration been brought to a satisfactory condition than a new contention arose. This was an invasion from India, which promises to be a more difficult one to control, since the Hindus are British subjects, and as such cannot be excluded from the Empire.

The word has apparently been passed around, and each steamer from the Orient brings its quota of these people. The class of Hindus that have invaded British Columbia are commonly known as Sikhs, meaning the lower class, entirely dependent upon their physical capabilities —those who have no set aim in life.

They are the "coolies" of Calcutta. In stature, the average Sikh is taller than our countrymen. His limbs are slender, and his body gaunt. The complexion is dark brown, while his hair is long and black.

In dress, he copies the European except for the head adornment, which is substituted by the turban. The Hindu is not adapted to take the place filled by the Chinamen and Japs in this country.

He is not satisfied in turning himself to any and every class of work which presents itself. A job lasting a day or a week has no allurement for him. He must be ensured steady work for a year or longer.

The caste system excludes his employment as a cook, as well as in many other lines of work. No meat would be prepared by him, much less would he handle any animals about to be slaughtered for the purpose of food.

The caste of the Hindu embodies many singular and fancied beliefs. According to the laws of Brahmanism, the Hindus are divided into hereditary classes or castes.

All members of one caste are, theoretically, of equal rank, and of the same profession or occupation, and are prohibited from intermarriage or eating with those, not of their own caste.

The original castes are four, namely: the Behmins, or sacerdotal order; the Kshatriyas, or soldiers and rulers; the Vaisyas, or husbandmen and merchants; the Sudras, or laborers and mechanics. Men of no caste are Pariahs or outcasts.

Numerous mixed classes or castes have sprung up over time. The castes emigrating to Canada seem to be a mixture of Kshatriyas and Sudras. However, they have transgressed the commandments initially laid down by their different Mahomet.

Unless these ridiculous forms of worship are totally relinquished, the Hindu will be practically worthless in a country like ours for numerous reasons. He is forced to do his own cooking, and partake of only such morsels as are prepared either by himself or a member of his caste.

Two castes are not permitted to work side by side, nor for the same company, and were the number of one caste inadequate, it would be necessary to delegate a member of that sect in quest of reinforcements, or be under the penalty of losing those already employed.

This naturally has a deterrent effect on the welfare of the Hindu. Probably the two most prosperous communities of Hindus in British Columbia are those working in the rural district near Victoria, and at Mileside, near New Westminster.

At the former place, over 100 are employed; in the latter place, there is a similar number. These have, so far, proved satisfactory to a certain extent, but do not equal the Orientals. As tradesmen, these East Indians do not seem to become apt scholars, and their knowledge of domestic duties is minimal.

Physically, they are unfit for manual labor, their diet being so light and unsustaining as to have reduced them to weaklings. Not accustomed to the mode of labor as conducted in this country, they soon become weary, and only by dint of force do they manage to hold through the day.

The condition of these deluded Hindus is a sad one. It is a daily sight to see them wandering here, there and everywhere, half-starved, half-naked, hoarding in wretched hovels, ordered here, excluded there, and despised universally. Their clothing is of the thinnest and most inferior.

Some are clad only in scanty pantaloons, a sweater or undergarment, and possibly a coat; barely warm enough for the warmest summer weather. On rainy days they wrap themselves in blankets, which scarcely cover their shaking bodies.

The following taken from a local newspaper explains the conditions of these Sikhs graphically: "Vancouver's Black Hole of Calcutta. A horde of freezing immigrants takes possession of a wretched tenement condemned by health authorities.

It was a combination of Libby Prison and the Black Hole of Calcutta, with a little touch of Dante's Inferno, and a free fight thrown in. One Hindu has a shack rented on Elm Drive near Powell Street, in the locality known as Cedar Cove.

It appears that he acts as a runner for his own lodging house whenever a steamer laden with Hindus arrives here. He is generally successful in getting a large bunch, all of whom pay in advance. He expects them to trust him, but he trusts nobody.

This shack was formerly occupied by a family comprising two parents and twelve children. The only way they could crowd in, as it was notorious in the neighborhood, was six in a bed, and two on the floor.

To this, after benevolent Dr. Munro, Dominion Medical Health Officer for the Port of Vancouver, had seen that they were supplied at their own expense with proper clothing, there wended yesterday some ninety Hindus.

The shack is one from which the health authorities have six times bodily 'fired the occupants. It is suited for about six people, allowing the widest stretch of the law regarding the amount of cubic air space that should be allowed for each individual.

About seventy of the Hindus got inside, only a man who has packed sardines can ever tell how. That still left a number outside. They had paid for shelter, and they wanted it. Then the first row started. The crowd outside wanted in, and the group inside wanted to hold their advantage.

People who witnessed it say that the fight was terrific. Blood flowed like water, turbans were torn off and trampled upon, Dr. Munro's slick yellow slickers were torn to shreds, and, for a time, it looked as if the cottage itself would be torn from its foundations.

Some who were out got in, and some who were in were pulled out, and finally, the fight ended from sheer exhaustion on the part of the participants. It was then something like the afterclap of a college cane-rush.

The ones outside slunk away to the vacant spaces alongside the street and laid down to rest; the men inside made as merry as their exhausted state would allow.

Then there was quiet for a while till the men who were inside wanted to lie down to rest. It was just as possible for them to do so as it would be for one of the aforementioned canned sardines to turn a somersault.

Then started another pandemonium that the people in the vicinity say could hardly be paralleled. These cooped-in men fought for a chance to lie down, just as the men in Libby Prison did, or as the poor wretches in the Black Hole of Calcutta fought for a place near the ventilating hole.

"The yells, oaths, curses, and shrieks awakened every one for blocks around, and when Policeman O'Grady arrived, he found a scene of filth and blood and battered, frenzied faces that he hopes never to have duplicated before his vision.

"He telephoned from a nearby residence for help, and with the aid of some Hindus who could speak English, enough of the crowd were induced to seek shelter in a woodshed and under the porch, and in the wide, wide world, and temporary. peace was obtained, but at intervals, the row was kept up all night."

Since the preceding account was written, an old abandoned cannery on the Fraser River has been requisitioned for the use of these homeless unfortunates, which is a little better than nothing.

It is so situated that the cold winds from the gulf sweep through the dilapidated building with seemingly double force. In this have been housed nearly three hundred men, who are required to pay a rental of two dollars a month each for their privilege.

Besides this, there has been erected a temporary refuge in the city, where there will be at least partial shelter for those who, as yet, are not accommodated. A large tent has been purchased by philanthropic persons, and all expenses defrayed by the Hindus themselves.

That the city or the Federal Government will have the keeping of these destitute is evident. It is the opinion of all those steps should at once be taken to appraise the Indian Government of these circumstances, and warn intending emigrants of their unfortunate brothers' mistake.

From the 1st of January, 1906, to the 31st of October, there arrived in British Columbia, 2,195 Hindus; 100 were deported on account of infections. Since the end of October, there has been an arrival of over 470. Of this, twenty-five were deported owing to diseases.

The general feeling throughout the districts affected by the immigration of the Hindu is not at all favorable to him. Although no outward manifestation of hostility has been apparent, there lies underneath a simmering of dislike, as evidenced in several instances of late.

That the time is not far distant when the Sikh will retrace his steps is the popular belief, as it only needs the necessary cost of transportation to induce him to do so.

MR, SING'S VERSION

Newly Arrived Hindus Lined Up on CPR Wharf at Victoria, BC.

Newly Arrived Hindus Lined Up on CPR Wharf at Victoria, BC. The Canadian Magazine, February 1907. GGA Image ID # 14a5a7c8dd

I hope you will strongly condemn the disgraceful habit of speaking of the 'black man,' which is wrong as it is untrue. The East Indians are of the same origin as we ourselves, and have quite the same features as we have.

I have now had for nearly six months, two Indians regularly about my rooms and helping me in many ways. I never saw better servants or more amiable, more high and well-bred people, or more attentive or intelligent and devoted in their service.

Many who have been in India will tell you the same, and it is disgraceful to think how shamefully they are often used by the young English men, officers, and civilians." There is a certain ring of sincerity and conscientious wrathfulness about the preceding, which renders it peculiarly charming.

These noble words are reproduced from an autograph letter written by the late Queen Victoria to George, the late Duke of Cambridge, a life of whom has just been published.

I am reminded of these words by the disgraceful treatment that has been given to the British India immigrants into British Columbia, and it is a great consolation to me to know that if the late Queen were still alive, she would be the first to condemn in fullest terms "the extreme spirit of hostility which has been evinced towards the Hindus who have arrived in British Columbia."

Why "men who have been joined by the ties of danger, suffering, and death are now bid to be strangers and enemies," it is the purpose of this article to show.

The causes that have led to East Indian emigration, the conditions under which the immigrants into British Columbia live and work, and their future prospects have been grossly misrepresented, or utterly misunderstood.

The discussion of the subject by the press and public of the Pacific Coast of Canada has been not only frantically furious, but it has also been characterized with the densest ignorance about the lives, habits, and influence of the East Indian immigrants in particular, and about the present conditions in modern India, in general.

The East India immigrants are in British Columbia "out of compliment" to the Canadian West. The province is rich in mineral and material wealth and has a uniformly healthful climate. But it is unfortunately very thinly populated.

A typical Canadian remarked to the writer: "British Columbia is probably one of the richest areas in the world, and I can not but feel pleased that this fact is known even so far away as in distant India."

But, how did the country attract the attention of some of the Indian immigrants? This is a question that has puzzled many a Canadian. Specious explanations have been offered, which reflect great credit on the plausible inventive genius of their authors—but these are not only wrong but entirely misleading.

It is less than five years since the first India pioneer landed in Vancouver, B.C. For three years, Indian immigrants kept coming in small parties of about two or three in number.

From searching inquiries, I find that these early pioneers were full of fearless enterprise and dash, and the search for newer and richer fields of work attracted their roving dispositions and made them drift to British Columbia. In every instance, they had rambled through one or more of the far eastern countries.

A little later came some ex-soldiers, who was doubtless actuated in coming to this land, having heard glowing descriptions of the future of the Canadian West from their English military authorities.

All of these early pioneers knew a smattering of English and soon after their arrival in Vancouver readily secured work. Concerning their occupations, it may be said that they did odd jobs, taking care of gardens, clearing the ground of the stumps of trees, working in the mills, and the like.

According to the statistics available, the number of Indian immigrants who are at present in British Columbia is roughly 2,500 persons. They are chiefly scattered around the Pacific Coast, but some have gone into the interior of British Columbia.

Seventeen hundred of them arrived in the province during the last eight months of last year. With very few exceptions, these men hail from the Punjab or the north-west frontier Province.

In the earlier batches, they migrated from the China coastal towns, Manchuria, Siam, the Malayan Isles, the Straits Settlements, and Burma, where they had worked either as policemen or watchmen.

A large percentage of Indian immigrants into British Columbia consists of soldiers who have earned an honorable discharge. In the latter shipments, the immigrants have arrived straight from India, coming directly from their rural farms and villages.

They are chiefly peasants and farmers. They are mostly Sikhs and Mohammedans, with some Hindus. The cause of the present influx is simple and can be easily explained.

In India, the wages are meager, and of late years people are growing dissatisfied with existing conditions, throwing away caste and religious prejudices, and migrating to foreign countries where hard, honest work brings in comfortable competence.

Tradition and religious sentiment in India teach perfect allegiance to the British throne, and the East Indian people much revere and love the reigning sovereign.

Accordingly, emigrants from India prefer going to the new countries, which are integral parts of the British Empire, expecting cordial, brotherly welcome, and British fair-play, which they themselves accord to the Britons in India.

Letters from the advance guard in British Columbia are the immediate cause of Indian immigrants having increasingly arrived on the west coast during the last few months.

I was recently traveling through far eastern countries. I had the opportunity of observing how eagerly these letters were circulated by the recipients, read with interest and decisions made with precipitate haste to take the earliest opportunity to go to a British country where honest, hard work earned competence.

The City of Vancouver has grown rapidly, and the house accommodation there is very insufficient. Accordingly, the Indian immigrants on arrival have to put up with any sort of housing they can get.

That most of these houses are wretched, miserable shacks, ill-ventilated and poorly plumbed, damp and unhygienic is unfortunately true. But for this, the immigrants are not to blame.

Commenting upon the lack of house accommodation, Dr. Alexander S. Munro, the Dominion Immigration Inspector at Vancouver, remarked: "It is a shame these Hindus are treated as they have been. They all have money in their pockets to pay for whatever they get, but the trouble is they can't get it."

Yes, the trouble is, "they can't get it." But the men who have the fearlessness and enterprise to cross many seas and oceans, their indomitable spirits un dauntingly trampling that East Indian fiend of fiends—the caste—have the bravery and perseverance to endeavor to overcome these difficulties.

To surmount the lack of house accommodation, they have united in organizing houses on cooperative plans and building Sikh temples and Mohammedan mosques, which beside furnishing places for worship, will meet a very acutely felt want by supplying housing for the newly-arrived and unemployed immigrants.

These ideas have passed the chaotic stage of early conception and are fast getting materialized. As for personal cleanliness, the Hindus have been baselessly slandered.

Those who know aught about the people of India admit that the East Indians attend to their ablutions with religious sacredness, and the Indian immigrants who are now in British Columbia are no exception in this respect.

Coming as these men do from the northwestern parts of India and belonging as they do to the martial races of the country, the Hindu immigrants are splendid-looking men.

They are tall and broad-shouldered and deep-winded, muscular and robust—men who can patiently put up with a hard, struggling, tough life. In their unique eastern head-dress, they look picturesque, which, so far as their dress goes, is the only link connecting them with the Orient.

But in this twentieth century, the commercial spirit of the age has rendered sentiment subservient to utility, and the picturesque head-dress. However, quaint to the western eye is fast disappearing amongst the advanced section of the immigrants.

In their tidy and smart semi-uniforms, in their trained gait, in quick perception and bright intelligence, these men compare favorably with any immigrants that have ever entered British Columbia from the Pacific coastal towns or drifted from the eastern parts of Canada.

Morally they hold their own against men of the same class and condition amongst whom they now live and with whom they work. In his abstemiousness from inebriating drinks, the average Indian immigrant can set a very timely lesson to his fellow workingmen of other nationalities.

It is the cause of much gratification to the writer that never in the annals of the police court in British Columbia has yet any Indian immigrants been convicted of a crime. Can any other immigration of equal dimensions show a better record?

I look with favor upon the arduous struggle the Indian immigrants are making to adjust themselves to the new conditions, ways, manners, and language of a new country.

But it would be a very great misfortune if, in this adjustment, the immigrants lose to any extent their high tone of morality or learn the peculiarly western vice of drinking. From what has already been written here, it will be readily seen that the East India immigrants are in no danger of suffering from the climatic change.

The districts of which they are natives are cold in winter and have a long "wet" rainy season also. Besides, they possess the hardihood of a very distinct kind and in a most remarkable degree, which has been put to very trying tests and proved on the battlefields of China, Thibet, and Afghanistan, making it easy for them to get readily acclimatized and thrive in any climate.

Coming as they do from the proximity of the Afghan border, where the institutions of caste are freer than anywhere else in India, and being gifted with spirits that do not respect prudish or conventional prejudices, they are naturally not hampered with that strictness of caste regulations that would interfere with their work or everyday life.

Yet, if one were to believe the statements that are being conspicuously paraded in a section of the British Columbia Press, one is apt to think that this community of the India immigrants in the Canadian West is most criminally inclined, filthy and unsanitary by habit; roguish in instinct and thoroughly undesirable.

The nature of these colorful and inflammatory yellow emanations from the morbidly rabid press organs of Vancouver and Victoria can be judged by the fact that I would deem myself guilty of a most heinous crime were I to quote the mildest of them.

Hindu Immigrants Preparing a Meal on CPR Wharf at Victoria, BC.

Hindu Immigrants Preparing a Meal on CPR Wharf at Victoria, BC. The Canadian Magazine, February 1907. GGA Image ID # 14a5ab874d

Well may Colonel Falkland, C.M.G., say: "When I hear the Sikhs who are here now in Vancouver, men who have served in regiments bearing on their colours the names of battles as testimony of their loyalty in the darkest days of the Mutiny, with the historic names of the great soldiers who commanded them, the King and members of our Royal Family as their colonels—when I say that I hear these men speak of the treatment they have received here, the vile abuse of themselves, the falsehoods as to their character and loyalty, I can say nothing, but only hang my head in shame. . . . . .

As regards the inhumanity of their (India immigrants) treatment on arrival and since, on that score, shame must forever rest upon the name of this city, and primarily upon those who have engineered the present great public scandal."

Hard words, the proverb says, break no bones. But the East Indian immigrants have not only been indiscriminately vilified, but they have been most arbitrarily and high-handedly treated.

Reference has already been made to the malicious spirit which has shown itself in refusing house shelter on payment to the East Indian immigrants Allusion may be made to the inhuman utterance which a leading city father was reported in the press to have blustered forth—that he would rather see a Hindu immigrant die of hunger and cold before his very eyes, than assist him, a statement of which any living being having pretension to humanity ought to be ashamed.

Bad as these instances are, they pale into insignificance when compared with the act of the Mayor of Vancouver, who on the 15th of October last arbitrarily detained very nearly two hundred East Indian immigrants on board the steamship Empress of Japan.

The detention lasted for more than two days. In a mob meeting organized by the "Mayor," the character of which can be judged from the fact that Colonel Falkland Warren, late R.A., while speaking of the gross misstatements that were being made about the immigrants, was howled down and not allowed to speak, a knot of political and socialist agitators said that "Canada is a white man's country" and every possible means should be employed to keep out the "millions (of Hindus) that are going to arrive unless we stop them."

A leading lawyer referred to the lectures delivered at this gathering as the "height of frenzied folly" and added: "The Mayor, to rouse public feeling against them, has declared that this is a white man's country. It is certainly not a white man's Empire, and it cannot be a white man's Empire as long as it remains within its boundaries three hundred million subjects in India.

As long as the Empire exists, surely every member is entitled to be received at least as well as such foreign races as the Galicians, Doukhobors, Japanese and Chinese. - - - - - - They are not only of the same Empire but of the same race with others. They have been supporters of the Empire.

Their elegant appearance and military bearing, even under so many adverse circumstances, compares very favorably with the presence of an equal number of their detractors."

But who set this ball of iniquity rolling? Who is at the bottom of this shamefully and meanly-conducted agitation? Who is answerable for the injustice, unfairness, and brutality that has characterized for several months the treatment given to the East Indian immigrants?

A very prominent citizen of Vancouver on being introduced to the writer feelingly apologized, saying: "I feel ashamed of myself when I shake hands with you. Our people have treated your people disgracefully."

I do not, in any way, wish to minimize the considerable opposition that has been offered to the Indian immigrants in British Columbia. But, after touring the entire length of Canada and gauging the sentiments of not only representative British Columbian men and women, but also of the Canadians in other cities, I am convinced that the sensible portion of the community has not only nothing to do with the disgraceful liberties that have been taken with the East Indian immigrants, but some of them have shown marvelous courage of conviction in denouncing in no mincing manner the authors of this great public scandal.

The opposition that the East Indians have met in British Columbia is at best (or worst) merely sectional. Who are the authors of it, it is not for the present writer to say. The charges that have been framed against the East Indians point out in an obvious way the people who have engineered this agitation.

These lines have not been written in any rancorous or carping spirit. The writer is an East Indian himself, but has attempted to approach the subject from an Imperialist's point of view. What is going to be the upshot of this deplorable agitation?

Where is this unfortunate and misguided hostility directed against men of the same origin and Empire fated to end? are questions that are being always asked. That the East Indian immigrants are laboring under very significant disadvantages at present can not be disguised.

Imagine a set of newcomers being hounded by a knot of maliciously persistent and unscrupulous agitators and detractors, pluckily endeavoring to give lie to the prejudicial statements about their lives, habits, virility, adaptability, and worthiness.

Think of these men securing positions for themselves when systematic efforts are being made to convince the employers that these men are without brawn and muscle, that they are incapable of enduring hardship, that they are unsanitary and infested with objectionable caste prejudices. - These are serious drawbacks.

But that the wonderful hardihood of the East Indian immigrants, their vast capacity for bearing trying hardships and overcoming difficulties, which has been sorely proved in many places and found successful, would not desert them in Canada is hard to be doubted.

That they will eventually succeed in conquering the disabilities and drawbacks under which they labor and lead prosperous and noble lives is an assured and foregone conclusion with those who know them intimately.

As it is, there has been some difficulty with which the recently arrived immigrants have found work. But most of them who are already in the country have secured employment or have the prospect of getting jobs soon.

It would doubtless be deemed impertinent on my part were I to tell Canadians that the Canadian Far West has splendid mines, fisheries, lumbering, and fruit ranching districts that are suffering from scarcity of labor.

That the East Indian immigrants who are already in British Columbia, or may arrive later, should find no difficulty in finding work in the fisheries, mines, mills, fruit ranches, railroads, or clearing forests, is apparent. The immigrants have done similar work in India and elsewhere.

The Mayor of Vancouver, in a conversation with me, said that there was room for at least a thousand domestics in that city alone. The testimony of the late Queen quoted at the outset of this article as to the excellence of the East Indian servants is daily corroborated by those who have lived in India.

Talking of his East Indian employees, Mr. J. F. McRae, of the Rat Portage Mills, said: "That he would rather increase the wages of the Hindus he employed than lose them."

Canada has learned to associate tea with India. The tea industry in India is of recent growth, and where the tea plantations exist to-day, there once stood huge forests and thick jungles.

The northwestern parts of India, whence these men hail, are known to be the fruit regions of India. India is already well intersected with railroads. The past experience of these immigrants, or those who may arrive later from India, is a great asset. With the remarkable aptitude they possess to familiarise themselves with the new methods prevailing in Canada, they will prove of invaluable service in developing the country.

It is surprising and unfortunate, indeed, that such men should be received even with sectional hostility. It is all the more surprising that the labor union people should oppose them.

These immigrants have suffered most acute pain by living and working at starvation wages, and, if there are any people in the world who know the baneful effect of wages, and who are utterly opposed to the very idea of starvation wages, they are these immigrants from India.

In working against the interests of these men, the unionists endeavor to supplant the motives, and the cause which brought them into existence. The Indian immigrants have already given ample proof that, instead of cheapening labor, they will stick to a reasonable price for the work they render.

In the estimation of the writer of these lines, the influence these immigrants are destined to wield in this country will be uniformly good and healthful. That they will improve the tone of morality and promote soberness amongst the working people that their peaceful, thrifty, and law-abiding lives, that their hard, honest, and patient work will make for the good of the whole community, time will doubtless demonstrate.

India is waging a ceaseless struggle for self-government. But this struggle is constitutional and untainted with blood. India does not desire to sever the Imperial bonds. During the last half-century, Canada pursued the same policy.

Canada enjoys complete internal self-government and still remains as one of the staunchest integral parts of the British Empire. India will reach that stage later on. Meanwhile, these immigrants supply additional cords to cement the union of the respective countries of the Empire, and provide the link which will make these members of the same Empire take more than passing interest in the successes and problems of one another.

Let every one wish that Canada be for the Canadians and India for the East Indians—but not at the sacrifice of Imperial ties. While it is improbable that the immigration from India will ever assume the proportions of an "invasion," let it be hoped that the East Indian immigrants would not think the British Columbian people to be like those "who, 'gainst the house less [a] stranger shut the door."

J. Barclay Williams and Saint N. Sing, "Canada's New Immigrant," in The Canadian Magazine, Toronto, Vol. XXVIII, No. 4, February 1907, pp. 383-391.

Return to Top of Page
<

Immigration to Canada
GG Canadian Immigration Archives

Copyright © 2000- Gjenvick-Gjønvik Archives. All rights reserved. See Terms of Use.