Local History

Asian Heritage: The Right to Vote

In celebration of Asian Heritage Month, Surrey604 will share inspirational stories of South Asian pioneers in B.C., in collaboration with 100 Year Journey project.  The 100 Year Journey Project is providing readers around the world the gift of being able to read the extraordinary stories of South Asian Canadian Pioneers in all formats with a digital release.

The 100 Year Journey Project’s publication tells the stories of some of the first South Asians in Canada, detailing how they provided shelter and support for new immigrants, fought tirelessly for the voting rights of all communities, and spent years away from their loved ones as they set up new lives for themselves and their families. For more information visit 100yearjourney.com


Photo: (From left) Kartar Singh, Kapoor Singh, Dr. Pandia and Mayo Singh led a delegation to the 1946 municipalities conference in Harrison Hot Springs, B.C., where they secured the municipal vote for Indo-Canadians.

“The government took our vote away in 1907. We got the Dominion vote in 1946 but you couldn’t vote in the Dominion unless you had the provincial vote so we couldn’t exercise the right to vote federally because in B.C. we didn’t have the right to vote provincially. Then everyone realized that you can’t exercise the provincial franchise unless you can vote municipally, which is why the community put its effort towards getting the municipal vote.”

“The mayor of Victoria agreed to present the motion but there was a fear that unless members of the community made their presence felt at the municipalities conference, the motion to give us the vote would die on the table. A lot of people went to keep the pressure on. On the last day of the conference the municipal leaders – who had been well-fed the night before in a hospitality suite – agreed the vote should go to the ‘Hindus’.

“The beauty of this picture is that Mayo Singh and Kartar Singh were partners at one time in a mill in Paldi.  When their relatives came to Canada, the two sides began to quarrel. Mayo and Kartar parted and spent considerable time in court against each other. But when it came to the vote, they sunk their differences and united for a common cause. When it came to the good of the community, they buried their differences and worked as one.”

This interview originally appeared in the December 1997 edition of ** Mehfil Magazine**

Dr. Manmohan Wirk, who provided the above account, wrote a book that traces the history of Victoria’s Sikh community. A native of Kenya, Dr. Wirk lived in Victoria since 1969, when he married Ranjeet, the granddaughter of pioneers who settled in B.C. in 1906 and the daughter of first Indo-Canadian couple to be married in Victoria.

Daman Beatty
The creator of Surrey604.com, Daman Beatty (AKA 'Beatler') is originally from Sackville, New Brunswick. A longtime media producer, visual designer, marketing and communications specialist, Daman loves travel, technology and being a Daddy.