A Canadian Professor is Searching the Entrenched Roots of Sikhs in Alberta

This survey is a part of a larger project “Southern Alberta Sikh History Project,” for which Hawley has been researching Sikhs for 15 years.


Highlighting the positive aspects of migration in a country, a Canadian professor is searching the entrenched roots of Sikh community in the history of Southern Alberta in Canada.

To uncover the history of Sikh association with the Canadian Province of Alberta, Michael Hawley, Associate Professor of Religious Studies in Mount Royal University in Alberta, is gathering documents, stories, and pictures from the Sikh community members as well as from official records. This survey is a part of a larger project “Southern Alberta Sikh History Project,” for which Hawley has been researching Sikhs for 15 years.

He has found evidence which show that Sikhs were working in Alberta even before it became a province. In an interview with Little India, Hawley said, “My research has shown that Sikhs have been active and contributing members even before Alberta became a province in 1905. There are photographs of Sikhs in southwestern Alberta as early as 1903.”

At a time, when many countries are seeing immigrants as unwanted residents, Hawley’s project underlines Sikh community’s contribution in building Alberta.

“Too often, Sikhs (as well as countless other minority groups) are seen as migrants, as ‘Others,’ who have come to a place that is ‘not theirs.’  This project undermines that narrative,” says Hawley.

“As I have already said, Sikhs have been in Alberta since before Alberta was ‘Alberta.’  This project tells us in no uncertain terms that Sikhs were builders of this province. They have contributed to and are woven into the fabric of this province,” he adds.

Expressing his keen interest in the study of Sikh diaspora’s history, Hawley said that much of the work on Sikhs in Canadian context has been centered at British Columbia’s lower mainland, particularly the area in and around Vancouver as it has been the prime site of early Sikh migration to Canada.

“However, very little has been done to document Sikh migration and settlement patterns in Alberta, British Columbia’s neighboring province,” he said.

Identifying this gap, he started digging into the archives, about one and a half year ago, to locate the ancient presence of Sikhs in Alberta. He searched and studied passenger lists of ships and liners, censuses, directories, marriage and death registrations, local museums and archives, newspapers etc. and found that Sikhs have a long and rich history in this province, which has remained untold.

When he was asked about the benefits or use of his study, he said that this project will not only help the Sikh community with a representation in Alberta’s history but will also help to rewrite provincial and Canadian history.

Explaining the potential of this project, he said that it can impact the education both in terms of the school curriculum as well as the history of Canada. It may be good to exhibit this project in museums and other cultural organizations.

Terming the response of Sikh community on this project “incredible,” Hawley says, “The community has taken a keen interest in the project, and there is genuine excitement about the history that is being uncovered.  The community has been exceptional in reaching out to me, in offering assistance, in offering their own stories and documents.”

He recalls his experiences of talking to descendants of early pioneers, as well as many Sikhs that arrived in the 1960s and 1970s. Recalling such an incident he said, “One Sikh told me that he arrived in Calgary with nothing but a telephone number on a scrap of paper.  Not knowing whose telephone number it was, he called the number when he arrives at the Calgary bus station.  A friendly Punjabi voice answered, and a car was sent to pick him up.”

Hawley, who is also Adjunct Professor of Classics and Religion in the University of Calgary, has been regularly updating the Facebook page “Southern Alberta Sikh History Project” with case studies of early pioneers, which gives the community members a common platform to know about their historical journey in the province.

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