A new historical item featured online by the Royal B.C. Museum speaks to a time when immigrant communities were often unwelcome in Greater Victoria and beyond.
Now displayed in the museum’s ‘100 Objects of Interest’ collection, is the tamba – Punjabi for mixed copper alloys – dining set that one man used on his trans-Pacific voyage from Punjab to B.C. in 1927. The dining set had originally been owned by Indar Singh Gill’s father, Naranjan Singh Gill, who was part of the first major wave of migration from Punjab in 1906.
Two decades later, Indar Singh Gill followed his father, bringing along the family heirloom. The dining set includes drinking glasses, a small water jug, dishes and a tray. Although rarely found today, they were commonly used by Sikh migrants on sea voyages across the Pacific. According to the museum, the dining set was indicative of caste and class sensibilities.
Indar’s wife, Bhagwant Kaur, and their two older children, Kalvan Gill and Kaldip Gill, joined Indar in Mission, B.C. in 1938. Kalvan went on to become an entrepreneur and Kaldip an English professor. The family preserved the dining set and donated it to the Royal B.C. Museum.
“Many immigrant communities experienced that era as racially volatile, socially fragile and fraught with imminent threats of expulsion, so these items strengthen our resolve to recollect our past so that future generations may understand their own particular histories with the richness that they deserve,” Dr. Satwinder Bains, director of the South Asian Studies Institute at the University of the Fraser Valley, said in a release.
Living in B.C. during the early 1900s could be extremely difficult for non-white people, and especially so for people of Asian decent. South Asians living in Canada were banned from voting and at different points were either charged a head tax for entering the country or weren’t allowed to come at all.
In 1908, regulations were adopted that said newcomers were only allowed into Canada if they made it from their home country in one continuous journey. According to the Challenging Racist ‘British Columbia’ report, in 1913 officials tried to stop a boat of newcomers from arriving in Victoria based on those regulations. A man named Husaln Rahlm, along with the Victoria Topaz Street Sikh temple and a lawyer, protested the decision and successfully argued their case in court. Fifty-five people from India were allowed in, but the next year the federal government introduced a blanket ban on Asian immigration to B.C.
So the dining set is more than a historical object, it represents an important point in time. It and 99 other interesting items can be viewed online at royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/100.
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