Remembering BC’s South Asian pioneers

It was a packed house this past weekend at the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel in downtown Vancouver as hundreds of guests attended the annual 100 Year Journey Gala.

Notable guests included numerous current and past political leaders, industry heads, and even the current World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) champion, Jinder Mahal, who easily drew the loudest cheers of the night – though Surrey Councillor Tom Gill came a close second.

The annual event is organised by Rupa and Rana Vig, co-founders of the 100 Year Journey Project and former publishers of Mehfil Magazine.

For Rana Vig, the 100-year Journey project has a critical role in guiding the growth of the South Asian community as it progresses into its 2nd century in British Columbia.
“Our pioneers laid the foundation so that all of us that have followed can enjoy this beautiful country,” Vig has previously stated to The South Asian Post. “Honouring them serves as a reminder to us all of the struggles that they faced and of the fight they fought.”

The 100 Year Journey Project recognises the sacrifices of BC’s pioneer generations but also the achievements of ‘Navigators’, or people of South Asian descent who are charting new territories and breaking new ground.

This year’s honourees included:

Jagmeet Singh – This Toronto based lawyer was named as one of Toronto's top 12 personalities to watch in 2012, calling him a “trailblazer” in Ontario politics. In 2015 he became Deputy Leader of the Ontario NDP and in October 2017, Singh was elected Leader of the federal NDP – becoming the first person of a visible minority to lead a Canadian federal political party.

Senator Mobina Jaffer – This former trial lawyer is the first South Asian senator, the first African-born senator, and the first Muslim senator in Canada.

D.P. Pandia – This Oxford educated man was instrumental in helping Indo Canadians win the right to vote. He first came in contact with Vancouver’s Indian community in 1939 – a troubling time for the small 1000 Indians that lived in Canada. He made many delegation visits to Ottawa to fight on behalf of the community for equality under the law.

Tab Shori – Raised in Kamloops, BC, Shori was a trailblazing musician who at the height of his career, opened for superstars such as Ike and Tina Turner. He was recently inducted in to the B.C. Entertainment Hall of Fame as one of this province’s musical pioneers.

Chin Injeti – This musician first experienced success in the early ‘90s as one-third of the R&B trio Bass Is Base - their 1994 debut album won a JUNO Award. He has produced such artists as Esthero, Kinnie Starr, Bedouin Soundclash and The Canadian Tenors and worked with working A-list artists such as Dr. Dre, 50 Cent, Virginia hip-hop trio Clipse featuring Kanye West, and Drake.

Paul Dhaliwal – South Asian pioneer, Paul Dhaliwal, arrived in Canada in 1932, first settled in Abbotsford and is regarded as one of the original settlers who helped build the local Sikh community. His father was one of the first Indian pioneers to Canada, arriving in 1905. Dhaliwal worked many years in lumber camps around B.C. until he was spotted by a wrestling promoter in 1945 and started touring the U.S. as a professional wrestler known as Banta Singh and the Bombay Bomber. Dhaliwal was one of the first Indian wrestlers in North America.
One of the highlights of his wrestling career took place in Portland, Oregon when famed boxer Jack Dempsey acted as a referee for one of his matches. He came back married and settled in Mission in 1950 and started his own trucking business, Paul Bros., which eventually became known as Mission Fuel.

Yuvraj Singh Dhesi (Jinder Mahal) – Raised in Calgary, Dhesi made his WWE television debut in 2011. Fading from the WWE world in 2014, he was determined to make his way back into the limelight and did so in 2016. And then, just one year later and many double underhook suplexes later, he was crowned WWE Champion. His victory over 13 time world champion Randy Orton has been viewed on YouTube more than three-million times in less than four months.

Palbinder Shergill – Called to the B.C. bar in 1991, Gill has been in front of the Supreme Court of Canada in landmark cases, which include the right of Sikh students to wear the kirpan (a ceremonial knife) in schools, and the right of a Catholic high school to teach an ethics and religious culture course from a Catholic perspective - cases that have shaped human rights and religious freedom laws in this country. Earlier this year, she became the first turbaned Sikh judge in the country.


The 100 Year Journey Project launched in 2014 with the creation of a book chronicling the stories of some of the first 100 Indo-Canadians in Canada over the past century. The narratives describe how some 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 built a foundation for their new lives.

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