By: Karen Dosanjh
On Dec. 8, 2019, the sold-out pre-launch event for the new book, Untold Stories: The South Asian Pioneer Experience in BC, was a resounding success with over 400 community members coming out to support the exciting, new AAJ Legacy Initiative. It was a packed house of pioneer families, students, military representatives, educators, social justice advocators, political dignitaries and representatives from universities, high schools and the media. The event was hosted by Suki Pangalia, Founder, CEO of AAJ Media Group and Karen Dosanjh, Editor & Curator, AAJ Legacy Initiative, at the elegant Ultimate Banquet Hall in Surrey, B.C.. The event was kicked off with a celebratory dhol and the singing of the Canadian and Indian National anthems which served as a poignant reminder of the strong bridge built between our countries.
About The UNTOLD STORIES Project
To be launched in April 2020, in time for Sikh Heritage Month, the Untold Stories book aims to document and preserve the forgotten voices of the first wave of South Asians who immigrated to Canada in the early 1900s from Punjab, India. The goal of the publication is to leave a lasting legacy to help educate future generations about the challenges faced by the South Asian pioneers, as well as the significant contributions they made to the rich fabric of our country. The book, which features the original works of South Asian Canadian artist, Jagdeep Singh Raina, will be made available to BC classrooms and the community at large. Untold Stories is designed by Rav Brar of RB+D, a talented graphic designer serving a variety of companies and industries in B.C. Karen Dosanjh says, “We are bringing Untold Stories to every single library and every single school in the Province in 2020. Through this new content, future generations can benefit from the lessons our pioneers have taught us about dealing with adversity, being resilient and having the tenacity to overcome it all and succeed despite many barriers. Untold Stories will serve as a valuable and relevant teaching tool for students who will benefit greatly from the life lessons of our pioneers.”
Unprecedented Support from Community Leaders & Influencers
The Hon. Harjit Singh Sajjan, Canada’s First South Asian Minister of National Defence, was in attendance and personally welcomed the pioneer families, spoke about the significance of the Untold Stories project and presented the Pioneer Family Awards to deserving recipients. Other Pioneer Family Awards presenters included: Shushma Dhatt, the legendary first-lady of Canadian television, Herb Dhaliwal, the First South Asian to be elected to the House of Commons in Canada (1993), Baljit Sangra, Vancouver-based Film and Television Director whose documentaries explore social and cross-cultural issues, and Sukh Dhaliwal, Liberal Member of Parliament for Surrey, Newton who led the Bill which declaring Canada as the first country in the world to adopt formal legislation recognizing April as Sikh Heritage Month.
Serving as the evenings captivating emcee and storyteller was Baltej Singh Dhillon, a pioneer in his own right and former Sikh Mountie who actively fought for his right to wear a turban in the RCMP in Canada.
Educators came out to show their full support for the book launch and related speakers shared their included: Annie Ohana, Educator, Social Justice Curriculum Specialist & Aboriginal Department Head at LA Matheson Secondary (LAM), Gurpreet Kaur Bains, Educator, Department Head Modern Languages Program at LAM, Mandish Saran, Head of the Next 100 Years Mentorship Program and Manager, Surrey School District, and Dr. Satwinder Bains, Director of South Asian Studies Institute at the University of Fraser Valley. The success of Untold Stories truly depends on educators like these who are care deeply about bringing these South Asian pioneer content to their classrooms. A number of students from the Mustang Justice Program and the Next 100 Years Mentorship Program at LA Matheson Secondary also volunteered their time to support the event and to meet the pioneers.
Other notable figures in attendance included: Mr. Ujjal Dosanjh, First South Asian Premier of BC, Hon. Abhilasha Joshi, Consulate General of India, Vancouver, Jinny Sims, Minister for Citizens Services in BC, Pardeep Singh Nagra, Historian, Athlete & Advocate from Ontario, and Lynn Saffery, Head of the Museum of Surrey.
Saluting Our Sikh Veterans
Captain Ujjagar Singh Nagra, 91, who fought for the British Commonwealth as a solider in the Indian Army in WW2 was welcomed with a full honour guard salute and heartfelt greeting from Mr. Sajjan and many others. Captain Nagra dedicated 32 years of his life to serving in the army and a highlight of the evening was when all attendees stood together honour his service.
Rare Artifacts and Images Exhibited
Many pioneer families also brought in rare items and precious images of their ancestors to share with the community as part of our pioneer exhibit which was another highlight and a connection point of conversation for many attendees. This was truly community-curated content. The AAJ Legacy Initiative team also showcased an extensive slide show of hundreds of original, never before seen pioneer images on screens throughout the night. Raj Singh Toor, who represents the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society shared a number of precious artifacts representing the Komagata Maru incident of 1914.
Pioneer Awards Presented to Outstanding Pioneer Families
Pioneer Family Awards were presented to 6 long-standing families whose roots date back to the early 1900s in Canada and all of which have deeply contributed to the betterment of the BC community. Elder representatives from each family took the stage to accept the awards on behalf of their extended families. The Pioneer Family Awards were presented to the Beadall Family, Dosanjh Family, Ghag Family, Johal Family, Randhawa Family and Thandi Family. The presentation of the Pioneer Awards struck an emotional chord with the entire audience as the elders were honoured for their lasting contributions.
Prime Minister & Mr. Sajjan honour the AAJ Legacy Initiative Team
Another meaningful moment was when Mr. Sajjan presented both Suki and Karen with letters of endorsement from himself and the Hon. Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. Mr. Sajjan thanked Suki, Karen and the team for their dedication to bringing South Asian legacies to light for the benefit of others. This moment validated the importance of the Untold Stories project not just for the South Asian community but for all Canadians. Mr. Sajjan also presented Suki with a Medal of Honour to recognize his decades of service to both the military and the broader community. Suki says, “It was a true honour to be recognized by the PM and Mr. Sajjan for the AAJ Legacy Initiative, and also by Mr. Sajjan for my efforts in the Canadian Armed Forces. I was beyond humbled and it was a lifetime highlight for me.”
In the theme of celebrating South Asian culture, the event wrapped up with a vibrant fashion show hosted by the talented Devi Bains of Armaan DBG who has been serving the South Asian community for 20 years. The beautiful Armaan DBG models showcased unique, ready to wear items from her latest collection.
Join the Untold Stories Launch Event on April 14
Suki, Karen and the AAJ Media Group have partnered with the Museum of Surrey to launch the Untold Stories book on April 14 at the Museum. Visit aajmag.ca for more information.