It has been over 100 years since the first South Asian settlers arrived in Canada, and worked tirelessly in order to call British Columbia their home. 

A passionate author from White Rock named Karen Dosanjh unravels the stories of some of those first families who paved the way for the rest of us to live here comfortably, in her book Untold Stories: The South Asian Pioneer Experience in BC

The book dives head first into the stories of 32 pioneer families, and details the hardships they faced when first arriving in this country. 

From not finding job opportunities and getting paid below living wages, to not being able to sponsor their families, and the numerous hate crimes they endured, the book paints a daunting picture of racism that South Asians faced here in BC, which is so often overlooked. 

Dosanjh states that Untold Stories is a collection of “unheard voices,” of the families who immigrated here and struggled in communities that did not accept them.

The book discusses the many oppositions to South Asian success, including the American and Canadian organization called “Asiatic Exclusion League,” more formally known as the Japanese and Korean Exclusion League, who changed names in 1907 to include South Asian and Chinese immigrants.

The Asiatic Exclusion League was a racist organization that was created to enforce a barrier between Caucasians and Asians, who they deemed were immigrating here and taking away their opportunities.

Although the book unpacks heartbreaking recollections that many try to forget, it also highlights the strength and unity that South Asians exemplified, and how far we have come as a collective. 

Up until this point, it’s been hard to imagine what life was like for South Asians back in the early 1900’s. Memories and stories have lived on silently behind closed doors, and this is the first time that the South Asian pioneer experience in BC has been made available for learning to the community at large.

With no surprise, Untold Stories has been taken up very well. With a purpose to “share the stories of the early pioneers in order to preserve their legacy for future generations,” many have been fascinated and intrigued to learn about the South Asian Canadian heritage.

In fact, Dosanjh has been working closely with teachers from LA Matheson Secondary, who are compiling a teaching guide to accompany the book for educators to use all across BC.

South Asians have been pivotal members of society and have contributed immensely to the economy and community here in BC.

In Dosanjh’s own words, “It’s important for youth now to see how the earliest settlers lost a lot of their identity and who they were to develop the community as it is now.”

Dosanjh’s own family members Narain Singh and Maha Kaur’s stories are included in Untold Stories, which help to illustrate the strength and sense of camaraderie that was so prominent amongst immigrants.

South Asian pioneer settlers in BC truly helped to create the foundations of a strong community which many directly benefit from today. 

If you are interested in reading about Narain Singh and Maha Kaur’s story, please click here.

To learn more about this project, follow Karen's Instagram page, author_southasianlegacies

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