Learn about the Sikh Community in Canada


Sikhism is the fifth-largest world religion with an estimated 27 million followers worldwide. It arose in the 15th century in the Punjab region of what is now Pakistan through the teachings of Guru Nanak. Sikh people are often, seen as both a religion as well as an ethnic group.

Thus, the religion is identified primarily with Punjabi people and culture. Guru Nanak travelled widely across India and incorporated both Hindu and Islam traditions into his own distinctive ideology.

His primary teachings were that:

Salvation is possible for all through devotion and the maintenance of a moral and selfless life.

His ideas were expanded on by nine subsequent gurus who lived between the 15th and 17th centuries. Sikh traditions teaches that the same light (jot) resides in all these ten gurus and Sikhs adhere to the teachings of all of them. One of the Sikh gurus, Guru Arjun collected Sikh scriptures into a single volume named the Adi Granth, which is the main spiritual base ofSikhism. Oppression by Muslim Mughal emperors and the unsettled conditions in Punjab cleared the way for an increases militancy and ethnic consciousness among Sikhs. In those times of turbulence, the 10th Guru, who was both a spiritual and military leader developed the Khalsa. Men who were initiated into this were given the surname ‘Singh’ which means lion and were expected to follow the five kakas (K’s):

  • to keep their beard and hair uncut

  • (kesh) to wear a comb

  • (kangha) to wear a steel bracelet

  • (kara) to weara soldier’s breeches (kachha)

  • to carry a dagger (kirpan)

Thus, these traditions were born out of battle and instability and our very important to the Sikh identity.

Sikhism in Canada

Nearly half a million Sikhs consider Canada home, making the country one of the most important Sikh diasporas in the world. Only India, the United States and UK have larger Sikh populations than Canada. In 2011, Sikhs accounted for 1.4% of Canada’s population.

In British Columbia, Sikhism is the second most followed religion after Christianity. Making Sikhs an important part of the Canadian demographic.

Sikh migration to Canada began in the early 20th century. From the very beginning, they faced profound racial discrimination. Perhaps, the most infamous incident occurred in 1914 when the Komagata Maru, a Japanese steamship carrying Sikh immigrants was refused entry into Canada. The 376 passengers of whom 340 belonged to the Sikh faith spent two months offshore before being sent back to Calcutta (now, Kolkata) in India. The second major wave of Sikh immigration happened in the 70s and 80s and coincided with the rise of Sikh nationalism and the Khalistan movement gaining steam in India. The Khalistan movement calls for the establishment of an independent Sikh nation.

Canadian Sikhs supported this movement both philosophically and financially thus, many Sikhs in Canada feel divorced from their Indian identity which makes being Canadian even more important to them.

In the century that has passed between that incident and today, Sikhs in Canada have been continually targeted both by government laws and mandates as well as by the personal prejudice of white Canadians.

Like many other minority groups between the 1920s and 1960s, Sikhs in Canada tried to adapt to society by adopting mainstreams practices instead of maintaining their traditional, religious practices. For example, men broke from practices that prevented them from cutting their hair and adopted Canadian dress codes.