British Columbia museum exhibit highlights shared sacrifice of Punjabi and Canadian troops

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The curator of an exhibit at the Museum of Surrey hopes to highlight the shared historical contribution and sacrifice of Punjabi and Canadian troops.

Steven Purewall is the curator of the Duty, Honor & Izzat exhibit and author of a book of the same name that examines this history and its absence in Canada’s national history.

“There were thousands of people in the fields of Flanders during an iconic moment in Canadian history who were traditionally left behind in classrooms and museums,” he told Global News.

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“It’s almost like selective amnesia, it’s not included in the story.”

Purewal cites the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915 as an example, one of the first defining moments of the Canadian military.

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Canadian troops have been commended for repelling a German advance, despite repeated gas attacks, at a time that has become emblematic of Canadian history during the First World War.

“We are told that Canada has united as a nation on the battlefields of Europe,” Purewal said.

“What the Punjabi soldiers did in World War I was that it really allowed this story to unfold – without the participation of the Punjabi soldiers, Ypres would have been lost. The Canadian forces would in fact not have been able to hold the line at Ypres because it was the Punjabis who came to reinforce them.


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The absence of this contribution from Canada’s museums and school programs is something Purewal hopes to see changed.

As Canada celebrates the 50th anniversary of its official multiculturalism policy, South Asian children and other students of color still do not see themselves reflected in the country’s history, he said.

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“If you see yourself in these history books, there is a sense of belonging,” he said.

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“We have a story that puts the Punjabi troops fighting side by side, side by side with the Canadian troops, bearing the burden of the responsibility of citizenship. “

Soldiers from Punjab and Canada were fighting together for the same British crown, he added, when just a year earlier, potential immigrants from the Punjab were turned away from Vancouver during the Komogata Maru incident. .

The British Columbia Ministry of Education says it does not include specific lessons “on the backgrounds of soldiers who fought for or in support of Canada,” but that there is “significant flexibility” for that teachers and students explore topics of interest.


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Purewal also wrote and directed the heritage film Promises looking at the neglected role of Indian soldiers alongside Canadians in the Italian WWII campaign, although funding and support from provincial and federal agencies was not what he would like to see.

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Vancouver Police Const. Sukvinder Sunger, who plays a soldier in the film, said the common military heritage of Canadians and Indians was not something he learned growing up.

“As I got older I educated myself and read a bit and found that there was actually a pretty close connection between my ancestors and WWI and WWII,” he said. , noting that service is a key tenet of the Sikh faith. .

“I am a father and I want to pass this information on to my children.

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Const. Jagpreet Ghuman, who also plays a soldier in the film, said it was hard not to be moved by putting yourself in his grandfather’s shoes.

“Growing up in South Vancouver, I always viewed Remembrance Day as an important holiday, but I never considered it an important holiday for South Asians or other ethnic groups,” a- he declared.

“The men who fought in this war made sure I could stand here today in a turban and beard in a Vancouver Police Department uniform.”

Purewal, meanwhile, says he intends to continue developing the project, which is now in its seventh year.

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“What this shows to other minorities is that there are people like them, visible minorities, who play a role in the development of this country,” he said.

The Duty, Honor & Izzat exhibition takes place at the Museum of Surrey from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. until November 14.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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