By Kim Bolan
Vancouver Sun

February 20, 2004

A member of a Sikh pioneer family who recorded the colourful history of the first Sikhs in Canada died over the weekend after a brief illness.

Friends and community leaders praised Sohan Sarinder Singh Sangha Monday for his contribution to preserving the history of the Indo-Canadian community.

In 1999, Sangha published a 400-page Punjabi language book called The History of Canadian Sikhs, which traced the Indo-Canadian community's roots back to 1880.

Sangha, 68, was working on a history of the Khalsa Diwan Society -- the oldest Sikh group in North America -- at the time of his death.

Khalsa Diwan president Jarnail Singh Bhandal said Sangha's writings are used to educate many in the community about the struggles of the early pioneers.

"His work is very valuable," Bhandal said. "Although we are a hard-working community, we are sometimes lazy when recording our history. He did a very good job for future generations."

Bhandal noted that Sangha was not only a poet and historian, but also once served on the provincial government's advisory committee on multiculturalism.

"He was a very nice man. He was always ready to help the community," Bhandal said.

Amar Randhawa, 27, said Sangha helped educate younger Indo-Canadians like himself about the struggles faced by the early pioneers, who were denied immigration and voting rights for decades.

"For the younger generation, his writings, knowledge and teachings about Canadian Sikh history are a great tool to make us appreciate what our forefathers went through when they came here," said Randhawa, who is co-founder of a group called UNITED, which is tackling youth violence.

Sangha's keen interest in documenting the history of Canadian Sikhs came in part from his family history. He was the grandson of Amar Singh Sangha, a Sikh pioneer who came to Vancouver in 1914.

Within a year, the educated entrepreneur had opened a blacksmith and carriage repair shop in Victoria. By 1916, Amar Sangha had started a lumber company in Coombs, the first mill owned by an Indian immigrant to Canada.

When Amar Sangha died in Coombs at 35 in 1919, his son applied to come to Canada, but was denied under the immigration policies of the day.

It was 50 years before Amar Singh's grandson, Sohan Sangha, immigrated to Vancouver in 1970.

Sohan Sangha immediately got involved in community politics, sitting on the Khalsa Diwan society executive which opened Vancouver's Ross Street temple in the early 1970s.

But his passion was Sikh history and he spent years searching for documents, including school and work records, of early pioneer settlers in Canada.

Balwant Singh Gill, president of Surrey's Guru Nanak temple, said Sangha's death is a big loss to the community.

"His books on the history of Sikhs and the history of the Ross Street temple are very important," Gill said.

Sangha was also active in Canadian politics, including the recent federal leadership campaign of Sheila Copps. Several B.C. MLAs and federal MPs are expected to attend his funeral. Copps will be in Vancouver Saturday and is expected to pay her condolences to the family.

Sangha's funeral service will be held at Delta's Five Rivers Crematorium at noon Saturday, followed by prayers at Vancouver's Ross Street temple at 3 p.m.

Obituary of Sohan Sarinder Singh Sangha.

© The Vancouver Sun 20