A new exhibit is shining light on the rich history of Surrey’s Punjabi community.
Called Being Punjabi: Unfolding the Surrey Story, the exhibit seeks to showcase their struggles and successes.
“The exhibition is intended to be a catalyst for discussion and sharing, while also documenting histories of this diverse community,” said Lynn Saffery, manager for the Museum of Surrey.
The exhibit is the first in a planned series of community-curated exhibits, meaning the museum reached out to the Punjabi community to plan and bring the event to life.
At Being Punjabi’s official opening, Harry Bains, MLA for Surrey-Newton, said the struggles and successes of Surrey’s Punjabis included overcoming racist laws. Bains said the first immigrants had to fight and stay firm in their determination to change Canada for the better.
“In 1947 we were given the right to vote. And that’s the story here. The struggle to give us the Canada we enjoy today.”
Bains said if he could, he would thank all of those who came before him and worked to carve out freedom and opportunity for Punjabis—and all immigrants.
“I want to say thank you to those who came to Canada. It’s our Canada now.”
Balbir Gurm, a nursing professor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and a member of the community-committee that directed the exhibit, said the project was two years in the making and it was a great start to opening dialogue.
“Punjabi’s first stepped on Canadian soil in 1897 and contributed to the country, but we have been mainly excluded from the history books,” she said. “Today that changes.”
Gurm said it was important for the current generation to correct inaccuracies in the history books. “We need to insert ourselves in history. We need to correct the history of this land, one story at a time.”
The Museum, through the community-committee, reached out to Surrey’s Punjabis and asked for stories, pictures, and personal items to be used in the exhibit.
“The Punjabi community has a long history in Surrey and the 16 stories that are the centrepiece of this exhibit will illuminate the contributions they have made to our City,” Mayor Doug McCallum said in a press release. “Thank-you to all of the community members who have come forward to share their story and make this feature exhibit such a success.”
More than 140 artifacts make up the exhibit, including: farming equipment, cooking utensils (lent by Vikram Vij), historical documents, hand-woven tapestries, textiles, and even a half of a ballast brick from the Komagata Maru, among many other items.
The intent is to make “personal objects, archival documents, art and riveting stories” accessible to the rest of the community, added Saffery.
The Museum of Surrey is also integrating a social media element into the exhibit, encouraging visitors to Tweet, Instagram, and Facebook their experiences using the hashtag #MyPunjabiStory. The show will also have four interactive zones, where exhibit-goers can contribute their own stories to the exhibition.
— Cloverdale Reporter (@CloverdaleNews) October 4, 2019
Exhibit-goer Darshan Singh Sohi immigrated to Canada in 1969 from a small town in Punjab. When he first came to Canada, Sohi went to Williams Lake and worked in a mill for 20 years.
He said he was really enjoying the exhibit and that it was very meaningful to him as a Punjabi-Canadian. “People have to come and see this,” he emphasized. “Canada is a great country. It allowed me to find work and have a good life.”
The Museum of Surrey plans to have one community-curated exhibit per year. They decided to start with Punjabis because they are very large community—more than 100,000-strong in Surrey—and Punjabi is the second most-spoken language in Surrey.
Part of the opening celebrations include a special family friendly event Oct. 5 from 1 to 4 p.m. The event will include live performances, henna, crafts, and Punjabi food. The exhibit runs until Feb. 23. The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and on Sunday from 12 to 5 p.m.