Hidden stories of the South Asian community

The Vancouver Perspectives will be hosting Cultural Landscapes: Vancouver’s South Asian Community Nov. 26, 2017.

The panel will trace the story of Vancouver’s South Asian community from the very first migrants over a century ago until the present day, uncovering and illuminating stories that may have been overlooked or hidden from the majority of the city.

Shining a light on the past

The Vancouver Lookout is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. As part of the celebration, it has teamed up with the Vancouver Heritage Foundation to launch a new speaker series called Perspectives, a series of talks exploring how Vancouver has been shaped over its history. The final panel, Cultural Landscapes: Vancouver’s South Asian Community, will consit of three local community members who have a shared goal of shining a spotlight on stories and groups that aren’t as present in our histories and in our minds as others.

Naveen Girn, Vancouver Perspective panelist. | Photo courtesy of Vancouver Perspectives

“When I was in high school, we had one week of Asian history in Canada,” says Naveen Girn, one of the panelists, “and I found that many communities are only allowed to tell one or two stories to represent them. I wanted to find more stories and provide a platform for other stories to be there, too.”

Girn still has that desire today. He, along with his co-panelists Paneet Singh and Milan Singh, have hosted walking tours in multiple parts of the city, created the Nameless Collective Podcast, and worked with and on local archives ̶ all with the goal of uncovering and sharing stories that might be outside the consciousness of the mainstream public. The walking tours, which provide the basis of the panel, centre around three areas of the city.

“One focuses on downtown Vancouver,” says Girn, “and is about both the lost and still remaining buildings from the time of the first immigrants. Another is centred around the Kitsilano area, which was where the very first Sikh temple in North America was founded. We also do one on the Punjabi Market area, which is a tour of more recent history.”

The panel is an opportunity to condense the information of the three tours into one, and given the talk’s position inside the Lookout, it will give a chance to view the sights of the city in a new light as new stories of the communities are shared.

“I hope that people leave the talk with a deeper understanding of Vancouver’s history,” says Girn, “I hope that they see their city in a new light, and see it as inclusive for them and their stories.”


For Milan Singh, who works as a researcher at SFU, the biggest issue with regards to showcasing the rich history of the often-marginalized communities in the area is accessibility.

Milan Singh, researcher, Teaching and Learning Centre, SFU. | Photo courtesy of Vancouver Perspectives

“People tell us that they knew that there was a community here,” she says, “but that they didn’t know about the people, or didn’t have access to the information. Naveen and I worked on SFU’s digital archive, and for us it was the first time we were seeing some of it. We’re trying to work on making all of this as accessible as possible.”

None of that discounts the work already done by local researchers and community members, who over decades have done a lot of work to uncover Vancouver’s history, says Singh. But the rich stories they’ve uncovered haven’t fully integrated into the city’s public discourse. That doesn’t mean they can’t.

“A lot of the feedback that we get is, ‘I didn’t know about that,’” says Singh. “Or ‘I want to know more,’ and I think that’s very important. I want people to get engaged and look for this material. If not their own history then their communities’ history, so we can tell a story that encompasses and showcases much more of our city.”

For more information, visit www.vancouverperspectives.com

For more information on the Nameless Collective Podcast, which uses local archives to share untold stories of Vancouver’s South Asian community, visit www.jugnistyle.com/thenameless.