Diaspora : Jay Gajjar

Gujarati Diaspora in Canada

Jay Gajjar is a Gujarati writer from Canada. He spoke on NRI affairs at the Patan Diaspora Conference

Canada is comparatively a new country on the world map. It has come to be known in the last two centuries, but it has opened its doors and welcomed people from all nations. In North America, it stands out because of its liberal policies, natural resources, huge landmass, and as a country of bright opportunities. It has opened doors in all fields for immigrants.

Gujaratis are well spread all over the world and Canada is one of them. The first Gujarati to arrive in Canada was Chhagan Kheraj Varma a Lohana by caste but who became a Muslim, Husain Rahim, on January 14, 1910 in Vancouver. He was charged by the government for violating immigration laws but he won the lawsuit. He then moved to San Francisco, US, where he started the first Gujarati paper named 'Gaddar' in 1914. There was a slowdown for a few years and few immigrants arrived in Canada in the early part of 20th century. The trend moved to Africa and the US. However, after 1950 Canada opened its doors and attracted many Gujaratis. In 1960, there were about 900 Gujaratis in Toronto city and today that number has crossed 100,000 in Toronto alone. Toronto, the biggest city of Canada is today a hub of immigrants.

During the period 1904-08 about 5,200 Indians settled in British Columbia as agricultural and construction labourers. Approximately 80 to 85 per cent were Sikhs who had come from Punjab. The Canadian government banned Indian immigration in 1908, and the ban remained in force until 1947. During the post-1947 period the government gradually lifted the barriers on Asian immigration which led to an increase in the Indian population. During the post-World War II period the flow of Indian immigrants was highly selective. About three-fourths of all the post-war immigrants were highly educated and skilled.

By 1971 there were 67,000 Indians in Canada. The migrants during this period came from different parts of India. Sikhs remained by far the largest Indian group. The year 1976 was a milestone in Canadian immigration history. With the passage of the 1976 Immigration Act, Canada institutionalised fair admission practices and also encouraged family reunification and admission of refugees. By 1981 there were 109,665 Indians in Canada. Over one half of all Indians in Canada today are Sikhs. The Indians who are mainly urban professionals have gravitated to the largest cities, primarily to Toronto. Apart from skilled professions, another avenue for Asian immigrants is the proprietorship of small business. As per the 1991 census 157,015 Hindus and 147,440 Sikhs constituted 1.5 per cent of the population of Canada.

Though migration of Gujaratis to Canada may be traced back to the end of 19th century and the early part of 20th century, it was only after independence that large-scale migration of Gujaratis to Canada took place. In the multicultural society of Canada today, Gujaratis constitute around 45,185 (according to the 1996 statistics Canada. The number of Gujaratis living in Canada is rapidly increased. In greater Toronto, there are above 100,000 Gujaratis. Today they are the most affluent people who have entered into every field of service, business and profession (though their first love is business). 

During the last 50 years Gujarati language and literature in Canada have been very prominent. There are many temples, associations, newspapers, writers and social institutions playing a major role in the promotion of Gujarati. Among them, the most commonly known are Jay Gajjar, Prakash Modi and Smita Bhagvat. Gajjar has written seven Gujarati novels, two English novels and three books of short stories collections. He is the first Gujarati to receive Canada's highest National award 'Order of Canada' equivalent to our Padma Vibhushan.

Other prominent Gujaratis include Kishor Desai, Kishor Patel, Jatin Gujarati, Keshav Chanderia, Shailesh Desai, Neeta Dave, Shantilal Dhanik, Madhuri Dhanik, Manu Patel, Hasu Patel, Virendra Adhia, Mohmad Ali Vafa, Firoz Khan.

Gujarati newspapers Gujarat Abroad, Gujarat Express, Vatan, Swadesh, Gujarat Times, Divya Bhaskar. Gujarati Radio and TV programs are also playing important roles in promotion of Gujarati language, literature and culture. The greatest literary gift to Gujaratis is a well developed program for computer users www.gujaratilexicon.com by Ratilal Chanderia and his team.

Gujarati culture, language and literature are proudly preserved in multicultural Canada. Jay Jay Garvi Gujarat.

Jay Gajjar, can be reached at
41 Palomino Drive, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada L4Z 2H6 
Tel. 905-568-8025 Email: gajjar@mail.com

March 2009

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