The History of My Family: The Diverse Canadian Ancestry

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Canada is a land rich in history and diversity. There are many Canadians who have come from different backgrounds, cultures, and faiths. A wide majority of these Canadians are not originally from Canada, unlike the indigenous people, and have immigrated here. They each have a story to tell about their family history and the events that led them to come to this country. As a Canadian, I too have a story to share about my roots. Although my roots may not be Canadian, they are embedded deep into the fabric of history, dating back hundreds of years. In this paper, I will talk about my paternal history and its roots, including where we came from, the first South Asians to come to Canada, and the events that led my family to come to Canada.

My grandfather was born in Northern India in the city of Qadian. He had lived there up until the partition of Pakistan and India. Before 1947, Pakistan was part of India and this huge landmass was ruled by the British. When the British withdrew its forces in 1947, the Muslims and the Hindus wanted to part because of the rising tensions between religious groups. As a result of this, Pakistan was formed and a majority of the Muslim population, including my grandfather, migrated into the new country (The end of the British empire in India). Originally the city of Qadian was included in the boundary of Pakistan, but when the boundary was changed, it became a part of India. Fearing the religious feuds occuring in India, millions of Muslims, including my grandfather crossed into Pakistan to start a new life (Ahmad, Personal Interview). At the time there was no physical boundary between the two countries and people could enter and leave as they wished. My grandfather took a bus across the border into Pakistan and was dropped off in the capital of the new country, Lahore. This partition affected the migrants severely because they had left behind precious land, property and businesses to escape violence and aggression. The migrants who left their home to come to a new country were given claims by the government either in the form of property or land. My grandfather settled in the northeastern area of Pakistan, in the city of Peshawar. This is where my father was born. He had studied, worked and lived there until he moved to Canada. The war brought upon numerous changes all over Pakistan and India, including the migration of my grandfather and resulting in the birth of my father.

The first South Asians to come to Canada arrived in 1903 in British Columbia, well before the partition of Pakistan and India. This group of men had heard of Canada’s success from British Indian troops. The high wages attracted them so much so that they left their families to seek employment in Canada. Their willingness to work for low wages, enabled the government to believe that they were a threat to the Canadian workers. This ultimately led to limiting the immigrants’ rights and privileges. However, the population of South Asians increased over the years and by the 1920s, men were allowed to sponsor their families over. After the partition, Pakistanis began to immigrate in small numbers in the late 1950s throughout the 1970s (Buchignani, South Asian Canadians). The majority of these immigrants were young men who were either literate professionals or pursuing post-secondary education. Many of these immigrants only came to benefit from the education aspect and returned home after completing their degree. Those who stayed, sponsored extended family to Canada, many of whom were skilled or semi-skilled workers. The population of Pakistanis began to dramatically increase when Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau introduced the Immigration Act of 1976. The objective of this act was to reunite immigrants with their families non-discriminatively and to promote Canada’s economic, social, and cultural goals. This allowed Pakistani immigrants to sponsor family and relatives who were not skilled or professionals to Canada.

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The reason why my family came to Canada was because of religious persecution. My family was part of the Ahmadi sect. Ahmadiyyat was the newest sect of the seventy-three sects of Islam and had a few different beliefs than the rest of the sects. Due to these beliefs, the government of Pakistan issued Ordinance XX in 1984 (Sial, Text of Martial Law Ordinance XX of 1984). This decree stated that Ahmadies were considered non-Muslims and they were forbidden to participate in Islamic activities. This prevented Ahmadies from calling themselves Muslims, calling their place of worship Mosques, or profess their creed publicly. This affected my family profoundly, as well as millions of other Ahmadies, because if they had broken any laws listed under Ordinance XX, they would be jailed and fined. Since my father was an Ahmadi, people violently threw stones and stopped others from coming to his medical clinic. My father decided that he did not want to live in a country full of hatred and oppression, and for the sake of a better future for his family, he decided to leave Pakistan. Several other Ahmadies were also leaving Pakistan after Ordinance XX passed in 1984 for fear of their safety (International Migration Database). The two main countries which they fled to were: England and Canada. Thousands of Ahmadies including my father took this opportunity to escape from Pakistan and start a new life abroad.

My father decided to immigrate to Canada as he had heard that it was a welcoming country, a country where he would have the freedom of religion without having to fear persecution. My father flew to Canada alone in September of 1997, and upon landing in Canada he claimed convention refugee. At the time, the laws were still based upon the Immigration Act of 1976 (Asylum & Immigration Law). Nine months after landing, my father’s refugee claim was accepted and he was granted permanent residency in Canada. In the following months, my father also sponsored the rest of my family to come to Canada. The process for their sponsorship took over two years and in February of 2000, my family landed in Toronto (Parveen, Personal Interview). The shift from Pakistan to Canada had impacted each of my family members. Both of my parents had left their families to seek refuge in Canada. My father had to change professions from a homeopathic doctor to a truck driver. My mother also had completed a degree in homeopathic medicine but could not find a career and became a housewife. Being born in 2001, I lived there for six years before moving to Saskatoon. There were two predominant reasons as to why we moved to Saskatoon. The first was a nominee program that would allow us to sponsor our family from Pakistan to Canada. The second reason was that the Ahmadiyya Community was planning on building a mosque in Saskatoon and they needed one hundred families for this project to start. Since then, my family and I have been living in Saskatoon.

My family’s story exemplifies the suffering of countless Ahmadi individuals in Pakistan and is planted deep within the roots of history itself. My forefather had lived through the partition of a subcontinent into two countries. This had led to my family having to flee their home country because of religious violence and discrimination, not only once, but twice. My family had set their sights on Canada to be free of persecution and be granted religious freedom. The migration of my relatives from Pakistan to Canada has affected me positively, as I have been granted safety and security.

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