It was 1955. In British Columbia,Canada,10-year-old David R Gray and his brother stumbled upon the remains of an old village. There were broken pieces of pottery,shoes,utensils and work boots. Gray dug deeper to learn that these pieces belonged to immigrant workers of a shut down cement plant. There were 150 Chinese and 40 Sikhs immigrants,and nobody knew a thing about them. There were no records, says Gray,who carried on his quest into college too,where a couple of photographs of turbaned Sikh men standing around a funeral pyre got him curious. I was familiar with Sikhs but at that time,I wanted to write a book on the Chinese immigrants, says Gray. But the China Town in Canada was like a brick wall. So,instead,he turned to the Sikh community and was welcomed with many stories.
In Chandigarh,Grays two documentaries Canadian Soldier Sikhs: A little story in a big war and Lumber Lions are part of Canadian Voices: Celebrating Canadian Creativity. For over 50 years now,Gray has been documenting the stories and history of Sikhs in Canada. I was determined to find out what happened to those 40 Sikh men. Today,I have information on six of them, says Gray,who was in Chandigarh for the event. He also found out about Sikhs serving in the Canadian Army during World War I,something that has never been recorded with conviction. The focus was always on the Komagata Maru incident of 1914 where a Japanese ship carrying Sikhs was denied immigration. It was about those who never made it into Canada. My work focuses on the before and after of that, he says.
While Lumber Lions traces the involvement of the Sikhs in the lumber industry of British Columbia,Canadian Soldier Sikhs is the story of 10 Sikh men who enlisted in the Canadian Army during World War I. The latter follows them through the enlistment process,training and transport to France by a troop ship. It features the struggles these soldiers faced and the battles they fought,including those during which two of them were killed. The film follows an injured soldier back to Canada on a hospital ship and to Kitcheners TB hospital. Images of his grave and the story of how his war medal has survived bring a personal touch to the film. The film ends with the story of the soldiers return to civilian life,the tracing of their descendants,and a visit to the European graves of two of the Canadian Sikh soldiers.
I have a positive image of Sikhs. They are open,happy and really good friends, says Gray,who is yet to stomach spicy Punjabi food. This being his first visit to India,Gray will also travel to the villages of these men in Punjab. I will be documenting as I go along,for I intend to revisit Canadian Soldier Sikhs and add the new footage, he says.