Maritime Sikh Society
By Jagpal Singh Tiwana
Nova Scotia, Canada’s “ocean playground”, started attracting Sikhs to its beautiful land in the early nineteen sixties. Most of the Sikhs who came here were teachers, engineers and doctors. Among them, Gajinder Singh Chowdhury is believed to be the first Sikh to reach Nova Scotia. Landing in Ottawa in 1958 from UK, he moved to Halifax in 1959. After finishing his studies at the Dalhousie University, he obtained a teaching position with the Halifax city public school system in 1961. In March 1962, his father, Capt. Basant Singh from Uganda, joined him. An engineer by profession, Basant Singh started working as a Director of Planning for the Provincial government. Gajinder was a welcoming face to most Punjabi newcomers making them feel a little bit at home. “ Whenever Gajinder heard about a new family coming to Nova Scotia, he was at the airport, or ship’s dock, to receive them”, recalls Devi Dayal, a school teacher who himself was received by him in 1964.
Religious meetings and congregations, however, started when two other dedicated Sikhs, Dr. Kirtan Singh and Gurcharan Singh Sidhu arrived on the scene. Dr. Kirtan Singh was a mathematics teacher at Saint Mary’s University. Originally, from Bombay, he came here in 1967. Gurcharan Singh’s original place was Lehra Khana in Distt. Bathinda, Punjab. He got a teaching position in the public school system in 1966. Now the three of them, Singh, Sidhu and Chowdhury, started meeting frequently. They decided to hold congregations at their homes once a month on a Sangrand day. “First Sangrand was held at our apartment on Morris Street in Halifax in April, 1967 “ recalls Mrs. Kirtan Singh. Encouraged by the response of other Sikh families, they thought of starting a formal body to look after the religious and cultural needs of the Sikhs.
Ad Hoc Committee
Gurcharan Singh invited Sikh families from all over Nova Scotia to attend the Baisakhi celebrations in April 1968 at his house at 4 Scotsburn Avenue, Dartmouth. Besides the Sikh families from Halifax and Dartmouth, people came from Truro, New Glasgow and Sydney. “ There were Dr. Kirtan Singh, Gajinder Chowdhary, Dr. Dalip Singh Chehil, Pyara Singh Randhawa, Gursharan Singh Toor, Gulzar SinghClair, Surinder Bhalla, Kishan Singh, Gurmel Singh Sandhu, Surjit Singh, Gurdev Jolly, Shiv Bajwa, Mohinder Sehmby, and Mohan Singh, I might have forgotten some”, tries to remember Mrs. Surjit Sidhu, the hostess of the gathering. The issue of establishing a formal organization of the Sikhs was presented and discussed. An ad hoc committee, with Dr. Kirtan Singh as chairperson and Gurcharan Sidhu and Gajinder Chowdhury as members, was formed to draft a constitution for the society. Thus, the Maritime Sikh Society (MSS) was conceived.