Bhai Bhag Singh was a tireless supporter of B.C.'s Indian community in the early 1900s. Singh, who immigrated to Canada in 1905, was a former member of the British Indian Army. In an act of defiance, he burned his uniform and honourable-discharge certificate, seeing them as symbols of his "slavery" to the British.
He was chosen to be the secretary and treasurer of the first executive committee of Vancouver's Khalsa Diwan Society. He was also elected president and managing director of the Guru Nanak Mining and Trust Company, an organization formed to improve, the economic welfare of Indians in Canada.
Racism was rampant in those days. Anti-Hindu movements made it difficult for Indians to get employment in B.C., while the Canadian government's exclusionist immigration laws ensured that no Indian women or children could enter the country.
Singh decided to challenge these laws and planned to bring his family from India. They were detained in Hong Kong for three months before being allowed into Canada in January of 1912.
Even then, their journey wasn't over. They were detained by the Canadian government upon arrival. It was only after numerous appeals by community leaders to various levels of government and thousands of dollars in court expenses that Singhs’ family was finally given permission to stay.
These experiences prompted Singh to join the Ghadr Party, a group of revolutionaries committed to toppling the British regime in India.
In 1914, Singh became a supporter of the Indian passengers aboard the Komagata Maru. He took it upon himself to organize meetings and collect funds to assist the passengers in their efforts to remain in Canada.
Two months after the Komagata Maru, along with its passengers, was forced out of Canadian waters, Singh was shot by Bela Singh, a government loyalist who worked against the Indian community. Bhag Singh passed away the next day.
Although his life was cut short, Singh's courage and perseverance ensured that he would always be remembered as a key member of B.C.'s Indo-Canadian community in its early years.