Noteworthy historical figures - Asian Heritage Month

These photographs and stories highlight some of the many valuable contributions made by Canadians of Asian heritage. They reflect historical and cultural milestones that help define the rich and significant history of Canada’s Asian communities.

Patrick Chan
Photo courtesy of Skate Canada

Patrick Chan, born in Ottawa, is a Canadian figure skater and Olympic silver medalist. Chan grew up in Toronto and started skating at the age of 5. He is of Han Chinese descent and speaks English, French, and Cantonese. He is the 2014 Olympic silver medalist in the men’s and team events, a three time World champion (2011-2013), a two-time Grand Prix Final champion (2010, 2011), a three-time Four Continents champion (2009, 2012, 2016), and a nine-time Canadian national champion (2008-2014, 2016-2017). In 2011, Chan was named the recipient of the prestigious Lou Marsh Award as Canada’s top athlete for setting two world records. Off the ice, he has received numerous awards as well. In 2007 he won the Chinese Canadian Youth of the Year award and in 2008 he was named Asian of the Year in arts and sports by Asia Network magazine.

William “Bill” Gun Chong
Photo courtesy of the Chinese Canadian Military Museum

William Chong, born in Vancouver, British Columbia, is the only Chinese Canadian to be awarded the British Empire Medal, the highest honour given by the British government to non-British citizens. In 1941, while visiting his sister in Hong Kong, he was captured by the Japanese.He escaped and volunteered with the British Army Aid Group of the British Military Intelligence Section, MI-9, and served as “Agent 50” (“five-oh”).Between 1942 and 1945, Mr. Chong travelled alone in China, dressed as a peasant to avoid outlaws and enemies. His mission was to bring escapees from occupied territories to freedom and to deliver medical supplies. He was captured by the enemy three times and escaped each time. Mr. Chong was one of more than a hundred Chinese who were voluntarily recruited into the military for their language skills. Their service became an affirmation of their commitment to Canada and of their equality.

The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson
Photo courtesy of the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson

Adrienne Clarkson, journalist, author and the first new Canadian appointed as Governor General of Canada, came to Canada as a small child in 1942 when her family left Hong Kong after the colony surrendered to the Japanese. Ms. Clarkson was one of television’s first female on-camera personalities. She had an award-winning 18-year career with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as host-interviewer for the programs Take Thirty, Adrienne at Large and The Fifth Estate. She served as Ontario’s agent-general in Paris from 1982 to 1987 and publisher of McClelland & Stewart from 1987 to 1989. In 1989, she returned to broadcasting as executive producer and host of CBC’s national arts showcase Adrienne Clarkson Presents. On September 8, 1999, Ms. Clarkson became the Governor General. Among her successes in the vice-regal position were forging stronger ties between Canada and its northern Indigenous population and bringing a sense of modernity to the traditional role.

Herb (Harbance) Dhaliwal

Herb (Harbance) Dhaliwal, was born in the Punjab in 1952. He came to Canada at age six with his family, speaking not a word of English. He grew up in Vancouver and graduated from the University of British Columbia where he was active in student politics. He was elected to the House of Commons in 1993, representing Vancouver South. Some of Mr. Dhaliwal’s accomplishments include:

  • Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans;
  • Serving on the Steering Committee on Fisheries and Oceans;
  • Minister of National Revenue;
  • Vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Health and the Task Force on Aquaculture; and
  • Vancouver Sun’s listing as one of the hundred most influential British Columbians of the last 100 years.

Mr. Dhaliwal also has the rare distinction of being the first South Asian to hold a Ministerial position anywhere in a Western democracy.

Inspector Baltej Singh Dhillon
Photo courtesy of the Sikh Museum

When Baltej Singh Dhillon was accepted into the RCMP, he had to make a choice between duty and religion. Service in the RCMP required a clean-shaven face and wearing the historic uniform, including the issued headgear. As a Sikh, Dhillon’s religious obligation required a beard and wearing a turban. He chose to fight for his religious rights and sparked a debate across the country. Many suggested that tradition was being sacrificed while others argued that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in granting freedom of religion as well as the right to equality, disallows discrimination based on religion. The federal government removed the ban on turbans on March 15, 1990.

Margaret Gee
Photo courtesy of the Chinese Canadian Military Museum

Margaret Jean Gee is the first woman of Chinese descent to be called to the Bar in British Columbia. She was born in Vancouver and grew up in the city’s Chinatown. She attended high school there and graduated from the University of British Columbia. Ms. Gee was called to the Bar on May 31, 1954, as reported in the Ottawa Citizen the following day and noted in Chitty’s Law Journal of 1954. She opened her law office at 510 West Hastings Street, Vancouver. Ms. Gee reported in a CBC interview in 1957 that she liked being referred to as a “lady lawyer” and had been “forced to face only a few racial incidents either at school, in university or her private practice.”

Chan Hon Goh
Photo courtesy of National Ballet of Canada (Photographer: Cylla von Tiedemann)

Chan Hon Goh, who was born in Beijing, China, is a ballerina and entrepreneur, and a past principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada (1994). As a dancer, she was known for her delicacy and charm. Her beginnings in ballet were not auspicious; her parents, both dancers, thought she was unsuited for ballet and encouraged her to play the piano. But at age 9, Goh began studying ballet with her aunt at the Vancouver Academy of Music. She left dancing in 2009 with a farewell performance of Giselle. She is the co-founder of Principal Shoes, which has a successful line of pointe shoes and dance footwear, and since 2010 has been the director of the Goh Ballet Academy and Youth Company. Goh is in demand as a speaker, particularly in the Asian Canadian community.

Naranjan Singh Grewall
Photo courtesy of Mission Community Archives

Naranjan Singh Grewall, from India, was a prominent business owner and municipal official in Mission, British Columbia. In 1951, he ran for a seat on the board of governors of the Village of Mission. In 1954, he was elected chairman of the board of governors, making him one of the first Canadians of Indian descent to hold public office in Canada. Mr. Grewall moved from Toronto to Mission in 1941 and eventually owned sawmill operations across the Fraser Valley.

Carol Huynh
Photo courtesy Ewan Nicholson

Carol Huynh, the first Canadian woman to win an Olympic gold medal in wrestling, fled Vietnam with her family in the late 1970s as a refugee. They settled in Hazelton, British Columbia, where they were sponsored by the local United Church. Ms. Huynh began freestyle wrestling in high school and continued in the sport through university. She won medals at the world championships—bronze in 2000 and 2005, and silver in 2001. Women’s wrestling debuted at the Olympic Games in 2004, and Ms. Huynh was involved but not as a wrestler. She failed to qualify for the team and instead was Lyndsay Belisle’s training partner. Ms. Huynh won a gold medal at the Pan-Am Games in 2007 and went on to repeat her performance at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. She had not been favoured to win, but she defeated the reigning world champion, Japan’s Chiharu Icho.

Douglas Jung
Photo courtesy of The Province, Vancouver/VPL41609

Douglas Jung of Vancouver was the first Canadian of Chinese ancestry elected to federal office. During the Second World War, Mr. Jung served with Pacific Command Security Intelligence. After the war, he earned a law degree at the University of British Columbia, the first Chinese-Canadian veteran to receive a university education under the auspices of the Department of Veterans Affairs. He was called to the Bar in 1954. On June 10, 1957, Mr. Jung was elected as the Member of Parliament for Vancouver Centre. Shortly afterward, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker appointed him to represent Canada at the United Nations as the Chair of the Canadian Legal Delegation. He worked to establish strong ties between Canada and Pacific Rim countries. Mr. Jung became a Member of the Order of Canada in 1991. His career as a lawyer, politician and international delegate broke many cultural barriers.

Juliette Kang
Photo courtesy Amanda Hall Studios

Juliette Kang, born in Edmonton to Korean parents, was a child prodigy who began violin lessons at age four and made her debut in Montréal at seven. By 11, she had attracted international attention, winning top prizes at the 1986 Beijing International Youth Violin Competition in China. In 1989, at 13, she became the youngest artist to win New York’s Young Concert Artists International Auditions. Ms. Kang has performed with every major orchestra in Canada and many orchestras from around the world. Her repertoire ranges from baroque to contemporary, including the works of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Ravel. In 1996, the New York Times predicted that Ms. Kang would change our culture. She has performed some of the world’s most challenging violin repertoire, including Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, performed with the Reno Chamber Orchestra, and William Walton’s Violin Concerto, performed with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.

Larry “King” Kwong

In 1948 Larry “King” Kwong became the first Asian to play in the National Hockey League. Born Eng Kai Geong in British Columbia to Chinese parents, he grew up listening to hockey games on the radio. As a young boy he convinced his mother to buy him skates and he played shinny on local ponds with mail-order catalogues strapped to his shins. His passion for hockey brought him a successful amateur, minor, professional and British hockey career spanning 20 years from 1939-1958.

King Kwong played for the New York Rangers, but sadly, only in one game.

The Honourable Norman L. Kwong
Photo courtesy of the Office of the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta

Norman Kwong became Alberta’s first Lieutenant-Governor of Asian descent in January 2005. But many people know him as the first Chinese Canadian to play in the Canadian Football League. He was born in Calgary; his parents had immigrated to Canada in the early 1900s from Canton, China, despite the $500 head tax. Mr. Kwong began his professional football career in 1948, one year after the Chinese gained the right to vote in Canada. Known as the “China Clipper,” he played for the Calgary Stampeders for three years before joining the Edmonton Eskimos. When he retired from football in 1960, he had won six Grey Cups, had been named “All Canadian Fullback” five times, had won two Schenley trophies as the league’s most outstanding player and set 30 league records. Mr. Kwong was awarded the Order of Canada in 1998 in recognition of his football career.

The Honourable David See-Chai Lam
Photo by Glenn Baglo, courtesy The Sun, Vancouver (71106)

David See-Chai Lam became British Columbia’s 25th Lieutenant-Governor in September 1988, the first person of Asian descent to hold a vice-regal post in Canada. He brought his family from Hong Kong to Canada, in 1967, choosing Vancouver as their home because he had been awed by the city’s beauty during a business trip. He became a Canadian citizen in 1972. Upon immigrating, he established himself in realty and began developing properties with investment capital from Hong Kong. He became one of Vancouver’s leading land developers and was instrumental in bringing Hong Kong investors to Canada’s west coast. Mr. Lam understood Vancouver as a Pacific Rim city and made great efforts to fortify economic ties between the city and major Asian centres. He believed in the power of immigration as an economic tool and contributed philanthropically to the community. Mr. Lam was awarded the Order of Canada in 1988.

Lieutenant Commander (Retired) William K. L. Lore
Photo courtesy of the Chinese Canadian Military Museum

William K. L. Lore, of Victoria, British Columbia, enlisted in the navy in 1943. He was the first Chinese to join the Royal Canadian Navy and the first Chinese officer in any of the British Commonwealth navies. He served in several locations and ultimately in Hong Kong. He was an intelligence staff officer for Rear Admiral Sir Cecil Harcourt, the commander of the fleet that sailed into Hong Kong harbour upon Japan’s surrender in August 1945. Harcourt was aware of the support provided by the Canadian Forces in defending Hong Kong in 1940, which is why he ordered the young Canadian naval officer to lead the marines ashore. Lore led a platoon of marines to take control of HMS Tamar, the shore base. Admiral Harcourt assigned him to free the Canadian, British and Hong Kong prisoners from the Sham Shui Po camp. Lieutenant Commander Lore was present during the official handover of the colony and the surrender of the Japanese forces, which was accepted by Rear Admiral Harcourt, on September 16, 1945, in Hong Kong. Mr. Lore died in September 2012 in Hong Kong, aged 103.

Jean Lumb

Community activist Jean Lumb was the first Chinese Canadian to receive the Order of Canada. Lumb was born Joy Tin Wong, in British Columbia and moved to Toronto in 1935. She became the unofficial spokesperson of the Chinese community in Toronto and worked to change immigration laws in the 1950s. She may be best remembered as the energy behind the “Save Chinatown” campaigns. Lumb owned a fruit store and with her husband, Doyle, owned the Kwong Chow restaurant. Lumb’s community work was far-reaching and earned her considerable recognition, including appointments to the Women’s College Hospital Board of Governors and to the Ontario Advisory Council on Multiculturalism.

Shaun Majumder
Photo courtesy of Hess Entertainment

Shaun Majumder is a Gemini award winning actor and comedian. Born in Burlington, Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. Majumder is of European-Canadian and Bengali Hindu Indian descent. He started his entertainment career on YTV before eventually starring in his best-known role as co-host of This Hour Has 22 Minutes in 2003. Mr. Majumder has hosted 15 episodes of Just for Laughs specials on television and has also starred in Cedric the Entertainer Presents. He was the focus of HBO’s feature-length documentary Every Word is Absolutely True that followed him across Canada on his first national stand-up comedy tour. In January 2013, he started a documentary series called Majumder Manor in which he chronicled his dream of transforming his hometown of Burlington, Newfoundland into a popular tourist destination.

Gurbax Singh Malhi

Gurbax Singh Malhi, representing Bramalea-Gore-Malton in Ontario, became the first turbaned Sikh elected to the House of Commons in 1993.

Mr. Malhi’s accomplishments include:

  • Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue;
  • Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development;
  • Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry with Special Emphasis on Entrepreneurs and New Canadians;
  • Opposition Industry Critic;
  • Member of the Standing Committees including Justice, Legal Affairs, and Human Rights; Government Operations; Human Rights and the Status of Persons with Disabilities; Human Resources Development; and
  • Awarded the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal for his commitment and contributions to Canadian society.
Dr. Tak Wah Mak
Photo courtesy of the University Health Network Photography Department, Toronto

Dr. Tak Wah Mak, who was born in southern China, is a renowned Canadian scientist whose work in microbiology and immunology has had a significant effect on public health worldwide. His research concentrates on understanding the elemental biology of cells to determine how the immune system works and tumors form. He began his research at the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto, where in 1984 he solved one of immunology’s most complex problems when he discovered how the immune system recognizes pathogens. He then joined the faculty of the University of Toronto’s Department of Medical Biophysics. Over the next 25 years, Dr. Mak’s research solved many mysteries concerning the molecular biology of the immune system and of cancer. He has been the director of the Campbell Family Institute for Breast Cancer Research since 2004. Dr. Mak has been recognized around the world with many distinguished awards, including the Order of Canada.

Deepa Mehta
Photo courtesy Deepa Mehta

Deepa Mehta is a prominent and respected filmmaker whose work is known worldwide for its honesty, beauty and universality. Her award-winning films have been shown at major film festivals and distributed worldwide. Her elemental trilogy comprises Fire (1996), Earth (1998), and Water (2005), which was nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign language film and attained Canadian and global success. Both Water and her comedy Bollywood Hollywood (2002) remain two of the top 10 grossing English Canadian films. Other movies in her oeuvre are Sam and Me (1991), Camilla (1993), and A Heaven on Earth (2008). Ms. Mehta is the recipient of the 2012 Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for lifetime artistic achievement.

Masumi Mitsui
Photo courtesy of David Mitsui

At Vimy Ridge in April 1917, Masumi Mitsui, a Japanese Canadian soldier, earned the Military Medal for bravery. After the war, he returned to British Columbia and resumed his life, had a family, helped to establish a Japanese Canadian war memorial in Stanley Park, and became the president of Branch 9 of the Royal Canadian Legion. He was a member of the contingent that lobbied the B.C. legislature to give Japanese Canadians the right to vote. After Japan attacked Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941, Mitsui and his family, like all people of Japanese ancestry in Canada, were declared enemies and sent to an internment camp. Their home and possessions were confiscated. After the war, Mitsui participated in the lobbying for a public apology and compensation. He died in 1987, aged 99, the last surviving Japanese Canadian veteran of the First World War—a year before the government made its apology.

Raymond Moriyama
Photo courtesy Al Gilbert Studio

Raymond Moriyama is an internationally acclaimed Japanese-Canadian architect and urban planner. He describes architecture as a social force that is “a relentless, investigative process.” His architecture is innovative and functional and has enhanced Canada’s reputation for architectural innovation. Mr. Moriyama’s work includes the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo, which symbolizes the Canadian spirit, the Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library and Sudbury’s Science North. His most notable project is the Canadian War Museum, which is devoted to exploring themes of memory and regeneration in the face of war. Considered an iconic national monument, it is richly symbolic and an elegant tribute to the Canadian Forces. The project is described in Mr. Moriyama’s book, in Search of a Soul (2006). He has been awarded numerous honorary degrees, won Governor General’s Medals for Architecture, the 2010 Sakura Award from Toronto’s Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, and is a Companion of the Order of Canada.

Paul Nguyen
Photo courtesy of the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration

Paul Nguyen, filmmaker and advocate, was born in Toronto and is a second-generation Vietnamese Canadian whose parents fled Vietnam and came to Canada during the migration of the “boat people.” He uses the Internet and his passion for filmmaking to promote unity among people of diverse backgrounds. As a boy he was avidly interested in creating films and made movies with his best friend that they distributed throughout their neighbourhood, the Jane and Finch area of Toronto. Mr. Nguyen’s early life prompted an interest in narrating the gap between second-generation Vietnamese kids and their parents. He has dedicated his life to improving race relations and promoting multicultural understanding in Canada, speaking out on youth crime, gang violence and the social issues of marginalized communities. In 2010, Mr. Nguyen received the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship and the Paul Yuzyk Award for Multiculturalism in the outstanding achievement category. In 2012, he was honoured with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for fighting stereotypes and acting as a role model and mentor for at-risk youth in his community

Sandra Oh
Photo courtesy of IMDb

Sandra Miju Oh was born July 20, 1971 and is a Canadian actress best known for her role as Dr. Cristina Yang on ABC's medical drama Grey's Anatomy. For her portrayal, she has been recognized with a Golden Globe, two Screen Actors Guild awards, and five nominations for Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.

Wally Oppal
Photo courtesy of the Peter A. Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia

Wally Oppal operated his own legal practice in Vancouver prior to serving as a Judge for the British Colombia Supreme Court in 1985. In 2005, Oppal sought a career in provincial politics and was appointed as the second Indo-Canadian Attorney-General of British Columbia and Minister Responsible for Multiculturalism until 2009. Oppal was involved in many significant reforms of the justice system, including the establishment of Canada’s first community court to deal with chronic offenders, developing new Rules of Court in order to promote quicker resolution for disputes and developing new initiatives to deal with violence against women.

Dr. D.P. Pandia
Photo courtesy of City of Vancouver Archives

Dr. D.P Pandia was a central figure the Indo Canadian community in British Colombia. He was an advocate in the fight for equal representation for East Indians in Canada. In 1948, Dr. Pandia met with the Director of Immigration, Department of Mines and Resources, and to the Cabinet Committee on Immigration Policy to fight for the rights of East Indians.

Jon Kimura Parker
Photo courtesy Tara McMullen

Jon Kimura Parker of Vancouver, whose family originally came from Japan, is recognized worldwide for his virtuosity. As guest solo pianist, he has toured the world with several orchestras and performed for heads of state and dignitaries. He made his musical debut at age five with the Vancouver Youth Orchestra. Mr. Parker’s eclectic repertoire is infused with classical music of the Romantic era and a variety of 20th-century composers. His repertoire ranges from Beethoven to Alanis Morissette’s One Hand in my Pocket. Mr. Parker has also hosted the Whole Notes series on Bravo! Canada, and the CBC Radio series Up and Coming. He has won more than 200 competitions, including the Governor General’s Arts Award. He was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1999. In the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami in Japan, Mr. Parker helped to organize a benefit concert, Dear Japan – With Love, 2011.

Senator Vivienne Poy
Photo courtesy of Neville G. Poy

Senator Vivienne Poy, the first Canadian of Asian descent appointed to the Senate of Canada, is an entrepreneur, author, historian and fashion designer. She was integral to establishing May as Asian Heritage Month in Canada. Ms. Poy was educated in Hong Kong, England and Canada and earned a PhD in history from the University of Toronto. After founding her own fashion label, Vivienne Poy Mode, in 1981, she enjoyed tremendous success in fashion and retail. Ms. Poy was appointed to the Senate in 1998 and in 2001 proposed a motion to designate May as Asian Heritage Month. In May 2002, the Government of Canada declared the celebratory month in a formal ceremony. Senator Poy works closely with Asian Heritage Month Societies across Canada. She served as Chancellor of the University of Toronto from 2003 to 2006 and is active in many community and cultural organizations. She authored five books and co-edited one other.

Regula Qureshi
Photo courtesy of Ethnomusicologie

An ethnomusicologist and a scholar of Urdu and Hindi language and literature and of the art music of India and Pakistan, Regula Qureshi has given numerous lecture-recitals on sarangi, Indian music, and Muslim chant in Canada, the United States, Pakistan, India, and Western Europe. She was born in Switzerland and became a Canadian in 1968 when she followed her husband, a political scientist from India, to the University of Alberta. She studied sarangi was awarded the Jaap Kunst Prize by the Society for Ethnomusicology in 1968 for the article "Tarannum: The Chanting of Urdu Poetry." In 1995 she was granted a Killam Annual Professorship from the University of Alberta; and in 1996 she received a fine arts award from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Conrad Santos
Photo courtesy of Philippine Canadian News

On 17 November 1981, Conrad Santos became the first Filipino Canadian to be elected to office in Canada where he served the Manitoba Assembly for the New Democratic Party. He was a member of the Legislative Assembly between 1981-1988 and 1990-2007. Santos was born in the Philippines and educated at Harvard University and the University of Michigan, where he earned a PhD in Political Science. He moved to Winnipeg in 1965 when he procured a teaching position at the University of Manitoba. His first political bid, an NDP nomination in the Winnipeg-Fort Garry riding, was unsuccessful. He also failed in two subsequent runs at Winnipeg city council in 1977 and 1980. In 1990, Santos made a successful run for the Assembly and was re-elected in 1995 in the Broadway riding. He also won the NDP election in the riding of Wellington by a considerable margin. After re-election in 2003, Santos stepped down before the 2007 election.

Rana Sarkar
Photo courtesy of Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto

Rana Sarkar is the National Director for High Growth Markets at KPMG Canada and Co-Chairman of the Advisory Board and a Senior Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs. From 2009-2013 he was President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canada-India Business Council. He is a frequent speaker and ideas contributor on global change and innovation. From 2001-2009 Rana was co-owner of Content Partners (UK/US) and London based global advisory firm Rawlings Atlantic Limited and an investor and advisor to a number of high growth companies, social ventures and affiliated with think tanks in Europe and the US. He started his career as a consultant at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants in London, Munich and New Delhi and was a visiting lecturer at the London School of Economics and the CASS Business School. He is a member of the advisory council of the Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation, The Literary Review of Canada and Toronto Rehab Foundation. In Toronto he served on the Mandate Review committee for the Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance and co-chaired the Labour market working group for Civic Action. Sarkar attended London School of Economics, Queen’s University at Kingston, and the INSEAD Executive Program.

Shyam Selvadurai
Photo credit Shyam Selvadurai

Novelist Shyam Selvadurai, who was born in Sri Lanka, is of Tamil and Sinhala heritage. The possibilities and impossibilities of “mixing” dominate his fiction. He immigrated with his family to Canada following the 1983 riots in Colombo, when he was 19. He has a remarkable ability to portray a world threatened by intolerance but still possessing beauty, humour and humanity. Mr. Selvadurai’s first novel, Funny Boy, won several awards for its frank depiction of its main character’s coming of age during the tumultuous years before the 1983 riots. His second novel, Cinnamon Gardens, returns to Sri Lanka, but in the 1920s when the country was called Ceylon. Mr. Selvadurai’s characters navigate an uncertain world accompanied by their own insecurities as the political and the personal merge. In 2005, he published a novel for young adults, Swimming in the Monsoon Sea, which garnered a Lambda Literary Award.

Baljit Sethi
Photo courtesy Baljit Sethi

Baljit Sethi came to Canada from India in 1972. She is the founder and executive director of the Immigrant and Multicultural Services Society of Prince George, which provides settlement services to communities in Northern British Columbia. Ms. Sethi understood that newcomers could not become part of their new communities without multicultural programs and the active promotion of racial harmony. She worked to encourage interaction between immigrants and the population of Prince George, the benefit of which was felt across northern British Columbia. Many of the programs Ms. Sethi developed throughout her nearly 40-year career continue to be used to promote multiculturalism and equality. She is also an advocate for immigrant women and has become an inspiration to many people. Her contributions have been recognized with many awards, including the Order of British Columbia and the Paul Yuzyk Award for Multiculturalism in the lifetime achievement category.

Zaib Shaikh
Photo courtesy Jamie Hogg

Zaib Shaikh is a Canadian-born actor, writer and director of Pakistani descent. His early work included Metropia and Da Vinci’s City Hall. In 2007, he received international attention for his portrayal of lawyer-turned-imam Amaar Rashid in the popular CBC comedy Little Mosque on the Prairie. The series portrays the Muslim inhabitants of a fictional Saskatchewan town who establish a mosque in the rented parish hall of the local Anglican Church. Mr. Shaikh brings a fierce intelligence and flustered naiveté to a role that has no precedent in Canada or Hollywood and for which he won the 2008 Leo Award for best performance in a comedy series. Mr. Shaikh has worked extensively in theatre as well, and co-founded the Whistler Theatre Project in Whistler, British Columbia. He is committed to making a lasting contribution to Canadian drama.

David Suzuki
Photo courtesy Jamie Hogg

David Suzuki has received numerous honours and awards. Among them, five Gemini Awards for his Canadian television efforts, and in 2002 he was awarded the John Drainie award for broadcasting excellence. Suzuki received a lifetime achievement award from the University of British Columbia in 2000 and has 24 honorary degrees from multiple universities in Canada, the United States and Australia. Suzuki was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1977 and became a Companion to the Order of Canada in 2006. He received the Royal Bank Award in 1986 and, in the same year, was awarded the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Kalinga Prize for science writing. In 2009, David Suzuki won the Right Livelihood Award, which is known as the "Alternative Nobel Prize," and recognizes outstanding vision and work for the planet and its people.

Mutsumi Takahashi
Photo courtesy of CTV News, Montreal

Born in Shiroishi, Japan, Mutsumi Takahashi began studying piano at the Toronto Conservatory of Music at the age of six. She is a graduate of Vanier College and Concordia University, holding both a B.A. and M.B.A. In spring of 2013, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by her alma mater, Concordia University. Most recently, she was a co-chair of the Best Care for Life Campaign of the McGill University Health Centre with Montreal Canadiens great Jean Beliveau, and she currently sits on McGill’s Beatty Memorial Fund Committee, which oversees the annual Beatty Memorial Lecture Series.

Kim Thúy
Photo courtesy Sarah Scott

Kim Thúy, award-winning author, fled her native Vietnam with her parents and two brothers in 1978 to escape the country’s oppressive communist regime. Their journey included a harrowing escape in the nauseating hold of a fishing boat and staying in a Malaysian refugee camp before arriving as “boat people” in Quebec. The family’s incredible journey and adaptation to their new home form the narrative of her debut novel Ru, which tells of the changes in a young girl’s life as she moves from a state of unrest to the security of a peaceful life. Ru was a runaway bestseller in Quebec, winning the prestigious Governor General’s Literary Award for French fiction in 2010 and the Grand Prix littéraire Archambault in 2011. Before discovering her skill as a novelist, Ms. Thúy worked as a vegetable picker, seamstress and cashier, and completed degrees in linguistics and translation (1990) and law (1993).

Ai Thien Tran
Photo courtesy of Ai Thien Tran

Ai Thien Tran, a social worker, became the first Vietnamese Canadian to receive Canada’s Top 25 Immigrants Award. His life story shows courage, resilience and an indefatigable quest to succeed. It was an arduous journey for Ai when he left Vietnam as a 20-year-old boat person, spending 12 years as a stateless refugee in the Philippines. Arriving in Canada in 2001, he faced the newcomer’s typical challenges, aside from the psychological and emotional trauma left over from having lived in isolation.

Through it all, Ai has shown great resilience. He worked full time while studying in the social work program at McGill University where he graduated with honours. He was invited to be a lifetime member of the Golden Key International Honour Society. In 2006, he was one of 10 students the world over to receive the Golden Key scholarship.

Ai’s leadership and outstanding contribution to the McGill School of Social Work earned him the Sadie Aronoff award. He was an executive director of the Vietnamese Canadian Federation in 2009 and is currently active in several community organizations, including the Citizen Advisory Committee, Ottawa Parole, and the Ukrainian National Federation, Ottawa-Gatineau. He continuously takes on new challenges and risks to maintain a strong vision of helping others.

Chinese students soccer team of 1933
Photo by C.B. Wand, courtesy Robert Yip

Formed in 1920, Vancouver's Chinese Students' Soccer Team played during a period of anti-Chinese sentiment, which led to the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923 that barred Chinese immigration. At the time, Canada's Chinese community was comprised largely of "bachelor societies" of men who were separated from their families in China. Also denied the right to vote, the Chinese were prevented from entering most professions.

As the only non-white soccer team in British Columbia, the squad provided much needed hope and inspiration to Vancouver's Chinese community during a time of continuing discrimination. Known for their skill, speed and sportsmanship, the team won the 1st Division provincial championship in 1933, claiming the British Columbia Mainland Cup and winning respect for their community. They were inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame in 2011.

Several players made history in later years. In 1943, William K.L. Lore became the first Chinese Canadian in the Royal Canadian Navy and the first officer of Chinese descent in all the Navies of the British Commonwealth. Midfielder K. Dock Yip became Canada's first lawyer of Chinese descent in 1945 and lobbied for the repeal of the Chinese Immigration Act, finally repealed in 1947.

Asahi baseball team

The Asahi was a Japanese Canadian baseball club in Vancouver (1914–42). One of the city’s most dominant amateur teams, the Asahi used skill and tactics to win multiple league titles in Vancouver and along the Northwest Coast. In 1942, the team was disbanded when its members were among more than 21,000 Japanese Canadians interned by the federal government. The Asahi were inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003 and the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.

Sikh Canadians during First World War
Photo courtesy of PH Coll 171.1-22, Alice Woodby Collection, University of Washington Libraries/UW15673

Few Canadians realize that ten Sikhs joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War, before Sikhs could attain Canadian citizenship. Eight Sikhs served in Europe and two were killed in action. Buckam Singh of British Columbia, and later Toronto, is the Sikh veteran about whom we know the most. He was wounded twice and died after returning to Canada. His grave in Kitchener, Ontario, is the only known First World War Sikh-Canadian soldier’s grave in Canada. His comrades in arms were John Baboo of Winnipeg, who was wounded at Vimy Ridge; Sunter Gougersingh who enlisted in Montréal; Hari Singh from Toronto; Harnom Singh from Chilliwack, British Columbia; John Singh of Winnipeg; Lashman Singh and Waryam Singh, who enlisted at Smiths Falls, Ontario; Ram Singh of Grand Forks, British Columbia; and Sewa Singh of Vancouver.

Chinese-Canadian Second World War veterans
Photo of Chinese-Canadian veterans Roy Mah and George Ing, courtesy of the Chinese Canadian Military Museum

Hundreds of Chinese Canadians fought in the Second World War. They were generally able to enlist in the Canadian Army but were barred on racial grounds from enlisting in the Royal Canadian Air Force until October 1942 and the Royal Canadian Navy until March 1944. Many Chinese Canadians volunteered for active duty, even though they were exempt from the National Resources Mobilization Act of 1940 (NRMA), which allowed the Canadian government to requisition property and services for defence. In 1944, the British War Office petitioned the Canadian Government for Chinese Canadians to work for the Special Operations Executive in Southeast Asia and the Southwest Pacific. Chinese Canadians were later called up under the NRMA. They played an active role in the Second World War and made unique contributions. Intense lobbying by returning Chinese-Canadian veterans led to the repeal of the Chinese Immigration (Exclusion) Act.

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