The city of Vancouver made a history on Wednesday by naming a street after Punjabi pioneer Jack Uppal.
The late Uppal is the first Punjabi whose name will appear on a street sign in the city that discriminated against immigrants and people of colour a century ago.
Uppal was a prominent Punjabi businessman who came to Canada as a toddler to join his immigrant father Dalip Singh in 1926. He grew up facing blatant racism against people of colour. His father, who had moved to Canada in 1907, faced difficulty bringing his family to the city because of discriminatory immigration policies that prevented people from India to bring their wives and children in order to discourage their permanent settlement.
Uppar had to endure bullying at school and often barbers would refuse to give him a haircut. He also fought for the right to vote. The Indo-Canadians were disfranchised in 1907. The right was restored after a 40-year-long struggle by the community activists.
Uppal passed away in 2014 at the age of 83.
On Wednesday, Vancouver passed a unanimous resolution to designate a street in his name. His relatives were presented a replica street sign bearing his name by the city mayor Gregor Robertson after the resolution was passed amidst thunderous applause from the South-Asian community members and councillors present in the city hall.
“This is a very significant day for Vancouver as it recognises an extra ordinary Vancouverite who fought racism and discrimination and created many jobs, particularly in South Vancouver. He was a great leader from the South Asian community who became a leader across the entire city,” Robertson said while talking to HT.
Uppal’s daughter Cindy Bains said that it is not just an honour for her family but for the entire South Asian community.
While addressing the gathering at the event, former BC attorney general Wally Oppal said that Uppal should have been recognised long ago for his contribution to Canadian society and his compatriots.
“The regrettable aspect of his life is that he could have done something lot better - as he faced racism, he couldn’t go to university.”
Others in attendance included former federal minister Herb Dhaliwal and former BC minister Moe Sihota. Notably, both Dhaliwal and Sihota made history after becoming the first Punjabi federal minister and first provincial legislator respectively.