In Shanti Uddyaan (Peace Park) on Yonge Street at Highway 7, a larger-than-life size statue of Mahatma Gandhi has been erected by Indo-Canadian communities as a gesture of thanks to Canada—the land of opportunities—for providing a peaceful new homeland. The monument is symbolic of the commitment of diverse cultural groups that make up Toronto’s Indo-Canadian community, towards promoting peace and harmony. Gandhi, an enlightened soul wedded to truth and non-violence, liberated India from foreign rule through “Satyagraha” meaning peaceful civil disobedience. He identified himself with the people of India and more specifically with the poorest of the poor and the down trodden. India, before its independence on 15 August, 1947, was made up of 560 separate princely states. Today, there are a total of 25 states (provinces) in India, organised mainly on different cultural and linguistic considerations. The Toronto Indo-Canadian community includes Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists and Zoroastrians (Parsis), representing every nook and corner of India. Many of them came to Canada from Africa, the Carribeans or other parts of the world where their forefathers had migrated as bonded labour from India many generations ago. In fact, the first Indo-Canadians came to British Columbia from Punjab as early as 1897.
Of the 350,000 people of Indo-Canadian origin living in Ontario, approximately 100,000 are Hindus who reside mainly in Toronto. Immigration to Canada began as early as the mid-19th century, but it wasn’t until the late 1960s that Indo-Canadian communities began to form in Ontario. Many of the early settlers came indirectly from either the United States or Britain, and were from India’s professional class. Indo-Canadian entrepreneurs continue to operate in trade-oriented business, such as electronics, carpets, clothing, auto mechanics, travel, restaurants, and real estate.
From 1970 to 1975, a large influx of Sri Lankans came to Canada, settling in Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. The community is made up of many ethnic groups: Sinhalese, Tamils, Moors, Malays, Burghers (mixed European, Sinhalese and Tamil) and others. Members speak three languages: Sinhala, Tamil, and English, and follow one of four religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, or Islam. The Buddhist Temple on Kingston Road has served as the major religious centre and often acts as a community centre, also attracting non-Buddhist members to its events. A prominent Sri Lankan Torontonian is poet, novelist and film maker Michael Ondaatje, who has won Governor General awards for two books of poetry and his novel The English Patient.
Since the Second World War, the Ontario Zoroastrian community has grown to 350 families, making it the largest settlement in Canada. The Parsis (Parsees) or Zoroastrians migrated to India from Iran in the seventh century A.D. Members of the community are highly educated, devout, and volunteer many hours of their time to charities. In the 1960s, the Zoroastrian Society of Ontario purchased the former Bayview Avenue estate of writer Mazo de la Roche, and later established a prayer hall. Cultural and religious events include evenings of food and prayer called ghambar, and the navjot, a coming-of-age ceremony which is held before children reach their 11th year. Rohinton Mistry portrays this community, in Bombay and in Toronto, in his novels and stories, including Such a Long Journey which won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction.
Jainism is one of the world’s oldest surviving faiths. There are about five hundred Jain families living in Toronto. Another well-known community is Gujarati, one of India’s prominent well-to-do and well-educated communities. Their community in Toronto is described in greater detail in a separate chapter.
Torontonians can observe classical Indian dance at various festivals that take place during the year. One of the most colourful Indian celebrations is Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights that takes place in autumn. Families and friends gather together to light lamps in honour of the goddess of strength, wealth, and prosperity.
Most East Indian holidays are according to the Hindu calendar and do not fall on the same day each year.
PONGAL-SANKRANTI. In January Pongal-Sankranti is celebrated. Commemorating a three-day harvest festival celebrated in India. Traditionally, Pongal, the newly harvested rice, is fed to cows; in Ontario, the festival is celebrated as a general get-together and cultural evening.
INDIA’S REPUBLIC DAY. January 26 is India’s Republic Day, celebrating the day in 1950 that India became a republic. On the weekend closest to the holiday, The Indo-Canadian Association makes an address, followed by a cultural program and refreshments.
HOLI. March is the month of Holi, a boisterous Hindu festival where friends throw coloured water on each other. It is celebrated with dancing, singing, and food.
JAMSHEDI NAVROZ. March 21 is Jamshedi Navroz, a Zoroastrian festival which is associated with the spring solstice and held in honour of an emperor of Iranian legend. The festival is celebrated by holding a jashan, a thanks-giving ceremony celebrated with get togethers.
BIRTHDAY OF LORD RAMA. In April, the birthday of Lord Rama is celebrated by all Hindus with prayers and recitations from the Ramayana.
BAISAKHI DAY. April 13 is generally Baisakhi Day, celebrated as New Year’s Day for Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists.
BUDDHA PURNIMA. In May, Buddha Purnima is celebrated in honour of the birth, enlightenment, and salvation of Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.
INDEPENDENCE DAY, on August 15, marks India’s Independence Day, which was first celebrated in 1947. On the weekend closest to the day, India’s Consulate General in Toronto holds a reception.
JANMASHTAM. A full-day festival with a dinner in honour of the birth of Lord Krishna is held in August. As a religious observance, it involves all-night prayer vigils, as well as devotional singing and dancing.
PATETI, in August, is the beginning of the New Year on the Zoroastrian calendar. It is celebrated by holding a jashan.
The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir complex is located in Northwest Toronto.
HARE KRISHNA TEMPLE. In mid-August, the Hare Krishna Temple celebrates Rathyatra with a procession down Avenue Road and University Avenue to Centre Island.
HARVEST FESTIVAL OF KERALA. In honour of Onam, the harvest festival of Kerala, India, a social and cultural evening is held in September.
DURGA PUJA AND DUSSEHRA. In September or October, Durga Puja and Dussehra are held to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. A three-day celebration with colourful religious ceremonies, it is comparable to Thanksgiving.
MIDWEEK, (Tel. 905-670-3687, 1310 Midway Blvd., Unit 31, Mississauga).
THE WEEKENDER, (Tel. 416-855-9192, www.theweekender.ca).
COMMUNITY DIGEST, (Tel. 416-283-3373, 7305 Woodbine Ave., Suite 616).
INDIA ABROAD, (Tel. 416-622-2600, 42 Deanewood Cres). A weekly newspaper published in English in Toronto and New York. Associate Editor: Ajit Jain.
INDIA CALLING, (Tel. 416-823-2541 or 416-233-9577, 41 Mabell Ave., Suite 1908). Publisher and Editor: Sanyogta (Sonia) Singh.
CANADIAN TIMES OF INDIA NEWSMAGAZINE, (Tel. 416-490-0091, 7 Axsmith Cres). Editor Umesh Vijaya. At the same address:Sangam, a bi-monthly Hindu newspaper. Publisher: Umesh Vijaya.
EAST INDIAN PROGRAM, 530 CIAO AM, (Tel. 416-453-7111, 50 Kennedy Rd. S., Unit 20, Brampton). Saturdays 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
SOUTH ASIAN NEWSWEEK, CFMT Channel 47, (Tel. 416-260-0047, 545 Lakeshore Blvd. W). Tues. to Sat., 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. Mon. to Fri., 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Producer: Stan Papulkas.
GEETMALA (Hindi), CHIN 100.7 FM, (Tel. 416-531-9991, 622 College St). Sunday, 9:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. Host: Darshan Sahota.
EYE ON ASIA (Hindi), CITY-TV, Channel 57, c/o CHIN Radio/TV International, (Tel. 416-531-9991, 622 College St). Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Contact: Darshan Sahota.
The Indo-Canadian community is one of the youngest and most diversified communities in Ontario. Many Indo-Canadian organizations are small, with meetings taking place in the home of the organizer.
BRAHMA KUMARIS, (Tel. 416-537-3034, 3000 Islington Ave.) National Coordinator: Denise Lawrence
SOUTH ASIAN SOCIAL SERVICES ORGANIZATION, (Tel. 416-431-4847, 1200 Markham Rd). Formerly the Indian Immigrant Aid Services. Established in 1972. One of the first East Indian organizations in Toronto. Provides settlement for new immigrants, orientation, resume preparation, and job search assistance.
INDO CANADA ASSOCIATION, (Tel. 416-592-4215, 163 Lyndhurst Dr., Thornhill). Founded in 1961, it is one of Toronto’s oldest East Indian organizations. Its mandate is to promote friendship between Canada and India and preserve Indo-Canadian culture.
EIPROC, (235 Yorkland Blvd). A club of professionals from India.
ARYA SAMAJ VEDIC CULTURAL CENTRE, (Tel. 905-475-5778, Fax 905-475-2883, 4345 14th Ave). Provides various cultural, social and religious activities to the East Indian Community.
ASSOCIATION OF WOMEN OF INDIA (AWIC), (Tel. 416-499-4144, 3030 Don Mills Rd., Lower Level Mall).
BHARATHI KALA MANRAM, Canada, (Tel. 905-568-1536, Box 22097, 45 Overlea Blvd). Contact: R. Venkataraman.
CANADIAN COUNCIL OF HINDUS, (Tel. 905-471-1211, P.O. Box 295, Station O). Contact: Amar Erry.
HINDU CULTURAL SOCIETY, (Tel. 416-284-6282, 1 Morningview Trail, Scarborough), Contact: Hari Chopra.
HINDU FEDERATION OF CANADA, (Tel. 416-756-0583, 64 Hobart Dr). Contact: President Shori Lal Katyal.
JAIN SOCIETY, (Tel. 416-251-8112, 48 Rosemeade Ave). Established in 1974, in 1977 it was registered as a religious non-profit and charitable organization.
ONTARIO FEDERATION OF INDIAN FRIENDSHIP CENTRES, (Tel. 416-956-7575, 219 Front St. E).
MARATHI BHASHIK MANDAL, (Tel. 905-479-0313, 10 Glamorgan Crt). Contact: K.M. Ghanekar.
NARGIS DUTT FOUNDATION, (Tel. 905-471-1211, 40 Coppard Ave). Co-ordinator: Amar Erry.
The Indo-Canadian community occasionally receives visits from divine leaders. Pictured above is Her Holiness Amma Sri Karunamayi and below His Holiness Swami Hari Prasad with avid believers.
SOUTH ASIAN FAMILY SUPPORT SERVICES, (Tel. 416-286-3878, 1154 Morningside Ave., #205; Tel. 416-431-4847, Tel. 416-431-4847, 4352 Kingston Rd., 2nd Floor).
SOUTH ASIAN MEDIA ALLIANCE OF CANADA, (Tel. 905-455-9839, Fax 905-452-8133, 45 Radford Dr., Brampton).
SOUTH ASIAN WOMEN’S CENTRE, (Tel. 416-537-2276, 1332 Bloor St. W).
VEDANTA SOCIETY OF TORONTO, (Tel. 416-240-7262, 120 Emmett Ave).
YOGI DIVINE SOCIETY, (Tel. 905-678-1166, 6875 Professional Ct, Mississauga).
ZOROASTRIAN SOCIETY OF ONTARIO, (Tel. 416-733-4586, 3590 Bayview Ave) Chair: Moti Kaka PaTel.