Sikh Heritage: A Canadian past, a Canadian presence

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  • The Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada (SHMC) preserves, promotes and honours the rich complexity of Sikh Canadian history and identity. Most non-Sikhs are largely unaware of these struggles and contributions, though they are often direct beneficiaries of the activism of Sikh Canadians. More people from more communities need to know these stories.

    Instead of inviting our audience to the museum, we took the museum to them. We created a campaign that looks like advertising but behaves like an exhibit — an exhibit that takes Sikh Canadian stories and SHMC out into the public in order to invite the public back into SHMC

    The campaign covers typical Sikh Heritage Museum subjects, many of them already memorialized in the museum. It celebrates the history of Canada’s Sikh community from the first arrivals to the present day. In print advertising (the lead medium for this campaign), the long-format text delivers detail-rich historical narratives much like a museum exhibit.

    The first “exhibit” or ad tells the story of the Komagata Maru, a ship with 337 Sikh immigrants, that was turned away from Vancouver in 1914, and sent back to India, where 19 were killed and 202 imprisoned by British authorities. The headline contrasts the hope with which all immigrants arrive, and the open racism and xenophobia these early immigrants faced. The second ad in the series tells the story of RCMP Officer Baltej Singh who fought for the right to serve in his turban and beard and won.

    The campaign engages South Asian audiences with Canadian history, by delivering it, for the first time, through a Sikh/South Asian lens. Provocative headlines draw readers into the story and classic storytelling keeps them absorbed. While illuminating the human rights violations suffered by Sikhs, the ads always end with a celebration of Sikh achievements to give readers a sense of community pride and remind readers why it is important for us to honour these stories: we must remember our past, so our presence endures. In doing so, we enrich Canada’s future.

    The campaign tagline: Sikh Canadians. A Canadian past, a Canadian presence.