NDP MLA Rachna Singh unveils portrait of first Sikh activist in Canada to be hanged for a political murder

    1 of 3 2 of 3

      Many Vancouver Sikhs—and quite a few non-Sikhs—know the story of Mewa Singh.

      In 1914, he shot and killed an immigration inspector, William Charles Hopkinson, as Hopkinson was at the Vancouver courthouse (now the Vancouver Art Gallery).

      Mewa Singh stirs up deep emotion in the Sikh community. That's because he took full responsibility for the murder of a man who oversaw a network of spies and who was instrumental in the expulsion of the Komagata Maru vessel from Vancouver's harbour in 1914.

      In a statement before being hanged on January 11, 1915, Mewa Singh said that he committed the murder in response to an earlier killing of a Sikh leader and another activist in the Vancouver gurdwara by one of Hopkinson's moles.

      "For the honour and prestige of my religion and community, I have killed Hopkinson," Mewa Singh said. "It was beyond me to tolerate all this."

      Today, NDP MLA Rachna Singh unveiled a portrait of Mewa Singh in her Surrey–Green Timbers constituency office to commemorate the 104th anniversary of his death.

      Among those present was the artist, Jarnail Singh. He's already completed a series of paintings related to the Komagata Maru, which brought more than 350 passengers of Indian ancestry to Vancouver.

      Watch the unveiling of Mewa Singh's portrait in the constituency office of NDP MLA Rachna Singh.

      Prior to the Komagata Maru's arrival, Mewa Singh was a close associate of a major figure in the Vancouver Sikh community, Bhag Singh. Bhag Sikh and another political activist, Badan Singh, were the ones murdered in the gurdwara in September 1914.

      Earlier that year, Bhag Singh had helped passengers who were stranded on the Komagata Maru after Hopkinson and other officials wouldn't let them reach landfall.

      Bhag Singh's murderer was Hopkinson's henchman Bela Singh.

      "We Sikhs go in gurdwaras to offer prayer but these wicked ones opened fire in the gurdwara, killing Bhai Bhag Sing," Mewa Singh declared before being hanged. "These sinners have orphaned two innocent children."

      After he was hanged, a procession of 400 Sikhs accompanied his body to a funeral pyre at Fraser Mills, according to SFU professor emeritus Hugh Johnston. He's the author of the highly regarded The Voyage of the Komagata Maru: The Sikh Challenge to Canada’s Colour Bar.

      The Undocumented Trial of William C. Hopkinson was performed at last year's Monsoon Festival of Performing Arts.

      Mewa Singh's portrait also hangs in the Mewa Singh Room in the basement of the Ross Street Sikh temple in Vancouver. 

      His story has been told in Why Mewa Singh Killed William Hopkinson: Revisiting the Murder of a Canadian Immigration Inspector, by Georgia Straight contributor Gurpreet Singh, who's also the husband of Rachna Singh.

      In addition, a play by Paneet Singh, The Undocumented Trial of William C. Hopkinson, shines a light on Mewa Singh's courage in court and his willingness to die for a cause he believed in.

      Below, you can listen to Paneet Singh's comments about how Mewa Singh was commemorated in the decades following his death.