In a groundbreaking moment at the heart of downtown Winnipeg, 10-year-old Simrat Gill took centre stage before a captivated audience at the city’s arena, bearing the weight of anticipation for an unprecedented performance.
Months of dedicated practice had woven every lyric of a unique Punjabi-English rendition of Canada’s national anthem into Simrat’s very soul. Despite some last-minute changes, bolstered by her father’s unwavering support, a hint of nerves lingered within her—would this bold reinterpretation be embraced by all?
Simrat, a Grade 5 student, stood shoulder to shoulder with her 18-member choir from Amber Trails Community School, poised to deliver a historic rendition of “O Canada.”
Their momentous performance, just before the Winnipeg Jets faced off against the Colorado Avalanche on 16th December, marked the first time a bilingual version of the anthem had graced an NHL game or any major professional sporting event. The televised broadcast captivated over a million viewers and swiftly catapulted snippets of the performance into the global spotlight.
While accolades poured in, so did a wave of polarised reactions. The choir’s adaptation stirred intense debates, with some criticising the alteration of a historically significant anthem dating back to 1880. Questions were raised about the connection between Punjabi and hockey, and a minority response veered into xenophobia.
Dorian Morphy, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer of True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd.—the Winnipeg Jets’ organising body—acknowledged the expected pushback when attempting something groundbreaking. He emphasised the significance of the live experience, contrasting it with isolated social media clips that failed to capture the broader context.
The genesis of this momentous performance traces back to February, as initiatives aligned on multiple fronts. Amber Trails’ principal, Navjeet Kambo, responding to local demand for a Punjabi bilingual programme, took steps to introduce Manitoba’s inaugural Punjabi education curriculum in September.
Concurrently, the Jets’ inaugural South Asian heritage night in February set the stage for cultural integration, leading to the creation of the Punjabi rendition of “O Canada.”
Recognising the evolving demographics of Canada, Morphy underscored hockey’s need to reflect the nation’s changing population. The sport’s popularity among Punjabi-speaking Canadians further fuelled the drive for inclusivity, epitomised by the celebrated “Hockey Night in Canada: Punjabi Edition.”
In the lead-up to the performance, Simrat, Prabhleen, and their choir encountered challenges with last-minute lyric changes. The initially chosen Punjabi translation fell short upon evaluation, prompting a swift collaboration with Punjabi scholars and elders to finalise a revised version just before the show.
Calendar honouring Rock Garden creator released in Canada
In a gathering held in Surrey on Saturday, December 23, environmental justice activists commemorated the birth centenary of Nek Chand by unveiling a dedicated calendar in his honour.
Nek Chand, the visionary behind the renowned Rock Garden in Chandigarh, India, where sculptures crafted from discarded materials find their home, was born on December 15, 1924.
The 2024 calendar, produced by Radical Desi—an online magazine covering alternative politics—alongside People’s Voice newspaper, Mehak Punjabi Di TV, Channel Punjabi, Spice Radio, and Indigevision, features significant dates relevant to the environmental movement.
Anjali Appadurai, a prominent climate justice activist and former federal election candidate, undertook the unveiling. On this occasion, she received the “Environmental Justice Hero Award” from anti-racism educator Annie Ohana, representing Radical Desi. Ohana, a past recipient of the Radical Desi medal of courage, presented the accolade.
During her keynote speech, Appadurai shared her political journey and emphasised the vital importance of discussing the environment in today’s world, grappling with pressing issues of climate emergency and social injustice.
The event commenced with a moment of silence, honouring firefighters who lost their lives this year in the line of duty, both in Canada and across the globe, as well as the thousands of Palestinians killed in Israeli attacks.
Various speakers addressed the gathering, including Shukouh Farshidfar from Hamsoo, a group dedicated to recycling and waste management; Tara Shushtarian from the West Coast Climate Action Network; Ravneet Singh from Eco Sikh; Gaurav Shah, a prominent entertainment figure associated with Rock Garden as an event organiser, who shared his memories of the late Nek Chand; renowned journalist Dr. Gurvinder Singh Dhaliawal, a vocal advocate for human rights; and Gurpreet Singh, Director of Radical Desi.
Indigevision’s Jennifer Sherif, serving as the Master of Ceremonies, drew connections between indigenous peoples’ unique relationship with the land and the broader climate justice movement, echoing her role as an indigenous educator.