Martyr or Murderer: Mewa Singh and the Assassination of William C. Hopkinson

  • Erin Chewter


This paper investigates the role of subjectivity in historical writing by highlighting the ambiguities, lacunae, and incommensurable accounts found in the archival records of a case from early twentieth-century British Columbia: the assassination of immigration agent William C. Hopkinson by Sikh Vancouverite Mewa Singh in the aftermath of the Komagata Maru incident of 1914. Emerging from within a period of extreme anti-Asian agitation in British Columbia, the archival documents surrounding Hopkinsonā€™s assassination are racially charged and bifurcated along the lines of the concurrent antagonism between the Sikh community and government officials in Vancouver. Through these documents, Mewa Singh can be cast as either a cold-blooded murderer or a martyr standing up for the dignity of his community. As an exercise in critical reflexivity, this paper holds open a space for the ambiguity of the past and argues for the social significance of historians as self-aware storytellers and meaning-makers.