FROM 1908 to 1911, determined Sikh pioneer immigrants from India built a gurdwara in Abbotsford. The lumber used to build the gurdwara was donated by the owners of a sawmill where many of them worked.
Its outward form, a wood frame building with a false front and a gabled roof, was similar to many buildings in many Canadian frontier towns. However, its interior reflected Sikh traditions and religious beliefs.
There were two floors in the temple: the second floor prayer room housed the sacred text, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, and provided an open space for worshippers to sit, cross-legged on the carpet; while the ground floor contained a community kitchen and a dining hall where the “langar” (a communal meal) was prepared and eaten, affirming the equality of those who partake of it.
One hundred years later, the community of Abbotsford is proud to dedicate 2011 as the Centenary Year of the National Historic Site Gur Sikh Temple. In 2007 the gurdwara was designated as a National Historic Site, a designation that is unique to the oldest Sikh temple in the Americas.
Throughout 2011, the community will be hosting events to celebrate, commemorate and recognize the temple, the pioneers and the history of the community.
The full event program can be viewed at: www.ufv.ca/cics/centennial. For more information: www.canadiansikhheritage.ca.
The year-long celebrations kick off on January 10 at 3 p.m. at Abbotsford City Hall when Abbotsford Mayor George Peary will proclaim 2011 as the official year of the Centennial in front of City Council and community members.
THE University of Fraser Valley says it’s teamed up with Abbotsford’s Khalsa Diwan Society and the Reach Gallery Museum to organize events and Satwinder Bains, Director of the Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies at UFV, is excited about helping to raise awareness about the history of Sikh pioneers in British Columbia.
“A century ago, determined pioneers from Punjab, India came together to build one of the first Sikh gurdwaras in North America,” Bains says. “The lumber for the gurdwara was donated by the owners of a sawmill where many of the Sikh pioneer immigrants worked. They carried the lumber on their backs to the hilltop where they built the gurdwara, which was officially opened in 1911.Today, the gurdwara reminds us all of the hard work, dedication, and devotion of these pioneers.”
The gurdwara, located on South Fraser Way in Abbotsford, took on a simple form to suit the pioneers of the day.
Abbotsford city hall lobby is the venue for an exhibition of photos from the city’s pioneering days, including photos of the gurdwara. People are welcome to drop by and visit the exhibit - it is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily until January 14.
“The City of Abbotsford plays a vital civic role in acknowledging its only historic site and the only Sikh gurdwara in the world outside of India with the historic site designation,” says Bains. “It is a memorable centenary that marks a significant contribution of immigrants to our community.”
Events are planned monthly throughout the 2011, including Eat Ethnic in February and the UFV-sponsored South Asian Reader’s and Writer’s Festival that takes place Tuesday, March 29. The headliner for the evening will be Anosh Irani, who will discuss and read from his latest book Dahanu Road. Other writers at the festival include Tariq Malik and Gurjinder Basran. Prior to the festival, the CICS will launch its One Book, One UFV campaign in January, where university faculty, staff, students, and community members are encouraged to read Dahanu Road in anticipation of the event itself.
April will mark the opening of a heritage exhibit at the Reach Gallery and in May, UFV’s Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies will host the Transnational Punjabis in the 21st Century Conference. The conference will conclude with the Virasat pioneer gala hosted by the Fraser Valley Indo-Canadian Business Association.
Significant events are also planned for August and right through until December. Bains says all the events are open to the entire community and it is a great opportunity to learn about the history of the gurdwara and explore the Sikh traditions and celebrations.