The year 2011 is a special one for the Sikhs of the Lower Mainland, and especially those in Abbotsford. It marks the 100th anniversary of the Gur Sikh Gurdwara (Temple) on South Fraser Way, the oldest surviving gurdwara in Canada. Built by some of the first Sikh immigrants to the Fraser Valley, the temple was declared a Canadian National Historic Site by Jean Chretien in 2002 and is currently the only such structure outside of India and Pakistan to have such designation.
The centennial festivities are being organized by the Khalsa Diwan Society of Abbotsford, which is planning a different event for each month of the calendar year. The celebration began on January 10 with a speech from Abbotsford mayor George Peary and the unveiling of an exhibit at City Hall. UFV’s own Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies is also involved in the proceedings and will be hosting the event for March: the South Asian Readers and Writers Festival. More information about this festival, and other activities being planned by the Centre, is available at http://www.ufv.ca/CICS/Centennial.htm.
The exhibit at City Hall contains both an official proclamation from the Mayor and an abbreviated history of the Gur Sikh Gurdwara. According to this exhibit, the gurdwara was constructed by Sikh workers from the nearby Mill Lake mill after the first Sikhs arrived in Abbotsford in 1904 or 1905. Sunder Singh Thandi and Arjan Singh are credited with spearheading the building project and raising the $3,000 needed to purchase the acre upon which the gurdwara stands. The wood used to build the temple was donated by the Trethewey family, who owned the mill on Mill Lake, and employed 50 or 60 Sikh workers. Construction began in 1908 and was finished in 1911.
The Gur Sikh Gurdwara was officially reopened by the Khalsa Diwan Society in 2007 after undergoing significant restoration, yet, except for during the Sunday service, admission requires an appointment. For those interested in a more casual experience of the Sikh faith, both the temple on Blueridge Drive and the new temple immediately across from the Gur Sikh Gurdwara accommodate drop-in visits and provide free traditional food from the ever-popular “langar” or temple kitchen. Visitors are asked to remove their shoes and cover their heads before entering.
More information about Sikhism or the centennial celebration can be obtained by contacting the UFV Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies.