New Westminster Sikh temple celebrates 100-year anniversary
The Gurdwara Sahib Sukh Sagar is one of the oldest temples in Canada
A centennial is being marked in New Westminster this weekend.
The Gurdwara Sahib Sukh Sagar is one of the oldest Sikh temples in the country and its members are celebrating the milestone anniversary by reflecting on its historic significance to the local Sikh community.
The temple was actually founded more than 100 years ago when a pioneering Sikh named Bhai Bishan Singh bought a house next door to where the building is now.
Singh paid $250 for the house, which served as a place of worship until the congregation grew too large. In 1919, Singh bought the neighbouring lot at 347 Wood Street and the Gurdwara Sahib Sukh Sagar was born.
One hundred years later, membership is at 5,000 people and for some of those members, the gurdwara has been an integral part of their life for decades.
Watch CBC reporter Belle Puri's story here:
A walk down memory lane
Sukhi Sandhu, nee Bhullar, spent her childhood going to the temple with her parents and siblings.
She remembers it as a place that always felt inclusive and where, Sandhu and her sisters, immigrants in the 1960s and 70s, felt like they belonged.
"It was a safe place to be where we felt a lot of joy and peace and compassion growing up," said Sandhu.
For Sandhu, the temple was a sanctuary filled with friends and family, where she remembers playing tag as communal meals were cooked in the temple kitchen.
Kirin Malli also has fond memories of going to temple, until suddenly, in the mid-1980s, her family just stopped.
The 1980s was a turbulent time as the fight for an independent Sikh state in India spilled into British Columbia. Amid heated debates and bursts of violence at the temple, there was also tension among members over who should be in charge of the temple. Descendents of the pioneers who actually founded the gurdwara say they were alienated.
Malli's father served at the temple until that division.
For Malli, the 100-year mark is bittersweet because she recalls the 'warm fuzzy' feeling she had when she would visit as a child, but then also remembers the community conflict during the tense times.
But three decades have passed and the anniversary is an opportunity for the community to come together again — both temple members and the general public.
Sukhninder Singh Sangha is the director at the Gurdwara Sahib Sukh Sagar. He said the gurdwara offers programs and camps for youth, seniors and the community at large. There are Punjabi classes and religious studies and a kitchen where members prepare meals for residents on Vancouver's Downtown East Side every weekend.
During the centennial weekend, the temple opened its doors to the public to share their customs — and some communal meals— with the curious.
Sangha said he hopes this will give non-Sikhs a better understanding of what Sikhism is and for various communities to come together to better understand each other.
And there will be another opportunity in the fall for the public to learn more about the gurdwara's remarkable and complicated history when an exhibit about the Gurdwara Sahib Sukh Sagar opens at the New Westminster Museum.
With files from Belle Puri