British Columbia

Vancouver's Punjabi Market marking 50 years of culture and community with virtual celebrations

City hall will glow orange on May 31 and and Amrit Gill, with Hockey Night in Punjabi, will host online performances to honour the milestone anniversary.

City hall will glow with orange light on May 31 in honour of the milestone anniversary

The Punjabi Market, a three block commercial district along Vancouuver's Main Street between 48th and 51st avenues, was the first place in the world outside of South Asia to have Punjabi on the street signs when they were installed in the early 1990s. (Twitter/Punjabi Market)

It's not the original celebration organizers were planning, but the 50th anniversary of Vancouver's Punjabi Market will not pass without a party this year.

The market is a three-block commercial district located on Main Street between East 48th and East 51st avenues. The area is considered the oldest Little India in North America and to recognize the market's five decade milestone, Mayor Kennedy Stewart is set to attend Sunday to kick off a day of festivities by proclaiming May 31 Punjabi Market Day.

The COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into those plans, so organizers have now turned to their digital toolkit to commemorate the occasion online instead.

"We still felt there was an opportunity here to come together as a community to honour the market that has helped us connect to our South Asian cultures for the past 50 years," said Navi Rai, a spokesperson for the Punjabi Market Regeneration Collective on The Early Edition Friday.

The Punjabi Market, also known as Little India, was the first and largest South Asian Market outside of South Asia and has historically included several Indian restaurants, sweet shops, jewellery stores, clothing stores and grocers, (Evan Mitsui/CBC)
Sucha Singh Claire opened up Shaan Saaris in what is now Vancouver's Punjabi Market on May 31, 1970. (The Punjabi Market/Instagram)

The online event kicks off May 31 on the market's Facebook, YouTube and Instagram platforms,10 minutes after the 7 p.m. cheer for front-line workers.

Amrit Gill, with Hockey Night in Punjabi, is hosting the celebration, which will include live performances, poetry, and interviews with Shushma Datt, Harinder Singh Toor, Sucha Singh and Harbans Kaur Claire.

Vancouver city hall will also be lit up in orange May 31, a fitting glow on the golden anniversary.

The Punjabi Market Regeneration Collective is made up of professionals, artists, students, entrepreneurs and activists and is working on collaborating with the city to develop area businesses and create a hub for arts and culture.

In 2019, city council passed a motion acknowledging the market as an area with historic significance and present day importance and committing to work with the community to identify ways to revitalize it.

"We are trying to help it evolve into what it could be in the future," said Rai.

Kewal Singh Pabla opened the Himalaya Restaurant in Vancouver’s Punjabi Market neighbourhood in 1979. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)
Aman Pabla, whose young face graces the takeaway sweets box at Himalaya Restaurant, is the grandson of business founder Kewal Singh Pabla. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

One step in that evolution is launching an online shopping portal, so people all over the Lower Mainland can shop remotely. Rai said that is currently in the works, and when it is up and running, announcements will be made on social media.

She said businesses in the area were not unscathed by the pandemic, but some, such as grocery vendors, have stayed busy.

To hear the complete interview with Navi Rai on The Early Edition, tap here.

With files from The Early Edition

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