British Columbia

Surrey's Vaisakhi parade cancelled while uncertainty looms over Vancouver's parade

Surrey Vaisakhi Parade has been cancelled for the third year in a row, while the Vancouver parade could go ahead but with major modifications.

Several small scale events and seminars will take place in Surrey instead of the big parade

Surrey's Vaisakhi parade usually attracts around half a million people from around the world, making it the largest parade of its kind outside India (Skylake Photos/Youtube)

Every April, millions of Sikhs around the world celebrate Vaisakhi, the birth of Khalsa. In the Lower Mainland, the day is usually commemorated with two parades a week apart that are full of energy, fanfare, food and a wave of orange.

Surrey's Vaisakhi parade has been hailed as the largest parade of its kind outside India, attracting anywhere between 300,000 to half a million people. Vancouver's is attended by up to 300,000 making it the city's largest single-day festival.

Both parades were cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. And while there is a possibility that Vancouver's parade will go ahead this year, Surrey's, scheduled for April 23, is being cancelled for the third year in a row. 

"We, in a responsible fashion, wanted to make sure that we did the right thing," said organizer Moninder Singh, the president of Gurdwara Sahib Dasmesh Darbar in Surrey. 

Moninder Singh, president of Gurdwara Sahib Dasmesh Darbar in Surrey, says he wanted to ensure the event aligned with what's best for the community during the pandemic. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Singh said it was a difficult decision but one taken in the interest of community safety.

"We're feeling like we're getting to the end of this [pandemic] in many ways, so we don't want it to be a factor that creates a different type of problem." 

In addition to the public safety aspect with such large crowds, Singh says constantly changing public health orders and uncertainty about pandemic-related restrictions also made them hesitant to go forward with the event.

"We've had hundreds of thousands of dollars in deposits and event expenditures before the event actually takes place. We wanted to make sure that these donations are used in the best way and losing those deposits would really be hard hitting for us as a community organization." 

While the parade itself has been cancelled, Singh says many small scale events will still take place during the week in the lead-up to April 2, including educational seminars, conversations with local First Nations, a list of which will be available on the Gurdwara's website by the end of March. 

In Vancouver, conversations about its parade, set for April 16, are currently underway.

Malkiat Singh Dhami, the president of the Khalsa Diwan Society of Vancouver, says while a full scale parade is out of the question, they are debating about a smaller one that would accommodate under 10,000 people.

Marchers in the Vaisakhi parade in Vancouver on April 13, 2019. (Lien Yeung/CBC)

Discussions are still underway on whether it should be a parade, a gathering, a hybrid of the two or whether everthing should be cancelled. Dhami says a decision is expected by the end of the week. 

In Surrey, Singh says the Vancouver alternative is out of the question for them. 

He says even a smaller event would still attract 50,000 to 100,000 people and they don't want to restrict who is allowed.

"[The parade] is for the community and it should be open to all."

As Langar, or the free community kitchen, is one of the pillars of Sikhism and these parades, Singh says they are hoping to provide that aspect, by possibly having tents around the city giving away free food and partnering up with organizations that work directly with people experiencing food insecurity. 

Singh says he hopes cancelling this year's parade will help protect the decline in cases of COVID-19 and set the stage for 2023.

"We are hopeful that we'll be able to pull this off next year."

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