Plan for new Woodstock Sikh temple gets boost from developer's land donation
Punjabi community grateful for donation, now turns to raising money for construction costs
From the roadside, the Havelock Corners subdivision in Woodstock, Ont., appears much like any other housing development popping up on the outskirts of communities across Canada.
Buyers are snapping up new brick homes that line freshly paved streets as the project, soon heading into its fifth stage, expands over farm fields along Oxford Road 17 at Woodstock's northern boundary.
What's different here is that about 80 per cent of the homes sold in Havelock Corners have been bought by members of Woodstock's fast-growing Punjabi/Sikh community.
The sales are so brisk that Matthew Castelli, president of the project's developer Kingsmen Group, is donating 2.8 acres (1.1 hectares) of an upcoming phase as a site for Woodstock's first Gurudwara Sahib (Sikh temple).
"Most of my buyers are of Sikh origin," said Castelli, whose company is based in Vaughan. "So for what they've done for me ... for me to give them the land for free, was something I wanted to do."
Castelli said he sees in the Sikh community parallels — hard work, an entrepreneurial spirit — shown by his ancestors who came to Canada from Italy decades ago.
Sikh community growth picked up 5 years ago
To understand what's creating the demand for both housing and a Sikh temple in Woodstock, Darshan 'Woody' Bedi offers some important perspective.
He immigrated to Canada from India in 1979 settling in Brampton, a longtime landing spot for Sikh immigrants. Bedi got married, started a family and for 10 years drove a taxi. Then in 1989, he saw an opportunity to buy a gas station in Woodstock. He snapped it up and has never looked back.
When Bedi first arrived in Woodstock 30 years ago, the community was about 10 to 15 families. But starting in about 2014, the numbers began to grow.
"People were moving to Guelph, then they were moving to Kitchener then they were all filled in and I think people moved here, especially people in the trucking industry," he said.
While Sikhs are known for their presence in Ontario's taxi cab industry, Bedi says many have switched over to trucking, where the money tends to be better. Woodstock's location at the intersection of Highways 401 and 403 makes it an attractive location for truckers.
In March, Charger Logistics, a fast-growing Brampton-based trucking company, opened a state-of-the-art branch location in Woodstock. The company was founded by a Sikh man and Sikhs make up a significant part of its 2,000 employees. The Brampton-based company now has 500 trucks and locations across North America.
'The Friendly City'
Bedi has found Woodstock a welcoming community, one worthy of its motto the "Friendly City."
"I wore a turban as a younger man working here, and I never had any problem," he said.
Bedi estimates that about 700 people in the Sikh/Punjabi community now call Woodstock home. During a drive around town with CBC News, he pointed out Sikh-owned businesses, everything from dental offices, to gas stations to pizza restaurants.
Mayor Trevor Birch says Sikhs have quickly become active members of the community not just as business owners, but also serving as members of city boards and committees.
"They have been great ambassadors within the Punjabi community," said Birch, who regularly attends events hosted by members of Woodstock's Sikh/Punjabi community. "I have been enjoying getting to know them ... I see them integrating with other community groups here."
Temple to cost $1.5 million
And while Sikhs are finding a home in Woodstock, they don't yet have a temple. Bedi says it's badly needed, not only as a place of worship but also as a community gathering spot.
He said having the land gives them a huge head start.
"The community is very grateful to Kingsmen for this gift," said Bedi.
They've raised about half the $1.5 million they estimate they'll needed to build the temple, which will be about 10,000 square feet in size.
For now, a large sign almost obscured by head-high corn announces the site on Oxford Road 17 as the future home of the temple.
Bedi says he's not worried about the community's ability to raise the rest of the money. They're selling family membership and gathering monthly donations and hope to start construction next year. Once that happens, he expects the pace of donations will pick up.
"People are asking me when it will be built and if we had a choice, we'd be opening it tomorrow," he said.