B.C. Sikhs have come a long way
There have been a lot of ups and downs since the Gur Sikh Temple was established in Abbotsford back in 1911Reference:: Sikh Philosophy Network http://www.sikhphilosophy.net/showthread.php?t=34049
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The decision by the Sikhs of Abbotsford to declare 2011 a year of continuing centennial events serves to remind all British Columbians of the hardships and successes of this burgeoning community.
Monday's kickoff of a year of Sikh celebrations marked the 100th anniversary of Abbotsford's clapboard Gur Sikh Temple, which historians maintain is the oldest still-standing Sikh temple in North America.
The humble temple, which looks more like a Wild West saloon hall than a typical domed gurdwara, is the first site in Canada to be declared a national historic monument that does not have English or French heritage.
This year's series of Sikh celebrations in Abbotsford will include book, film and arts festivals organized by the University of the Fraser Valley, parades, historical exhibits and a three-day prayer festival at the Gur Sikh temple in August.
The old gurdwara was built at a tumultuous time in B.C. history.
Many Sikhs' dreams of leaving India to start new lives as loggers and farmers on Canada's West Coast were getting off to a rocky start.
In 1911, there were only 2,300 beleaguered, discrimination-wary Sikhs in this wild, rugged province, less than half the number who had been here just three years earlier.
Nearly all were men, because laws restricted immigrants from India from bringing their wives or children. In addition, the B.C. government in 1907 had denied Indian-based Sikhs the right to vote.
Even though India was a member of the British Empire, anti-Sikh and Hindu sentiment was high among many Anglo-Saxon pioneers in B.C., who feared the arrival of dark-skinned workers would lower their wages.
Paradoxically, the construction of the Gur Sikh Temple was an example of inter-ethnic cooperation.
It was built by Sikh men who carried the lumber for it on their backs from the nearby mill where they were employed. The white mill owner had donated the wood.
Despite this early example of multicultural acceptance, it took a long time for a host of legal and social barriers against the province's Sikhs to gradually break down.
The low-water mark for Sikhs in Canada came only three years after the Gur Sikh Temple was built.
In 1914, the Komagata Maru, containing 376 would-be Indian immigrants, was barred from landing in Vancouver harbour. To the cheers of whites standing on the B.C. shoreline, the ship's inhabitants were sent back on a grim journey to India.
The next year a protesting Sikh man named Bhai Mewa Singh was hanged in New Westminster for shooting a white man on the steps of a B.C. courthouse. The Sikh community named him a martyr.Reference:: Sikh Philosophy Network http://www.sikhphilosophy.net/showthread.php?t=34049
After the First World War, the Canadian government slowly began lifting restrictions on Sikhs, with one measure allowing wives and children of Sikh workers into the country.
But the number of Sikhs in Canada did not grow beyond 2,500 (with virtually all living in B.C.) until 1962, when the Canadian government stopped discriminating against potential immigrants based on their countries of origin.
By the 1990s, Sikhs were mainstream in Canada, with Sikhs elected to both the Victoria legislature and Ottawa, and the Punjabi language being taught in Vancouver public schools.
Although the past 15 years have been marred by clashes between Sikh fundamentalists and moderates in B.C., often relating to the continuing conflict over a separate homeland in Khalistan, Sikhs' march to full integration in Canada has forged ahead.
There are now more than 150,000 Sikhs in B.C., half of the country's total.
Roughly one out of five residents of Abbotsford (and Surrey) are Sikhs, which means they make up the largest single religious denomination in those municipalities, just ahead of Roman Catholics.
And by 2011, people with Sikh backgrounds -- such as Ujjal Dosanjh, Kash Heed, Wally Oppal, Amar Doman and Jack Uppal -- had become some of the province's most influential and wealthy citizens.
Abbotsford's Gur Sikh Temple, restored in 2007 with a $1-million federal government grant, is no longer just a lonely outpost for a small band of adventurous Sikh pioneers. The quaint Fraser Valley Sikh temple is now one of more than 50 often-grand gurdwaras that pepper B.C.
It is a poignant symbol of Sikh history on the West Coast.
No wonder proud B.C. Sikhs are lobbying to have its image placed on a commemorative Canadian stamp. dtodd@*****************
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