Sikh Heritage Month BC 2021

White false-front 3-storey building with blue concrete stairs to the front door on the second storey. Sign on the top of the false front reads White false-front 3-storey building with blue concrete stairs to the front door on the second storey. Sign on the top of the false front reads "Gur Sikh Temple Founded in 1911".  Sikh history in Abbotsford dates back to the earliest years of the city, and is an integral part of the fabric of our community today. The first settlers from India arrived in BC at the turn of the 20th century, with the first significant wave of migration starting in 1904. Many of the first Sikh-Canadians found employment in the logging and lumber industry, including work at the mill of the Abbotsford Lumber Company. While the labour of Sikhs and other Asian workers was crucial to the growth of the industry, racialized workers were subject to discrimination and were paid less than their white counterparts for the same work. 

Around the turn of the century, discriminatory laws were put into place in order to restrict Asian immigration to Canada. This included the “continuous journey” regulation which led to the Komagata Maru incident of 1914, where a boat filled with passengers hoping to immigrate from the Punjab was refused entry into Canada. The ship waited in Burrard Inlet for months before being sent back to India, which led to the deaths of many aboard. The racist attitudes of white colonists were also behind the disenfranchisement of Sikhs and South Asians, who fought for the right to vote until 1947. Indeed, activism and advocacy for human rights is a theme in Sikh history – a legacy which lives on today, as attested by the record-breaking farmer’s protests in India and the rallies in solidarity seen in the Fraser Valley and around the world.

Here in British Columbia, the Vancouver chapter of the Khalsa Diwan Society was formed in 1906. The first Gurdwara was built in Vancouver in 1908, with Abbotsford’s Gur Sikh Temple, now a national historic site and museum, following shortly in 1911 after four years of construction. The Gurdwara was built using wood from the Trethewey mill, which Sikh workers carried on foot from the Mill Lake site to the location on South Fraser Way via the logging railway which ran through town at that time. This achievement of dedication and hard work predated the 1921 arrival of the wives and children of this first generation of Sikhs, as the government did not permit them to join their male relatives in Canada until 1918. The temple served as the heart of the Sikh community and functions as a centre for faith, learning, and activism to this day. Today the South Asian community in Abbotsford makes up over 25% of the total population, with Punjabi being the second most spoken language in the city.

To learn more about Sikh history in Abbotsford, please check out the following resources and visit the Gur Sikh Temple National Historic Site, which is launching a new exhibit in conjunction with the UFV South Asian Studies Institute and the Vancouver Maritime Museum entitled “Komagata Maru: Discrimination Meets Determination”. You can see their upcoming online launch events here. Also, be sure to check out the upcoming online events and resources available at!

Learn More

Sikh Heritage Month BC Website –

Gur Sikh Temple National Heritage Site –

South Asian Canadian Heritage –

South Asian Studies Institute –

South Asian in the Valley –

Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada –