Becoming Canadian: Pioneer Sikhs In Their Own Words


Section 5

By 1925, the Khalsa Diwan Society had autonomous branches in Vancouver, Abbotsford, New Westminister, Golden, Duncan, Coombs and Ocean Falls–virtually everywhere Sikhs lived in any number. This was a province-wide organization, led by locally elected committee members whose duties were to manage each temple and to maintain constant communication among the temples.

To guarantee the economic survival of each of the different temples, special religious celebrations were shared. All of the province’s Sikhs would gather in Victoria for Baisakhi celebrations, in Vancouver for Guru Gobind’s Birthday, in Abbotsford for Guru Nanak’s Birthday and so on. They would stay at one another’s houses or at the temple overnight. " Everyone from all over the province would come to these functions, " Mrs. Pritam K. Johl remembers. " They would even stop work on the farms to attend the Akand Path. It was so important to see one another and keep in touch. We stayed at people’s houses, sleeping wherever, no one cared then as long as we were together. No one stayed in hotels. "

There were many stories of loading up the wood truck with people and driving to Abbotsford or New Westminister for theses special religious services. This was common practice, since few people had cars but there were plenty of wood trucks in the community. This sharing of religious days kept the province’s Sikhs in touch with one another and enhanced the welfare of each community.

Going to the temple was especially important for the women, since they seldom left the confines of their own homes. They mainly looked after
Inside view of 2nd Avenue Sikh Temple
Inside view of 2nd Avenue Sikh Temple
their husbands, children and other relatives, spending their time on domestic and household duties. Mrs. Dhan Kaur Johal describes her social life on 2nd Avenue: " When the ladies had done all their housework we’d spend our time sitting on one another’s front stairs talking. Sometimes we’d go for walks to the beach. No one bothered us when we went on our walks. Our family had a car, so sometimes I would take the ladies to
Young Sikhs in a parade in Vancouver
Young Sikhs in a parade in Vancouver
the beach in the car, all the time making sure to be home in time to make the men their roti. We knew what time the mills stopped work. Sometimes I would drive to Cedar Cove Sawmill to deliver the men’s roti.

" There was so much caring and love then in our community. We were so close, like brothers and sisters. When the ladies went to the gurdwara, they’d come to our house after the services. We’d tell the priest to tell the men where to find us. When the men finished their business they’d
Two Sikh women with their children
Two Sikh women with their children
meet their wives at our house. Many times our friends would stay over, sometimes for months and months. If someone came from India, they would stay with us until they found a job. Jobs weren’t always easy to find, especially in the Depression times. We all stuck together and took care of one another.

" Women got together at the temple on Sundays or at weddings. Weddings did not occur very often, not like now. They were special occasions. We looked forward to them, we sang, danced and had fun. "

Most of the women never had the opportunity to learn English and those who did learned much later from their children. Whatever time they spent away from their homes was at the temple in the company of their own people. There they would pray, socialize, cook , clean, babysit, arrange marriages and gossip. " I’d walk to the gurdwara, " says Mrs. Rattan Kaur Thauli, who lived close to the Abbotsford temple. " It was only five minutes away. I would do sewa [service], sweep, clean, there were a lot of fruit trees to care for, rake leaves, cut and pile wood for the kitchen. "



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