This is the interior of the Cariboo Gur Sikh Temple which has now been added to the Quesnel Heritage Register during the 50th anniversary celebrations of its establishment. (City of Quesnel photo)

This is the interior of the Cariboo Gur Sikh Temple which has now been added to the Quesnel Heritage Register during the 50th anniversary celebrations of its establishment. (City of Quesnel photo)

Quesnel’s first Sikh temple now registered in history

The Cariboo Gur Sikh Temple has been added to the Quesnel Heritage Register

Half a century ago, B.C.’s Sikh community decided to sign on to Quesnel as a place to settle.

Now, on the 50th anniversary of that decision, cemented by the construction of a place of worship and fellowship on Lewis Drive, the Cariboo Gur Sikh Temple has been added to the city’s Community Historical Register.

Director of Community Services Jeff Norburn brought forth the municipal report suggesting the building be included on the historical highlight list, along with 71 other properties already inducted into that all-star collection. Norburn cited the building’s “significance as a spiritual and social gathering space and to recognize the importance of the Sikh community in the development of Quesnel.”

Mayor Ron Paull, who was one of those from the council table who attended their golden anniversary celebrations, said “I think that it’s most appropriate that we’re doing this now, in view of the fact of this being the 50th anniversary of the society.”

In explaining the historic value of the building, the report said, in part, that this was the second temple on the same site in that 50-year period. The first building was completed in 1974 but was destroyed by fire in 1980 and was rebuilt a year later.

“This building is a spiritual gathering place for all who practice the Sikh religion. The Guru Garanth Sahib, a living sacred book, is housed here, with passages read every day at morning and evening services. It is a place of mediation, recitation and prayer.

“It is also a significant social space for members of the South Asian community, where ceremonies are held to mark important passages in life (the naming of a child, marriage, initiation into the Sikh religion and funeral rites), or to commemorate historic events – the Gurus’ special days and to celebrate cultural festivals such as Diwali and Vaisakhi.

“It provides a focal point to help the community preserve and pass on their culture. The Langar (public kitchen and eating space) provides a social space where the community can visit and share food and also embody the Sikh principles of shared earnings and serving the community by contributing to the cost of the communal meal and by preparing and serving it. These principles are also embedded in the building, which was built with volunteer labour and donations from the community.”

According to the report, the replacement building of 1981 was “twice as large as the original gurdwara” (church). At that time, the document explained, there were approximately 300 Sikh families in Quesnel. The Cariboo Observer reported in May, 1981, “Every working man contributed $250 – $500 towards the construction” with donations of lumber from local merchants and contributions from Sikh communities in Vancouver, Victoria, Prince George and other centres. The building serves as a significant symbol of the history of the Sikh community in Quesnel – not only its growth from a few single young men in the late 1950s to a community requiring a modest temple in 1974 to a doubling of size in the 1980s, but also, it’s integration in a network of Sikh communities throughout B.C. and the acceptance and support from merchants, industry and employers in Quesnel.

The existing structure with its fireproof rooms, doors, multiple fire escapes and alarm also reflects the trauma of the loss of the first building to fire. Although the Sikh community has diminished in size, they remain a vibrant segment of the population of Quesnel, contributing to community events and the development of institutions like the Quesnel campus of CNC/UNBC. The Cariboo Gur Sikh temple serves as an important reminder of the importance of the Indo Canadian families in the development of West Quesnel during the period when the lumber industry expanded on an industrial scale in Quesnel.

The Heritage Register is an official list of properties “identified in the community as having heritage value or character. It provides information to property owners and potential buyers of a property’s historical values. It also allows proposed changes to properties to be tracked by local government,” said a statement by the City of Quesnel. Being included on the register does not prevent alterations being made to these buildings, and it does not provide any direct financial benefits such as a reduction in property taxes, although, according to the municipality, it does allow eligibility for a modest grant program administered by Heritage BC, and may play a role in other grant applications from outside funding agencies.

What it especially does is identify and celebrate the places that have been particularly important in the history of the Quesnel community.

READ MORE: Quesnel’s Sikh temple turns 50 years old

READ MORE: Quesnel temple welcomes community to annual celebration


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