For half a century, the Sikh community in Quesnel has had a home. This building is not simply a church, but a focal point for the Sikh community, and an anchor for the long and rich local history of Sikh people in the North Cariboo area.
The Cariboo Gur Sikh Temple celebrated their golden anniversary, over the Aug. 12-13 weekend, and for longtime organizer Harblas Sandhu, it was important to remember and acknowledge all the hard work that has gone into the human connections as much as the timber and steel of the structure.
“More than 100 families were here,” he said, of those early years. “Many people moved from Vancouver and came here. Everyone worked with their own efforts going to Prince George and other cities to collect money to build it. It was in 1973.”
There was no one leader who rose to the front, said Sandhu, but a group effort that got the hopes for a building to become reality. He researched this out of his own curiosity, having come to Quesnel in 2000 to join an already thriving congregation.
He was interested to learn of the fire that damaged the building in 1980, but the community rallied to repair the damage and even add an addition.
Sandhu explained that the Sikh population very closely reflects mainstream demographics in Quesnel, with most people coming here to work in the forest industry, and thus a bubble rose to about 500 families at the temple’s peak, during the town’s top logging and milling years, but both have subsided.
He also said there was great concern over the area’s lack of post-secondary education, as those peak numbers were faced with their next generations having to leave the community to pursue schooling. All to often, those young adults did not return, as they started their careers and then families of their own, drawing grandparents away from Quesnel as well. It was a Sikh imperative to establish UNBC, TRU and CNC opportunities here for all the same reasons ever spoken about in mainstream society.
As much as those broader general issues have been mirrored in the Sikh community, so to has Sikh influence been embraced by local society at large, not just in Quesnel but across Canada. Sandhu said big Sikh occasions like Vaisakhi and Diwali are eagerly enjoyed by all cultures in the Canadian mosaic. When it was said that in some ways, those events are now part of the Canadian character, as this country’s multicultural personality takes it on as an adopted observance, Sandhu said “I agree that it is becoming a part of Canadian culture.”
Canada is home to the most Sikh people in the world, outside of India itself.
To see Cariboo North MLA Coralee Oakes and Quesnel mayor Ron Paull appear at the temple to share in the 50th anniversary celebrations is heartwarming to the Sikh congregation, Sandhu said, but it is not just lip service. That kind of support is not just once in a rare while, but regular.
It is part of the Quesnel embrace and acceptance of this religion rooted in India. The evidence of this was in full view in 2021 when a rambling racist rant was spray-painted on the wall outside the temple on Lewis Drive. In almost no time, the non-Sikh community led by neighbour Dan Battley jumped on it with paint of their own, and covered it right back over again almost as fast as it appeared.
So how do the next 50 years in Quesnel look to Sandhu? He laughed at the big scope of that prediction.
“It’s all God. It is all in his hands, is what I would say,” he said. “I can say that young people have joined us to play a good role to keep going on. I should hope for that.”
The next major Sikh event is Diwali – otherwise known as the Festival of Lights – coming up in mid-November. The three-day Vaisakhi celebration is in April.
Sandhu urged people with curiosity and interest to not wait for the big occasions. The temple’s doors are open to anyone. It isn’t just for Sikh people, it is for all.