By Balwant Sanghera
VANCOUVER: Recently, a postdoctoral researcher, Michail Galanakis, on a visit to Canada, from the University of Helsinki, Finland, approached me for an interview about intercultural harmony and Richmond’s Highway to Heaven. It was a pleasure to talk to him.
Mr.Galanakis was very curious about the intercultural harmony in Richmond and the role of Highway to Heaven – the stretch of No 5 Road between Bridgeport Road and Steveston Highway in Richmond here which has gained worldwide attention. It is unique to Richmond.
India Cultural Centre of Canada (Nanak Niwas Gurdwara, also known as the No 5 Road Gurdwara), was the first religious place to be built along this road. Since then, close to twenty religious institutions representing various denominations call No.5 Road their home.
History of the Indo-Canadian community’s arrival in Canada goes back to 1880s. By 1906 there were close to 5,000 Indo-Canadians living in and around Vancouver. Their struggles and inspirational resulted in the formation of Khalsa Diwan Society and 1866 West Second Avenue in Vancouver became the home of our first Gurdwara in Canada.
Our community’s slow but steady growth needed bigger premises. Consequently, the new Gurdwara was built at 8000 Ross Street in Vancouver 1969. Then the 1970s and 1980s brought a large number of Indo-Canadian immigrants to Canada. A number of pioneers felt the need for a new Gurdwara and chose Richmond for building one. They bought 10.5 acres of land on No.5 Road in 1983. The land included a farmhouse which was renovated as Gurdwara. In order to meet the needs of a growing congregation the old Gurdwara was replaced by the present one in September, 1993.
Thanks to keen interest by the public, Gurdwara Nanak Niwas has become a great credit not only to Richmond but also to the entire Indo-Canadian community.
The building of the Gurdwara is a double storey building, Langar hall, kitchen, library, office, residences of the priest and washrooms are on the ground floor, whereas assembly (Diwan) hall, place for Sukh Aasan, separate place for Akhand Path, rooms for handicapped men & women on both sides of the Diwan hall, which are also used for children, and separate shoe racks (Jorha Ghar) for men women are all on the second floor. Diwan hall has the capacity to accommodate 1000 persons. The program of the Diwan hall can easily be watched with the help of closed circuit television in the Langar hall.
The Gurdwara is a top attraction for public and first choice for young men and women to get married there because of its beautiful location, landscaping, park decorated with colourful seasonal flowers, sprinklers, huge parking lot, overall maintenance, skillful cleaning arrangements and all efficient staff.
On the side of the parking lot is a special arrangement of swings etc., for the young kids. Behind the building there is a stretch of green tender grass extended up to highway and round the whole property fir trees are standing just like guards. In 1999, at the occasion of tri-centenary celebration of the birth of Khalsa, a memorial ‘Yadgar-E-Khalsa’ installed on behalf of 37 Gurdwara managing committees of B.C. and USA is also gracefully present in the park of the Gurdwara, which is a great center of attraction for devotees and visitors.
Like every other religious institution, the Gurdwara is managed by an executive committee which is elected every three years by the members. The members, along with the executive and volunteers, ensure that things run smoothly and every effort is made for the comfort and convenience of the congregation. The Gurdwara actively supports and sponsors a lot of projects. These include fundraising for the BC Children’s Hospital, Nargis Dutt Cancer Foundation and a Mobile Hospital stationed at Guru Nanak Mission Hospital, Jalandhar. In addition to that India Cultural Centre of Canada holds 30-35 cancer clinic camps in the Punjab.
Locally, Gurdwara Nanak Niwas is the home to a number of community programs. These include the Art of Living Yoga classes, Kundalini Yoga classes, Seniors’ Yoga classes and Chai Chaupal. For more than a year, Punjabi classes have been going on at the Gurdwara. In addition to that youth activities and tournaments are held at these premises from time to time. The Gurdwara has also hosted a number of Inter-faith Bridging seminars in order to promote intercultural harmony.
India Cultural Centre of Canada is very much interested in hearing from members of its congregation or anyone else as to how it can serve the community better. The Gurdwara would like to get the youth actively involved and welcomes any input in this regard. The management committee would like to hear any suggestions and concerns. This is your Gurdwara. It is there to serve the entire community. Please feel free to phone the Gurdwara at 604-274-7479 or president Chain Batth at 604-306-0555 or secretary Balbir Jawanda at 604-649-5366 with your suggestions.
(Balwant Sanghera, who has been honoured with the Order of British Columbia, is a retired school psychiatrist and community leader who lives in Richmond in British Columbia)