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Posted at: Jun 10, 2018, 12:12 AM; last updated: Jun 10, 2018, 2:16 AM (IST)DIASPORA

A ‘Golden’ nagar kirtan in Canada

Peeyush Agnihotri

Peeyush Agnihotri

Golden, a majestically scenic and small drive-past town, nestles between the Canadian Rockies and the Columbia mountain ranges with proximity to six of the Canadian national parks — Banff, Glacier, Jasper, Kootenay, Mount Revelstoke and Yoho.

The town’s population is 3,600, but it receives loads of floating population. Outdoor sports enthusiasts or halt-for-grub drivers, driving from Alberta to British Columbia, usually stop at Golden. The town is now diversifying into tourism though much of its history had been tied into Canadian Pacific Railway and the logging industry. 

Not many may know that some South Asian heritage, kind of, bisects this piece of history. Golden is an important ‘townmark’ in terms of Sikhs settling down in Canada. The logging industry attracted many South Asian settlers and the industry was managed by deft Sikh workers in the late 1800s. Early Sikh settlement formed an inseparable part of this log and lumber history in the 1880s. Sikhs, who worked for Columbia Mills River Company, lived in barracks (bunk houses) and from various historical accounts, it has been traced that a gurdwara became a part of these bunk houses in 1890. Many historians say it was the first one in North America and Sikh settlers here served langar on Sundays for other co-workers - all in a log cabin.

In 1926, timber limits of Columbia River Lumber Company, where all South Asian men worked, were gutted. This original log cabin, along with the bunkhouses (as also the original gurdwara), was consequently destroyed. 

But the resilient community continued to thrive.

To commemorate these settlers’ participation, the provincial (British Columbia) government, almost a year ago, unveiled a ‘Stop of Interest’ sign at Golden. The sign recognizes community’s early pioneers and the role they played in Golden’s history.

Taking it a step further, a nagar kirtan was organised at the Golden gurdwara for the first time late last month. More than 3,500 followers of the faith, a crowd as big as the population of Golden, converged on to the town. This ‘travelling sangat’ came from all over Canada (but mainly British Columbia and Alberta) and some from the US.

In the midst of a colourful nagar kirtan, draped in faith-based regalia amidst beating drums and melodious hymns, what truly stood out was the way the community acknowledged Secwepemc (Shuswap) Nation population, the indigenous natives to whom the land originally belongs.

For some of the participants, it was a homecoming. Sonia Aujla-Bhullar, from the Werklund School of Education, Calgary, and a nagar kirtan participant, recalls, “My previous generation had moved to Golden in the 1960s. During my childhood (1980s), I believe there were around 80 Sikh families. I still have family here and Golden has always been a second home. Now, the population of Sikhs has decreased, but the spirit of the town remains strong for those of us who were lucky to be a part of that community.”

She says the future looks bright as Golden has being designated a historical site by the provincial government and the community received a letter of recognition by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Golden, 270 km from Calgary, sits at the confluence of the Kicking Horse River and the Columbia River. Established in 1883 as a railway base camp, Golden’s original name was Cache. The name was later changed to compete with the nearby camp of Silver City. 

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