Gurdwara (The Khalsa Diwan Society) was first established in 1912 by the pioneers in the community, the new modern building of Gurdwara (Sikh temple) dates from 1969. The original concrete block & brick building was designed by architect H.S. Griffith in 1912. Sikhs have been part of the community since the first immigrants from India came to Victoria in 1904. Many found work in the forest industry or nearby lumber mills along the Gorge.The first Sikhs to ever enter British Columbia were actually on an official trip as part of the Hong Kong army regiments who were travelling through Canada in commemoration of the Queen Victoria of England’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Following this initial visit, a second contingent of Punjabi soldiers visited British Columbia in celebration of the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902. Arriving in Victoria on the Empress of Japan, on June 3, 1902, and led by Sardar Major Kadir Khan Bahadur, it was this group of South Asians who became intrigued at the possibilities of residing in British Columbia. Even in terms of the hospitality and reception they received, the larger British Columbian community tended to treat the Punjab soldiers with respect, as the local papers exclaimed “Turbaned Men Excite Interest: Awe inspiring men from India held the crowds.” In May 2012 the community marked a very significant occasion for The Khalsa Diwan Sikh Temple at 1210 Topaz Avenue is officially celebrated its 100th anniversary. The original temple, or gurdwara, was established at its present site in May 1912, making it British Columbia’s third Sikh temple. A handsome brick and wood structure, it was built for a contracted price of $7,500. Prior to its opening, Sikhs gathered for prayer and rented rooms or community homes. One hundred years ago, Victoria’s Sikh temple opened with a massive parade of 1,200 Sikhs throughout our city’s downtown. In Chinatown supportive banners flew from buildings of the various Chinese societies. Newspaper accounts recall that at the head of the parade on horseback was Prof. Teja Singh, a Harvard graduate and the leader of the temple, who preached “the gospel of equality at the street corners to the rows and rows of spectators wedged together along the parade route.” Victoria’s Sikh population arrived in the capital city in and around 1906. Records show that by 1910 there were 4,000 Sikhs living and working on Vancouver Island. The Daily Colonist describes these early immigrants as “strong, strapping men around 30 years of age, having been either soldiers or farmers, now working on B.C.’s railway projects, sawmills and industrial operations.” Then Canada passed a shameful law to stem more arrivals from the Punjab that stripped Sikh veterans of the British army of their legal right to immigrate to Canada. In 1914, B.C. experienced the pain of the Komagata Maru incident, where Canada’s unjust maritime law was complied with, but the ship still ordered to return to India. It was not until the 1920s that Canada finally allowed the wives and children of B.C.’s Sikh pioneers to join them. With families intact, Victoria’s tight knit Sikh community flourished in the following decades.
Eventually, the temple outgrew its size constraints. In 1969 the original temple building was demolished to make way for a new and larger temple, this time costing $200,000, on the same site. Atop its 41 steps is the most glorious vista in Victoria. Various leaders and members of the House sent in their good wishes, Federal Immigration & Multiculturism Minister Jason Kenney, Premier Christy Clark & local MLAs joined the local community in congratulating the Sikh community for 100 years in Victoria.
“When the temple was opened in 1912 there was probably 100 members and today there’s about 4000 members”. A lot of the folks coming in are probably second to fourth generation members. This is to recognize them [the pioneer families] and their contributions to the society and to Victoria