How to Celebrate Vaisakhi in Vancouver

A man leans out of a colourful float the Surrey Vaisakhi parade

Surrey Vaisakhi Parade. Photo: Discover Surrey/Aziz Dhamani @azizdhamani

Vaisakhi, also known as Sikh New Year, is a chance for the entire community to enjoy a parade with music, performances, and free food and drink. Everyone is welcome at this colourful celebration.

 

Sikh Culture in Vancouver

Sikhism is an Indian religion that originates in the Punjab region of India. Canada has the second largest population of Sikhs in the world (after India) and their history in Vancouver stretches back over 100 years. Today there are an estimated 222,000 Sikhs in Greater Vancouver, forming about 8.5% of the region’s population.

The Sikh influence can be felt throughout the region with lots of shops, restaurants, and other businesses. The historical centre of the Vancouver Sikh community is the Punjabi Market or Little India, located near the intersection of 49th Avenue and Main Street. Be sure to check out the delicious food, beautiful jewelry, and bright fashions at the shops.

Today the nearby city of Surrey has a large Sikh population clustered around the Punjabi Bazaar. This collection of shops and businesses spreads along 120th Street (also known as Scott Road) between Nordel Way and 96 Avenue. It’s worth a visit to try Indian sweets, shop for spices, or pick up some samosas.

April is Sikh Heritage Month in BC. The annual celebration includes performances, food, classes, lectures and more at a variety of venues around Vancouver. This year’s theme is chardi kala, which means a positive and uplifted state of mind in the Punjabi language.

 

What is Vaisakhi?

Crowds surround a float the Surrey Vaisakhi parade

Surrey Vaisakhi Parade. Photo: Discover Surrey/Aziz Dhamani @azizdhamani

Vaisakhi is one of the most important festivals for Sikhs. It is a spring harvest celebration in the Punjab region of Indian and coincides with the Indian Solar New Year. Vaisakhi is also an important historical day for Sikhs because it marks the birth of the Khalsa order of Sikhism by Guru Gobind Singh on April 13, 1699.

Sikhs celebrate Vaisakhi by going to a gurdwara for prayers and holding a parade. The main float in the parade carries holy Sikh scriptures. The parade also includes groups singing Sikh hymns, called kirtans.

But the parade is a chance for Sikhs to include the greater community in the celebration. You can see marching bands, dancers, colourful floats, and processions. In keeping with Sikh cultural tradition, which values community service and sharing meals at gurdwaras, volunteers will be handing out free food and drink along the route. Everyone, from all races, religions, and cultures is encouraged to come to the parade. If you plan to walk with the religious floats or receive food, it is respectful to cover your head.

 

Vancouver Vaisakhi Parade – April 13, 2024

This year’s Vancouver Vaisakhi Parade is on April 13. Organized by the Khalsa Diwan Society of Vancouver, it starts at 11 am and runs until about 5 pm. The parade route starts and ends at Ross Street Gurdwara (temple). The temple was built in 1970 and designed by notable architect Arthur Erickson who also designed the Museum of Anthropology at UBC and Robson Square in downtown Vancouver. The Khalsa Diwan Society who operate the gurdwara, dates back to 1906, is the oldest Sikh society in Greater Vancouver and one of the first in North America.

From the Gurdwara, the parade goes west on Marine Drive, north on Main Street, east on 49th Street, then south on Fraser Street back to the start. One of the best places to watch the parade is near the corner of Main Street and 49th Avenue.

With road closures in place for the parade and very limited parking, it’s best to take transit to the parade. Translink bus #3 will take you from downtown Vancouver to within a few blocks of the parade route.  You can also take the Canada Line Skytrain to the Langara-49th Avenue or Marine Drive stations and walk a few blocks east to the parade.

 

Surrey Vaisakhi Parade – April 20, 2024

The Surrey Khalsa Day Vaisakhi Parade is the world’s largest with an estimated 500,000 attendees. In 2024 the parade will be held on April 20. It starts at 9:30 am and will finish at approximately 4 pm.

The route starts and finishes at Gurdwara Sahib Dasmesh Darbar near the intersection of 85 Avenue and 128 Street. The parade goes south on 128 Street, west on 82 Avenue, south on 124 Street, east on 75 Avenue, and then north on 128 Street back to the gurdwara. The best places to watch are along 128 Street where there are several stages set up.

Many roads in the area will be closed for the parade and there is very limited parking. The best way to get there is to take transit. From downtown Vancouver, take the Expo Line Skytrain to Surrey Central Station, then take Translink bus #323 or bus #324. You can also take bus #319 from Scott Road Station on the Expo Line Skytrain.

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