The annual Vaisakhi parade is the only event in Surrey that comes close to attracting almost the entire city’s population.
Saturday’s attracted an estimated 400,000 – and the huge crowd turned out in weather that became wet by afternoon.
This was the 19th annual Vaisakhi parade, and it has come a long way from its beginnings. For years, the largest Vaisakhi parade in the area was in South Vancouver, but the Surrey parade attracts a far larger crowd now. This is reflective of how Surrey has changed.
There are several reasons why it has become such a big event. Surrey’s South Asian population continues to grow, while the Vancouver population does not. As well, the Surrey parade is more central and thus attracts people from surrounding areas – including New Westminster, Richmond and Abbotsford – all of which have sizable South Asian populations.
Another reason is that organizers have, particularly recently, worked hard to make it more of a community event, inviting people of all backgrounds. This generous invitation has been accepted by many, and people from all religious backgrounds have felt welcomed.
Vaisakhi was originally a Hindu festival, and is still marked by Hindus as the beginning of the Solar New Year. It became an important date for Sikhs in 1699 when the Khalsa panth, a group of warriors whose duty was to defend the Sikh faith, was created by Guru Gobind Singh.
Sikhs are far and away the largest group of South Asians in Surrey, and the Vaisakhi parade here was started by Gurdwara Sahib Dasmesh Darbar, on 85 Avenue and 128 Street.
The event always attracts a bevy of politicians, and this year was no exception, given that a provincial election is underway. Both Premier Christy Clark and Opposition leader John Horgan – and many candidates – were in attendance.
One of the best-known tenets of the Sikh religion is the feeding of people in the community kitchen. On Vaisakhi day, food is available along the street, bringing the practice of giving free food out to the masses. Given the growing popularity of Indian food in the area, and the many fine restaurants that serve it, this proves to be yet another attraction.
There are important points that all of us, no matter our ethnic or religious backgrounds, can draw from the celebration. One is that there are many people in this city who are different from us – yet in many ways are the same. It is important to remember the human traits we have in common, while recognizing the differences, which need to be respected, not undermined.
We can also honour the founding of the Sikh religion. Sikhs are not afraid to stand up and be proud of who they are. The same can hold true of people from other religions. Vaisakhi is a reminder of that.
Thanks are due to the organizers of this massive event; to the individuals, organizations and businesses that supplied free food; and to Surrey’s first responders, who ensured the parade was a peaceful celebration.
Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.