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Sikhs rally to protect Island temple

Mar 25 2012
The Sikh temple in Paldi was built in 1917. The land it sits on is for sale for $1.65 million. 

The Sikh temple in Paldi was built in 1917. The land it sits on is for sale for $1.65 million.

Photograph by: Darren Stone, timescolonist.com (March 2012)

A Sikh temple west of Duncan that's the subject of a court-ordered sale should be recognized as a national historic site to protect it from development, says a non-profit Sikh organization.

Land adjoining and beneath the Paldi temple is on the market for $1.65 million in the wake of a failed development effort.

Prem Singh Vinning, president of the World Sikh Organization of Canada, contacted the Cowichan Valley Regional District last week asking that directors support protection of the historic Paldi temple.

"We would - ask that within the CVRD's jurisdiction, the Paldi Sikh Temple be protected from any alteration or demolition by developers and that the protection extend to include a minimum of five acres of the surrounding land," said Vinning. The CVRD board will consider the designation request April 11.

Developer Mark Saroya, a descendant of the founding Mayo family, planned in 2007 to spend $100 million to build 500 homes, a commercial centre, playing fields and eight parks on 22.5 hectares in Paldi.

The project won approval from the CVRD but was opposed by the Cowichan Tribes and the courts have ordered that the land be sold and banks repaid.

Former B.C. attorney general Wally Oppal, who grew up in the Cowichan Valley, said last week that B.C. Sikhs should unite and save the temple because of its historic significance.

"The [Sikh] community is never, ever short of money - they always manage to build temples, and lavish ones at that," said Oppal. "I think the community at large, the whole Sikh community, should rally to their support."

Oppal recalls going to the temple as a young boy and said he still visits the temple regularly when there is a memorial service.

The tenuous status of the Paldi temple is also raising concerns in India, where a businessman from Paldi in the Punjab is calling on the parliament of the Sikhs to halt the sale. It's the duty of every Sikh, particularly those in Canada, to come forward and save the gurdwara, Satbir Singh told the Indian Express.

Representatives of the Sikh community in Surrey visited the temple last week to view the site.

The town of Paldi was founded by Mayo Singh and named for his birthplace in India. The temple, also called a gurdwara, was built in Paldi in 1917 as the spiritual home and community centre to its primarily Sikh residents, many of whom worked in the lumber industry.

When the industry waned, however, Paldi was reduced to a ghost town.

Oppal recalls a time when the temple was a vital cultural hub and gathering place for Sikhs.

"When I was growing up, there were only 2,500 to 3,000 [Indo-Canadians] in the whole of the province.

The celebrations in Paldi were really a focal point and people from all over British Columbia came to them.

"It has a really vital and significant role in the lives of those in the Indo-Canadian community."

The temple wasn't only a religious centre, said Oppal. "The Sikh temples in the Indo-Canadian community were more than centres of worship. They were community centres."

Mayo Singh's grandson, Davinder Mayo, is the president of the Paldi temple and his family has tried to keep up with repairs, "but it's really beyond the capacity of one family to undertake," said Oppal.


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