From False Creek to the Fraser River
The first South Asian immigrants in Vancouver settled in Kitsilano to work in sawmills along False Creek. A thriving residential area was centred around the Sikh Temple at 1866 West 2nd – the first in North America (See PTM Site #31).
With much of the residential area zoned for industrial uses in the 1930s along with proposals for a freeway connector road cutting through the neighbourhood and the general decline of the sawmills on False Creek in the 1960s, much of the community moved to southeast Vancouver attracted by the growing industry along the Fraser River and the new Ross Street temple designed by the architecture firm of Erickson and Massey.
Annual Vaisaikhi Day Parade
In April the Vaisakhi Day Parade marks the start of the harvest and celebrates the 1699 establishment of the Khalsa (community of baptized Sikhs). It attracts thousands of people to the streets to watch the parade, shop and eat. It also marks the beginning of the wedding season one of the busiest periods for the market’s jewellers and dress makers.
For many years the Punjabi Market Association has been working on having a gate erected to mark the area and serve as a memorial to pioneering South asians who endured the challenges of early immigration to build the community that thrives today.
The commercial area on Main Street between 48th and 51st avenues soon became home to a variety of South Asian businesses (the first sari shop opened in 1970) and as the only established market in Western Canada it wasn’t uncommon to meet shoppers from as far away as Calgary.
While many shops in the neighbourhood have moved or closed, a few key businesses remain. All India Sweets (originally on the southwest corner of 49th Avenue and Main) has changed hands many times since its opening in the 1970s but current owner Steve Ram says, “We’re not going anywhere. We’re definitely here to stay.” Today the restaurant is across the street from its former location. In 2018 a new housing development by the Orr family who have owned the land for more than 50 years will include a permanent art display to celebrate the Punjabi community’s contribution and history in the neighourhood. More developments in the area are expected.
“The Punjabi Market was once a staple of the entire South Asian Community, “says Paneet Singh, educator and artist, ” It was a vibrant space, a diverse space. It was not only the place for shopping but a place for cultural and community gatherings.”
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