Every April, millions of Sikhs around the world celebrate Vaisakhi Day, a day that marks both the New Year and the anniversary of one of Sikhism's most important events: the formation of Khalsa in 1699. Vancouver, British Columbia, hosts two Vaisakhi parades in the Lower Mainland. The Vancouver Vaisakhi Parade attracts about 50,000 spectators and the Surrey Vaisakhi Parade attracts about 300,000, making it one of the largest Vaisakhi parades outside of India.
The Vancouver metro area has one of the largest Sikh populations outside of India and the largest Sikh community in the country. In Surrey, most of the city's Asian population identifies as Sikh, and one of the biggest and oldest gurdwaras (Sikh temples) in North America can be found here.
What Is Vaisakhi Day?
In 1699, the 10th Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh, formed the Khalsa panth of warriors to defend religious freedoms. This was a pivotal turning point in the religion—giving way to a new Khalsa way of living in the Sikh religion—and it's still commemorated today through Vaisakhi.
Traditionally, Vaisakhi in Hinduism also marks the beginning of the Solar New Year and is a celebration of the spring harvest. Although it goes by many names—which vary by region, from Baisakhi to Vaishakhi—the holiday is typically celebrated in much the same way wherever you go.
During Vaisakhi, the Sikh temples are decorated and Sikhs will bathe in local waterways in honor of the sacredness of rivers in Sihk culture. Then, they will go to the gurdwaras to attend kirtans (religious performances) and perhaps even gather to share traditional foods.
British Columbia is home to a large Sikh population, giving visitors plenty of opportunities to experience these activities and get a taste of a different culture through celebrations of music, dancing, and food.
Parades and Celebrations in Vancouver and Surrey
Vaisakhi Day falls on Monday, April 13 in 2020 and the Vancouver Vaisakhi Parade is scheduled for the following Saturday, April 18. Surrey's celebration—the bigger of the two—is scheduled for Saturday, April 25.
East Vancouver is the heart of the city's Sikh community. The Vancouver Vaisakhi Parade kicks off at 11 a.m. at the Ross Street Temple, then moves south on Ross Street to Southeast Marine Drive, zigzagging along Main Street, 49th Avenue, Fraser Street, 57th Avenue, and back to Ross Street before returning to the temple.
The Surrey parade, commencing from the Gurdwara Sahib Dasmesh Darbar Temple at 9 a.m., takes place the following weekend. In addition to the procession, there will be Nagar Kirtan hymns, floats, free food, live music, and carnival rides. For safety reasons, helium balloons and drones are not permitted at the festival as they may interfere with air traffic. For either event, it would be wise to travel by public transportation (TransLink is Vancouver's metro system) rather than to drive as parking is limited and roads will be closed.