One of Abbotsford’s most iconic buildings will be showcased within a short documentary on the Knowledge Network starting on June 3 and 4.
The historic Gur Sikh Temple, which has been standing in Abbotsford for over 110 years, will be featured as part of a series titled 150 Stories That Shape British Columbia.
Have You Forgotten Me?, directed by the award-winning Baljit Sangra, shines a light on the temple – North America’s oldest gurdwara – and the struggle that it represents. It also features locals Nash and Rajinder Gill.
Sangra said you can almost feel the history emanate from the temple when you walk through it.
“It makes you look at your history and acknowledge all the sacrifice, the resilience and the hardships that we’ve gone through,” she said. “That really comes through when you go in that space – just hearing how it came to be built. This was a space where people celebrated, gathered to talk politics and just communicate with each other. A lot of things were happening in the basement of this place.”
Sangra said she was amazed to hear the stories of the original Sikh pioneers, many of whom worked in the local lumber industry, carrying donated wood from the worksite near Mill Lake all the way to the temple’s location – which today is on South Fraser Way.
“The owners said to the workers, ‘You can take whatever you want if you can carry it,’ ” she said. “I always thought that was an urban myth, but it’s actually true. They put it on their shoulders and walked it up.”
Sangra did in-depth research on the topic, connecting with local families and experts at the University of the Fraser Valley’s Indo-Canadian Studies and diving into local archives. The title of the documentary refers to a letter written in the 1930s by a Sikh woman in India to her husband who was in Abbotsford.
“We chose to tell the story through letters of a wife separated from her husband,” she said. “Because of the depression and the instability of being in Canada he wasn’t able to bring his wife. She kept writing him letters and one of the letters asked ‘Have you forgotten me?’ She had lost her entire youth waiting, and just reading that letter evoked such an emotional response from me. We weaved in other pioneer stories, other stories of struggle and resilience, and the racism early settlers fought.”
Sangra said even the location choice of the temple speaks to the bravery of those early Sikh settlers.
“Why did they pick the centre of town?” she said. “You know they were dealing with racism at the time. Maybe that’s why the architecture is so western-looking. I really think putting it in the middle of town was a statement like ‘We’re here and we’re not going anywhere. You can see us.’ So thinking about that just makes me feel proud.”
Sangra’s most recent project is the National Film Board-produced feature documentary Because We Are Girls, exploring the impact of sexual abuse on a family.
Her previous documentaries include Hockey United, which follows two amateur South Asian hockey players with their eyes on the NHL; the award-winning Many Rivers Home, a personal story about seniors living in assisted care at the end of life; and Warrior Boyz, examining the long-running gang scene unique to the Indo-Canadian enclave of the Lower Mainland.
Visit knowledge.ca/program/150-stories-shape-british-columbia for more information.