Erickson’s Gurdwara design marked the transformation of a community

Vancouver's original Sikh temple, built in 1906 at 1866 W. Second Ave.

Vancouver's original Sikh temple, built in 1906 at 1866 W. Second Ave.

The prayer service held today to celebrate Arthur Erickson’s design of Khalsa Diwan Society’s Gurdwara, which dominates Southwest Marine Drive just west of Knight, became a celebration of a turning point in the Sikh community’s life.

For generations, the Sikh community in BC, which never numbered more than a few thousand, was centred on the original wood frame Gurdwara at 1866 W. 2nd Ave., within walking distance of the mills that then clustered around False Creek.

As the forest industry moved to the Fraser River after the Second World War, many Sikh millworkers followed to homes along Southwest Marine Drive.

By 1968, the temple was too far from the community, too small and too dilapidated to repair. With the city’s help, the Society acquired the land on Marine Drive to rebuild.

Artak Gosal, a member of the temple committee that retained Erickson, recalled the decision to fire the first architect, who was unable to pronounce “gurdwara.” Erickson was introduced by a friend and “we knew immediately we had met a genius.”

Erickson listened carefully to their concerns “and acted,” Gosal said, to make their dreams a reality. An austere, dazzling white gurdwara that appears to float over the landscape was their reward.

Committee members travelled across the province to raise the $300,000 it cost, including the land, to raise the new temple, a dramatic statement of confidence by such a small community. The temple opened in April 1970. A few years later, changes to the immigration laws opened the door to more arrivals from Punjab. The Ross St. Temple was ready to greet them, a fitting centre for the life of a community in the process of transformation.

“Every time I come here,” Dr. Gurdev Singh Gill told the congregation, “I am awestruck at the beauty of the building.” Dharm Makwana, of 24 Hours, captured that beauty in this short video: