Sikh community putting down roots with opening of Sudbury temple, 3rd in the northeast in as many years

The Sikh community has been putting down roots across northeastern Ontario in recent years.

The latest example comes this weekend in Sudbury, with the first gathering at the new Sikh temple or gurdwara.

The event on Saturday at the old St. Paul’s United Church in the west end is just for one day as part of Sikh Heritage Month, but the community plans to move in permanently next month.

Karandir Badhesha has called Sudbury home for seven years, but says the Sikh community stretches back into the late 1980s.

“[It] brought a lot of emotions. There was a happiness. People were feeling close to their roots,” he said.

“Now they can celebrate each and every moment of their lives. The precious things of their lives at a secure gurdwara.”

Badhesha said with many international students and recent immigrants working long hours during the pandemic, the new gurdwara will also serve as an “anti-depression center” for the community.

Karandir Badhesha, who has lived in Sudbury for seven years, says the local Sikh community is excited to finally have it’s own temple or gurdwara. (Erik White/CBC)

The old Regent Street church — which held its last Christian service in 2013, was looked at as a location for a mosque and was more recently owned by a contractor — was purchased for the Sudbury Sikh community by a southern Ontario charity started by Majit Singh Mangat .

He said he and his wife saw a need to help Sikh communities in smaller cities across Ontario, including Sault Ste. Marie, where a gurdwara opened a few years ago.

“In Brampton, we have too many gurdwaras,” Mangat said.

“It is emotionally very important for young people who are far away from their culture and their own families. It is like a family for them.”

The last religious service at St. Paul’s United Church in Sudbury was held in 2013, plans to convert it into a mosque fell apart soon after and now it’s set to be home to a Sikh congregation. (Erik White/CBC)

That is what has happened in Timmins, where the Sikh Sangat of Timmins opened late last year in a downtown storefront.

Kanwaljit Bains and her husband were looking for a place to retire where they could park their RV and let their poodles run free and drove up to Timmins from Toronto last year to look at some properties.

She says they were surprised to meet many fellow Sikhs and Punjabis working in fast food restaurants and retail stores, found out the community did not have a gurdwara and eventually decided to buy a building to host a temple, as well as their own businesses.

Bains said the gurdwara has quickly become a community center for the dozens of international students who attend Northern College in Timmins.

“Listening to their conversations they say ‘I’ve been here for three years, but I’ve never seen you’ and ‘I’ve never seen you either,'” she said.

“They all have become as a family. Everybody knows everybody. And they mingle together, they share their work opportunities, they’re sharing their happiness and sorrows.”

The official opening of northeastern Ontario’s first Sikh temple or gurdwara in Timmins in December 2021. (Sikh Sangat of Timmins)

Bains said most of the students had originally told her they planned to move south once they graduate, but that has changed.

“I know about five or six students that have already purchased houses in Timmins, meaning that they’re settling in Timmins.”

Bains said the community is next planning a parade to celebrate the Sikh new year or Khalsa, on June 25.

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