The Abbotsford Sikh Temple is a one-and-one-half-storey, wood-frame vernacular structure set on a full raised basement, with a false front parapet, an upper balcony running along three of the facades, and a prominent poured concrete stairway leading to the main central entrance on the upper level. It is located on a prominent knoll on South Fraser Way in the centre of Abbotsford, between the early settlements of Clearbrook and downtown Abbotsford. The Sikh Temple has been designated as a National Historic Site, including the original Temple building with its additions, the present Nishan Sahib (flag pole) and the bases of earlier flag poles, including the remnants of the base of the original Nishan Sahib.
The Abbotsford Sikh Temple (Gurdwara) is a valuable symbol of the early roots of the Sikh community and the larger Indo- Canadian community in this region of Canada. The builders of this temple were part of the initial wave of immigration from India before a restrictive immigration policy was implemented, making further immigration virtually impossible for the next fifty years. The Sikh population was centred in Vancouver, the Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island, and consisted mainly of male sojourners, whose families remained in India. Locally, most of the Sikhs worked for the ‘Abbotsford Lumber Company’, once B.C.’s third-largest forestry employer and the largest employer of Sikhs in Abbotsford at the time. The use of local materials to construct the Temple was significant, representing the Sikh connection to the lumber industry and to the ‘Abbotsford Lumber Company’, which donated the lumber for the temple, demonstrating the mutual interdependence of large, isolated industrial plants and their local workforce.
The Abbotsford Sikh Temple is the only Gurdwara from the pioneer phase of Sikh immigration to Canada that has survived and is the oldest surviving Sikh Temple in North America. Construction was initiated on the Temple in 1910 by Sunder Singh. He along with Arjan Singh purchased the site property for $3000 and persuaded other Sikhs to support the project. The Gurdwara was officially opened on 25 February 1912. Built of wood-frame construction, the false front parapet, simple rectangular floor plan and front gabled roof are typical of vernacular commercial buildings of the period. This was a pragmatic adaptation of Sikh traditions using a common
frontier style, which expressed the men’s limited financial resources and their desire to integrate with the community. The building is typical of early purpose-built Canadian Sikh temples, containing all the elements of a traditional Gurdwara, including the prayer hall on the upper level and a community kitchen and dining area at ground level.
The utilitarian interior, with tongue-and-groove wooden walls and regular fenestration, became common features of early Canadian temples. The location at the crest of a hill on busy South Fraser Way contributes to the Sikh Temple’s landmark status. The doors are always open and Langar is served round the clock. Many Indo-Canadians, who are not Sikhs, find acceptance and sustenance at the Abbotsford Gurdwara.
The Temple was the centre of Abbotsford’s Sikh community, serving both religious and social needs and acting as the reception centre for new immigrants. It was enlarged to the rear in 1932 to extend the prayer hall and a second addition was built in the late 1960s, changes which reflect the growth of the Sikh community, particularly once wives and children were allowed to immigrate. A new, much larger Temple was built across the road in 1983 after permission to erect the building was granted on 5 January 1982, but the original Temple was retained as a symbol of the struggles and achievements of the Sikh pioneers.
Its wood-frame construction, with horizontal wooden drop siding, door and window mouldings of dimensional lumber, the spatial configuration of the interior, such as the main central entrance opening directly into the upper-storey prayer hall, with picture rails; raised floor; wooden arches and ornate canopy defining the altar; and early pendant light fixture, tell an opulent story of its heritage.