(Header photo credits to the Squamish Chief)
Every summer, the Squamish Sikh community hosts a large parade, appropriately titled, ‘the Squamish Sikh Parade’ which takes place around the 18th of June. Interestingly enough, it seems every year to coincide with the ‘Test of Metal’ bike race, the charming farmers market just down the road, as well as a torrential downpour that always seems to hold off, fortunately, until the end of the event. As for the title of this post, it certainly was not a sunny day weather-wise, but there was definitely a sunny atmosphere to soak in.
The Squamish Sikh parade takes place to in memory of the martyrdom of the Sikh leader Guru Arjan Dev. Traditionally, in India this festival takes place in the peak of the summer months- as such it is hallmarked by the distribution of a certain summer drink- shabeel, for free among the public. Many of the ingredients of shabeel, including butter milk and rose water have very cooling properties and do well to energize anyone drinking. These drinks are also served in the Squamish version of the event; but the parade proves to be something far more special for the Squamish Sikh community. It is also a day to celebrate Sikh heritage and history for the community in Squamish.
School children playing dhol drums atop a parade float.
Every year I attend a kiosk with my co-workers from ‘Essence of India’, a restaurant just down the hill which is a popular haunt for Quest students. There are several kiosks which are set up at the parade, some from restaurants and others from individual families. The purpose of these kiosks is to serve langar, or free vegetarian meals, for all those attending. If feasting was not enough to satiate ones appetite, the parade itself is a great spectacle.
Since the festival commemorates the martyrdom of Guru Arjan, it also was the historic catalyst for a call to arms by the Sikhs against the Mughal Empire. As such, there is much martial arts, dare-devil stunts, drumming, and ballad-music accompanying the floats of the parade. Of course, this is all so much better to experience with a plate of spicy free food in one’s hand.
Youths ‘playing’ the martial art of Gatka with swords.
One of the nicest things about the parade is that it attracts guests from all over Squamish. The Quest community especially, though its population is quite depleted over the summer, frequent the parade with a huge amount of enthusiasm. It really is a town-wide celebration. So big has the scope become in the past few years we’ve had floats come up for the parade from Seattle!
Whilst distributing glasses of lassi from our kiosk, I bumped into Mr. Ghuman, a friend and editor-in-chief of the Squamish Reporter. As homage to the event, the newspaper had done a special edition on the Sikh community’s history in Squamish. It would seem that it has been an uphill climb since the first pioneers arrived more than half a century ago; facing several problems such as lack of voting rights, housing or employment. However, seeing all the town enthusiastically join the celebration with its Sikh community showed me that the Squamish of today is a melting pot of cultures, communities, languages, cuisines and so much more; all this comes together as a beautiful harmony of a town nestled under the mighty Squamish Chief.
Seeing so many cultures coming together to celebrate this festival really warmed my heart. The man behind me in line to get samosas, for example, stopped speaking to his children in Mandarin and told them, “look kids, that’s your chachaji (Punjabi for uncle), go say sat sri akal (Sikh greeting) to him!” Then there was a white lady and her daughter, both dressed head to toe in the blue robes and weapons of a Nihang Sikh warrior monk (I later saw the mother encourage her daughter to show off some of her deadly sword dancing skills). Not to mention the tonnes of Quest students, faculty and staff that I invariably bumped into whilst in the line-up for numerous Indian treats.
At the end of the day as we took down our tent with bellies perhaps a bit too full of food, I really felt a sense that Squamish had become a home away from home. I could embrace the brimming diversity and multiculturalism here without having to forgo my previous heritage, both of which could be found in abundance in this gorgeous town.