Even though Kawalpreet Singh is only 26 years old, the new priest, or giani as they are known in their culture, at Guru Nanak Sikh Temple has been preaching for 15 years.
“I started preaching when I was 11,” Singh said one Friday morning after he’d completed his morning prayers at Guru Nanak Sikh Temple on Mackenzie Avenue in Williams Lake. “My uncle was a priest too.”
Originally from the city of Amritsar in the northwestern Indian state of Punjab, he went through school there. Amritsar is home to the Golden Temple, which is an important pilgrimage site of Sikhism. Normally very young priests are not allowed to preach in the Golden Temple, but Singh did.
“I was always looking mature. I got my beard very early and I was healthy, just like I am now,” he said with a smile, flexing his arms.
He performed religious hymns in the Golden Temple as well. Built around a man-made pool in the late 1500s, throughout its history, the Golden Temple was attacked, damaged and rebuilt many times. Singh was transferred to Williams Lake in early 2020 and prays every morning and evening at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. inside the Mackenzie Avenue place of worship and on Sundays beginning at 9 a.m.
“There is a special weekend event. On Sunday we do our holy book — Sri Guru Granth Sahib — and then from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. I do some preaching.”
He said he translates the holy book and shares some real experiences of his own life.
“I talk about what we should do when we are in trouble, and how we should think when we are in trouble. We never condemn each other, we never hate each other, we should always love each other. We try to find good qualities in each other.”
He loves to preach about humanity and said his main aim is to spread love throughout the whole world. Arriving in Canada two years ago, he has a wife and two-year-old daughter still in Punjab who he visits over FaceTime 10 times a day, at least. “I’ve applied for their visas,” he said, adding he saw them in December and January when he went home for a oneand-a-half-month visit. His family is living with his mother, father and sister.
“My daughter misses me a lot,” he added.
The Guru Nanak Sikh Temple
The Guru Nanak Sikh Temple in Williams Lake was completed in 1974, said Gurbux Saini, who moved to Williams Lake in 1970 with his wife Mohinder Saini and their oldest son, Kulwinder, who was four months old.
He had $8 in his pocket at the time, he recalled. “We soon realized we needed a place of worship for people from India who were of the Sikh faith,” he said from his home in Surrey where he and his wife retired in 2016 to be closer to their sons, daughterin-laws and grandchildren.
He said local Sikhs donated money to purchase the property on Mackenzie Avenue and then some of the leaders travelled to other parts of B.C. asking for financial help. Saini said lots of people from other cities made contributions as well. A second financial boost came from West Fraser mills, Saini recalled.
“They gave us the weekend cleanup crew contract and our members took turns doing the clean up and all the money earned helped pay to build the temple.”
An architect from Vancouver did the drawings for the temple for free, as he was Sikh. Gurmel Bains, who was the first president of the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple Society, was the lead man for the actual construction and members of the community volunteered as labourers.
A house was also constructed on the property that was rebuilt after a fire in 2012. It has a two-bedroom suite inside where the giani can live. Saini served as a city councillor for 14 years and ran for the federal Liberal party.
He said he normally returns to Williams Lake two or three times a year because he owns the complex where Canadian Tire and the Real Canadian Wholesale Store are, as well as the building that houses Williams Lake Forestry Supply.
“I will still have a connection to Williams Lake for a long time,” he said.
The Gurdwara Western Singh Sabha
A second place of worship for Sikhs in Williams Lake — Gurdwara Western Singh Sabha — opened it doors in 1989.
“We bought nine acres in 1983 because our community was really growing,” said Gian Singh Sandhu, a consultant and author who lived in Williams Lake for 40 years and was the founder and former owner of Jackpine Forest Products.
“It took us almost five years to really build it,” he recalled, noting it was all done on donations. “People had in-kind service, providing carpentry, all the plumbing and everything else.”
At the time there were between 400 to 500 Sikh families in Williams Lake which was a large number compared the city’s population, he said, adding he was also involved with the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple Society.
Sandhu travels back to Williams Lake routinely from his home in the Lower Mainland, but has not returned in the last couple of years because he went to India for the release of his book, An Uncommon Road: How Canadian Sikhs Struggled Out of The Fringes And Into the Mainstream.
He is now working on a second book due to be released the fall of 2020 that will explain the Sikh faith to non-Sikhs.