For Vancouver publisher, Harbinder Singh Sewak, the dream was four years in the making.
This week, as millions of Sikhs around the world celebrate Vaisakhi or Khalsa Day that dream became a reality with the official charter signing of the 3300 British Columbia Regiment (Bhai Kanhaiya) Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps – Canada’s first army cadet unit formed and sponsored by the Sikh Community.
“Vaisakhi is always special for the community, but for me, this year’s celebrations will be one that will go down in history,” said Sewak, the architect behind the formation of the Bhai Kanhaiya Cadet Corps, which is based in Surrey and open to all aged between 12 and 18.
“As we move forward, the Bhai Kanhaiya Cadet Corps will continue to serve as an inspiration for other programs, which embrace Canada’s multiculturalism, and offers young Canadians opportunities to interact with youth from other cultures,” said Sewak, the chairman of the Friends of the Surrey Sikh Cadet Society.
Defence Minister, Jason Kenney, who was among three federal ministers who attended the event hailed the Sikh community for supporting the cadet corps.
He said the new cadet unit was a reflection of the long and continued history of Sikhs serving the military.
Kenney said the name chosen for the cadet corps – Bhai Khanhaiya – was one that promoted diversity, which respects and resonates with Canadian core values.
Bhai Khanhaiya’s actions on the battlefields of yore where he did sewa (selfless service) looking after and giving water to the fallen soldiers of rival armies earned him a place in Sikhism history.
Sewak said Bhai Khanhaiya provides the inspiration for the parents, cadets and volunteers of the 3300 RCACC to be grounded in optimism, humility and provide service for all Canadians.
“As one of the largest and fastest growing cadet corps in BC, I am heartened to see the success of the Sikh Cadets program as it instils the tradition of service and values-based citizenship among our youth.” – Linda Hepner, Surrey mayor
Among the others who attended the charter signing gala in Surrey last Friday were National Revenue Minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay, Minister of State for Multiculturalism Tim Uppal, B.C. Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services, Amrik Virk, a host of MPs, MLAs, municipal politicians and about 400 guests and military personnel.
Rear Admiral Bill Truelove, Commander of Maritime Forces Pacific, saluted the efforts of Sewak and his team adding that the Bhai Khanhaiya cadet corps has already become one of Canada’s fastest growing cadet units.
He said the Cadet Program continues to evolve and adapt in order to meet the expectations of our changing society.
Expanding Across Canada and Overseas
Interest to form similar cadet units have already been expressed across Canada and in England in communities with sizeable Sikh populations.
Judith Guichon, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia in a message on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II and all the people of British Columbia said the training these cadets receive and the unique experiences to which they are exposed will serve as valuable resources as they go on to navigate life’s challenges and become responsible and engaged citizens.
“I extend my thanks to the Friends of the Sikh Cadet Corps Society and all the volunteers and supporters who have dedicated their time to this Corps. You are wonderful role models for these young cadets and your encouragement and celebration of their efforts goes a long way in ensuring their success.”
Surrey mayor Linda Hepner in her message said: “As one of the largest and fastest growing cadet corps in BC, I am heartened to see the success of the Sikh Cadets program as it instils the tradition of service and values-based citizenship among our youth.”
The Sikh cadets were among those in a place of honour at the Khalsa Day Parade in Surrey at this past Saturday’s celebrations organised by the Dashmesh Darbar Sikh Gurdwara.
Surrey’s Khalsa Day Parade, the world’s largest Vaisakhi parade, attracts between 240,000 and 250,000 guests of all cultures and religions to the peaceful, family-orientated celebration.
This year’s procession featured over 23 floats representing local Sikh schools, community groups, humanitarian organizations as well as the most important float in the procession that carries the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh holy scripture).
The Surrey Vaisakhi Parade has been held in the streets of the community for the past 17 years.
Surrey’s Vaisakhi Parade also features a unique element, which pays tribute to the harvest celebration roots of the parade – attendees are given free food and drink from hundreds of local residents and businesses.
Celebrating a New Year
For many thousands of years, Vaisakhi has been the time when farmers have put their sickles to harvest and celebrated the coming of a new year.
Since 1699, the Sikhs have had a further reason to celebrate at this time of the year. It has become a holy day to mark the birth of the Khalsa fraternity.
And so 300 years on, this tradition continues with much gaiety, vigour and enthusiasm. Sikhs worldwide will spend much time remembering this most important day in their religious calendar – the day the Khalsa was created.
This year’s parade was preceded by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to British Columbia.
Modi, who has been actively reaching out to the Sikh community in India and around the world, will visit the Ross Street Sikh temple in Vancouver.
The Surrey Khalsa Day parade provides an economic boom to the local area according to a study by MNP.
Among the key findings of the preliminary study by MNP, which followed an input-output methodology using economic multipliers published by Statistics Canada, are;
- According to estimates provided by Parade organizers, 40 per cent of the 2014 Parade visitors were local residents and 60 per cent were out-of-town visitors;
- Total spending on the 2014 Parade operations by organizers and participants is estimated at between $8.5 million and $16.0 million;
- The 2014 Parade is estimated to have contributed between $6.6 million and $12.3 million in GDP for the provincial economy, supported between 116 and 215 FTE jobs, and contributed between $2.3 million and $4.4 million in tax revenues for federal, provincial and municipal governments;
- Total spending by out-of-town visitors to the 2014 Parade is estimated at between $14.2 million and $29.8 million;
- It is estimated that 2,500 participant groups incurred expenditures in the range of $3,000 to $6,000 per group, on average;
- The average length of stay was seven days for visitors from the rest of B.C., 15 days for visitors from the rest of Canada, 15 days for visitors from the US, and 30 days for other international visitors.
Jagdeesh Mann is a member of the New Canadian Media Editorial Board.
Published in partnership with South Asian Post.