Celebrating the Punjabi New Year, the Vancouver Vaisakhi Parade and Surrey Vaisakhi Parade are massive East Indian events that take place in April.
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Click any of the above links to jump to a specific topic, or continue reading to learn all about the Lower Mainland’s two major Vaisakhi festivals.
Vancouver and Surrey Vaisakhi Festivals
Vaisakhi Day was on April 13th in 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, parades and festivals were cancelled. The Vancouver Vaisakhi Parade usually happens on the Saturday after Vaisakhi Day and the Surrey Vaisakhi Parade usually takes place the following week. Both are highly recommended cultural events worth checking out.
The two festivals are very similar. They both attract over 200,000 people most years and feature close to two dozen parade entries which take most of the day to process from their respective parade starting points to their finishes. Both Vaisakhi Festivals also begin at a Sikh temple where official ceremonies take place.
The main difference between the two events, other than the fact that the Surrey parade is reportedly larger and happens a week later, is that in Surrey, in addition to the one-day parade, a carnival with rides takes place near the temple for the week or so leading up to the parade day.
Vancouver Vaisakhi Parade
Put on by the Khalsa Diwan Society, the Vancouver Vaisakhi Festival usually takes place on a Saturday during the week of April 13th starting at the KDS Ross Sikh Temple at 8000 Ross Street in Vancouver.
The Vancouver event doesn’t usually take place on exactly April 13th. Normally it takes place on a Saturday close to that date. In 2020 it was scheduled to be on the Saturday after April 13th (so on April 18th). As mentioned above, however, due to concerns about the novel coronavirus, it was cancelled.
In years when it does take place, the Vancouver parade starts at 11:00 am at the Ross Sikh Temple and proceeds up Ross Street, along 57th Avenue, up Main Street, along 49th Avenue, down Fraser Street, back along 57th Avenue and then down Ross Street back to the temple. Everything is done by between around 4:00 and 5:00 pm.
Click Vancouver Vaisakhi for photos and more information.
To see what a Lower Mainland Vaisakhi Parade looks like, check out the Vancouver Vaisakhi Parade Video.
Surrey Vaisakhi Parade
The Surrey Vaisakhi Festival takes place on the Saturday after the Vancouver Vaisakhi Parade (except for in years when it is cancelled, like in 2020). Consequently, in 2020 the Surrey event was originally scheduled for April 25th.
The City of Surrey has a huge East Indian population, which explains why the Surrey Vaisakhi Parade attracts up to 300,000 people, and sometimes even more, making it reputably the largest Vaisakhi parade in the world outside India.
The Surrey Vaisakhi Parade is even bigger than the one in Vancouver most years – which is also massive – but always takes place the weekend after.
Featuring about twenty floats, the Vaisakhi Parade in Surrey usually begins at the Gurdwara Dashmesh Darbar Temple, at 12885 85th Avenue. The procession starts at around 9:30 am most years and goes along 128th Street, 124th Street, 75th and 76th Avenues, and then back to the Temple. It finishes by about 4:00 pm.
Click Surrey Vaisakhi Parade for more information.
TIP: For both the Surrey and Vancouver events don’t expect to find parking anywhere near the parade venues, unless you arrive really early, and even then you’ll find much of the greater area closed to traffic. Public transit is recommended.
Vancouver’s Punjabi Market
The region around Main Street and 49th Avenue in Vancouver is referred to as Punjabi Market, owing to the large number of East Indian businesses in the area.
If you ever wanted to check out Punjabi Market, the day of the parade is the most interesting, and most crowded. On this day there are lots of people and things to see. With all the turbans, saris, colour and festivities, you’ll feel like you’re in the Punjab! It’s pretty amazing!
On non-festival days, Punjabi Market actually looks a lot like many regular streets in Vancouver, just with a higher concentration of East Indian stores than average. It’s not so exotic and for most people not necessarily worth taking a day trip especially out to see. Consequently, time your visit with the Vaisakhi Parade if you want to visit the place, unless you want to avoid the crowds.
At the Vaisakhi Festival and during the parade don’t be surprised to receive free food and drink from local residents and businesses – it’s a traditional part of the festivities.
What is Vaisakhi Day?
Vaisakhi Day is a Sikh holy day originating in the Punjab region of Northern India and Eastern Pakistan.
Vaisakhi, also known as Baisakhi, is a festival also celebrated by Hindus as the start of the new year.
The Sikh religion originated in the 15th century and is today the 5th or 6th largest religion in the world. Vaisakhi, meanwhile, has been celebrated for millennia. It took on new meaning for Sikhs, however, around 320 years ago.
Vaisakhi is not actually the Sikh New Year, which is Chet, and which takes place a month earlier, in mid-March. Vaisakhi is also much more than just a harvest festival for the Sikh community. It’s the most important religious day in their calendar and marks the birth of the Khalsa which took place in 1699.
The Khalsa fraternity was created by Guru Gobind Singh who was the last Sikh spiritual teacher in human form. The word Khalsa means “pure” and the order was formed to provide Sikhs with a distinct identity and encourage them to stand up together against injustice.
The custom of giving out free food originated with the first Sikh Guru who used it to break down economic and social barriers, and encourage both compassion and selfless giving within the community. This idea of a free “community kitchen” is called “Langar”.
Today Sikhs from around the world celebrate Vaisakhi with parades, the sharing of free food and other festival activities. Two of the largest Vaisakhi events on the planet, in modern times, are the ones in Vancouver and Surrey.
If you have never been to one, you should go! All are welcome.
To learn more about the meaning behind the festival and its history, check out the Sikh Heritage Month website.
For more information about Vaisakhi festivals in the Lower Mainland, click any of the following:
- Vancouver Vaisakhi Parade
- Surrey Vaisakhi Parade
- Vancouver Vaisakhi Parade VIDEO
- Surrey Vaisakhi Parade VIDEO
For ideas about other things to do this same time of year, check out the following:
For a list of other things to do throughout the year, click any of the following: