Shoes sit inside the door of the 100 Mile House Gurdwara, but no one is praying. Vaisakhi came and went with barely a whisper, the birth of Guru Nanak acknowledged in quiet prayer at home.
But if all goes well, Sohan (Sonny) Mudhar hopes they will soon welcome back members for weekly prayer or gatherings, maybe even get a priest in full-time again.
“When the restrictions lift we will go back to reopening our temple,” said Mudhar, 79, adding they will also open their langar (kitchen). “Everyone is welcome.”
Some 50 Sikhs, including children and students, call the South Cariboo home. It’s a far cry from the 1970s when 100 Mile House had about 55 Sikh families, drawn here by the area’s sawmills and small-village vibe. The 100 Mile Sikh Society was formed in 1973, the temple on Blackstock Road opened six years later on Nov. 9, Guru Nanak’s birthday.
“We decided we needed a temple,” said Mudhar, who came here in 1965 and was one of the first Sikhs in the area. He worked as a skidder for what is now McNeil and Sons Logging Ltd. “We built it by hand.”
For years, the Gurdwara was the gathering place for the community, until slowly the sawmills started shutting down, or the original Sikh families left, following their children to the city. As the population dwindled, full-time priests were hard to keep, and local members had to scramble for a priest for their weekly, or sometimes only monthly, prayer.
“They move away from 100 Mile because they follow their kids. They end up in bigger cities,” Mudhar said. “It’s a tradition that kids and all the families live together.”
Most usually return, at least for religious celebrations, like Vaisakhi in the spring and birth of Guru Nanak in November. At times, 500 people would fill the temple over the three-day religious events.
“We still have members who have gone and come back for these two gatherings, they come here to celebrate with us,” Mudhar said. “They really miss 100 Mile because it’s more like a village and most of our people come from villages.”
Although the Sikh population has been declining over the years, Mudhar senses change is in the air.
While Sikhs are no longer coming for the logging industry, they are slowly returning to the South Cariboo, lured by the small-town atmosphere that brought Mudhar here more than 50 years ago. They are buying motels and gas stations in 100 Mile House, Lac La Hache and the Interlakes. Students also come here to study, working in various jobs until they can get Canadian citizenship and practice qualified trades.
“It seems we are getting people coming back. There’s too much pressure in Vancouver so people want to move out here,” Mudhar said, adding they have about 25 students living in the area. “We don’t know where they are going to end up. They are really hard workers.”
Mudhar, whose son is still in the 100 Mile area – his daughters have moved to Kamloops and Surrey – said he loves this community. Despite a situation in 1994, when the temple was vandalized by local youth, costing Mudhar $20,000 in repairs, he said it’s a great place to live and work. He looks forward to getting back to regular prayer and gatherings.
The temple, on its large grassy lot, has room to expand if needed. “I really like it here. The jobs are good, the people are nice. We’re getting some families back so it’s good for our temple.”