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Vaisakhi — May 13, 2017

Vaisakhi

VaisakhiParade

This past April 22 400,000 people from many places attended the annual 2017 Vaisakhi Day Parade. Vaisakhi is a celebration of the birth of Khalsa. This event is open to everyone, and is a day where people come together as a community. The parade features cultural floats, community performers, live music and free food.

Many of us might attend the parade for the experience and that’s totally fine but I believe that when you go to the celebration you should be educated about what Vaisakhi means and what it did for Sikhs.

Vaisakhi is the festival that celebrates the founding of the Sikh community known as the Khalsa. It is celebrated on April 13 each year, however both the Vancouver and Surrey event takes place on different days. On April 13 1699 Guru (god) Gobind Singh asked Sikhs (any human who faithfully believes in one Immortal being) from all over India to come to the city of Anandpur Sahib. At the gathering Guru Gobind Singh asked Sikhs to support their faith and preserve the Sikh religion. Guru Gobind Singh then lifted his sword and asked that anyone prepared to give his life for his faith to come forward. After his command there was big silence, but Guru Gobind Singh didn’t stop repeating his demand. Then one brave Sikh step out of the crowd and followed the Guru into a tent. Then shortly after, the Guru came out of the tent alone with his sword covered with blood, and asked for another volunteer. Another brave soul came forward again followed the Guru into the tent. Guru Gobind Singh came out of the tent alone with his sword again covered in blood. This was repeated until five Sikhs had stepped forward to offer their heads to the Guru and Sikh religion. Finally, the Guru came out of the tent with the five men dressed in royal blue. Guru Gobind Singh called these five Sikhs the Panj Pyare; this means the Five Beloved Ones. The Guru and his wife baptized the Panj Pyare. Then the Guru knelt before the Panj Pyare and asked them to baptize him as well. The Panj Pyare were the first members of Khalsa, and the new Sikh community. Then the Guru gave all members of Khalsa five symbols of purity and courage. These were the five K’s. Guru Gobind Singh gave all Khalsa men the surname Singh, which means lion; this was to represent their bravery. All women of Khalsa were given the surname Kaur which means princess; this was to emphasize dignity. Guru Gobind Singh gave all Sikhs the opportunity to live their lives with courage, sacrifice, and equality. These Sikhs were to live their lives to the service of others. This is how Khalsa came to be.

The act of giving out free food is called seva, seva the act of selfless service. Guru Nanak Dev Ji was the first Guru to promoted seva in gurdwaras (temples). Langar is a term used in the Sikh religion for the open kitchen where food is served in a gurdwara to all the visitors, without distinction of faith, religion or background, for free. Langar was an idea Guru Nanak adopted, and it upholds the principle of equality between everyone regardless of colour, age, caste, religion, age, gender or social status. Langer is not only served in gurdwaras but can be serviced anywhere. At the Vaisakhi parade local business and other residents open up their own kitchens to people in attendance. They make langar and do seva. They idea langer was ultimately an act that make everyone equal, if you were wealth you ate langer, if you were struggling to make ends meet you ate langer. Everyone was served the same food.

I personally think that in our day and age some people abuse the power of having langer. Some go the Vaisakhi parade just to eat but don’t realize what it means. But then again Guru Nanak wanted to open up kitchens to everyone regardless of their intentions. When you to Vaisakhi parade I encourage you to eat the food but be thankful of the langar being serviced and the seva being done.

Ultimately Vaisakhi is a day where people celebrate the birth of Khalsa.

I encourage everyone to go the next Vaisakhi parade because it is a great experience. I also encourage everyone to do there own seva. It doesn’t have to be at the parade or at a gurdwara; it can be anywhere.

-Anisha

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My Visit to Vimy Ridge for the 100th Anniversary — May 8, 2017

My Visit to Vimy Ridge for the 100th Anniversary

For those that do not know me, I have just returned from France. I lived there for three months, went to school, and experienced their culture. Of course, since I lived right near the memorial, it was an obligation to go. This blog post will concentrate more so on my travels around Vimy Ridge as well as what I learned there.

The ceremony of April 9th; the 100th anniversary, was a popular topic around Canada, and unfortunately, I did not get to go (I was travelling somewhere else that weekend). Instead, I went the weekend before.

The day started off with a visit to Arras. Arras was a bigger city that had been taken over by the Germans, and it was there where the British Army launched their attack.

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Near Arras is the much smaller city of Farbus, and it was there where I attended a ceremony honouring Canadians. They were thrilled that I was going to be in attendance, and in a sense, I was made the guest of honour.

There were a few French people who had volunteered to dress up as soldiers and nurses, and they stood in line as the mayor introduced me to the crowd. I even got a poster from the event (signed by the mayor) to thank me on behalf of all Canadians for freeing them and their town.

The band played O Canada, and I (draped in my Canadian flag) sang (or, I tried to sing).

It’s hard to describe the emotions that go through you, but I don’t think I have ever been more proud to be Canadian than I was on that day. To see these people, from a whole other continent, taking their time to honour us was incredible. There were Canadian flags everywhere. Walking around town, they were on every house. I loved wearing our flag that day.

They had tents set up full of different artifacts, and the people who had dressed up as soldiers were actually professionals on these said artifacts. There were a variety of different guns laid out. I clearly remember a sort of binocular tool as well. You looked at the approaching soldier and based off how much of his body you could see (and I believe the angle had something to do with it as well) you could tell how far away he was (which helped with choosing which gun to shoot and how to aim it).

They then offered a walking tour of their town to demonstrate which parts came into play throughout the war. This tour started off in the forest. 100 years since the war, and the ground is incredibly uneven due to the trenches. At the Vimy Ridge memorial, the trenches are maintained to show the history, but in this little town, no effort has been made and they’re still there. There were even small concrete structures that sheltered canons. The Germans used the security of the forest to shoot on Arras, the bigger city.

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Much of the land is now farmland and farmers find objects daily. Depending on what they find, they may have to call people to come verify that the mines are not still active. Though it’s becoming rarer, farmers still find skeletons as they work their fields.

Next, we headed down to another tented area. This new tented area was to teach more so about medicine throughout the war. Further back (on the lines), there were better equipped, hospital type tents, but what they taught us about was the front line medicine (more of an infirmary). It was a tent with very few items as the infirmary moved with the line; when the soldiers advanced, so did they, and when they retreated, so did the infirmary.

Therefore, they did not have the top quality medicine. They did their best with the wounded. All patients had pieces of cloth covering their eyes, not because their eyes were ruined, but because the flies would come eat their eyes (since they were ill, they weren’t moving around). Nurses filled out little pieces of paper so that when the doctor came, he would know immediately what had to be done, and was therefore able to save time. Every soldier had a sort of metal plaque bearing their information, and originally, when a soldier died, they would break that plaque in two. The first half would be placed under the soldier’s tongue and the second half was sent to the family. However, they quickly discovered that the plaques rusted in the soldiers’ mouths and became unidentifiable. The new solution was to write the information on a piece of paper and put that paper in a bottle. The bottle was tucked into the soldier’s arm, and this way they would be able to identify the soldier without disturbing the body too much.

Another utility in the war were the dogs. Dogs typically had two owners; one on the front line, and one further back. Also, if one of the owners died, then the dog still had someone. The dogs were one way of sending messages (and they estimate that about two million messages were sent from the front line to the back and vice versa daily). All the soldiers on the front line always wanted to ensure they were sending words to their family while they could.

Dogs could also be used to send medicine or get other necessities, but some soldiers used them at night. One man recounted his grandfather’s story. The man had a dog, and at night, he would rely on the dog to get around. The dog could sense whenever an enemy was coming, and would immediately crouch down, followed by the man. This way, when the enemy arrived, shining their flashlight ahead, they would see no one. As soon as they were gone, the dog would get up and carry on. That man and his dog were never caught.

They also said how the Germans were particularly looking for dogs during the war. They even had advertisements amongst the French people; they were offering to buy dogs, they would pick up dogs if they found them, etc. In short, dogs were incredibly useful.

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Next, we headed to the real Canadian memorial. This was the last stop of the day, and it was incredibly moving. The memorial is even more beautiful in person, for those who have not gone. The names are all carved into it. When I remember that day, I also remember all the trees. They planted one tree for every Canadian soldier that died. There were so many trees. And of course, you couldn’t go anywhere near the trees as there is the risk of active land mines still being in the area.

I made sure to take out my Canadian flag to take a picture on the memorial, and even strangers walking by took pictures of me. I believe that more people at that memorial are Canadian than they are French; most people you walk by are speaking in English.

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We also visited a beautiful Commonwealth cemetery and took pictures of the sheep that they have in the area. They use the sheep to “mow” the lawn, since lawnmowers couldn’t put up with all the hills from the trenches.

 

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That memorial was strangely comforting for me. Canada “owns” a few kilometers of land where the memorial stands, so after being in France for so many months, so far away from home, I was happy to be at the memorial. It brought me that much closer to home; after all, I technically made a day trip to Canada.

Sources: my memory (all pictures taken by me)

Author: Julia

The Great Bear Rainforest — May 2, 2017

The Great Bear Rainforest

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For almost two decades, environmentalist and First Nations have gone through conflicts after conflicts with the government in order to protect the Great Bear Rainforest. The Great Bear Rainforest is the largest coastal temperate rainforest in the world, spanning 21 million acres. It’s home to many ancient cedar trees, grizzly bears, cougar, salmon, wolves, and the rare white kermode, or more commonly known as the ‘spirit’ bear. In February 2016, an agreement was reached to protect 85% of the rainforest from industrial logging. But what lead to this agreement and why is the rainforest so important?

For centuries, First Nations have lived on the lands of the Great Bear Rainforest. Today, the region still remains home to First Nations people whose histories, identities and spirituality are linked to the lands and waters of the rainforest. They continue to protect and assert their rights and title throughout the Great Bear Rainforest. After all, it is unceded territory of the Coastal First Nations.

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During the mid-1990s, the rainforest was highly threatened by industrial logging and mining. Habitat for bears, eagles, and salmon was being destroyed in the unceded traditional territories of many First Nations, as their leadership and governments had no say over decisions impacting their communities and their territories. Environmentalist and First Nations combined forces and did everything they could to stop the logging operations. The environmental protests had reached their fullest as activists tried to block timber operations in remote logging camps, board ships carrying Canadian pulp overseas, hang from banners draped over corporate headquarters, and bought ad space in publications, such as The New York Times. By 1999, logging companies and environmental activists had agreed to a ceasefire in the Great Bear Rainforest, which meant no more international markets campaigns in exchange for a logging standstill in 100 of the intact rainforest valleys.

Despite the anti-logging protests of environmental activists, it was never as simple as ‘pack up and leave’ for timber companies in the Great Bear Rainforest. Loggers have been in the region for more than 100 years. By the 1990s, most of the timber harvesting rights in the Great Bear Rainforest were held by three major logging companies: International Forest Products, MacMillan Bloedel and Western Forest Products. TimberWest (logging company) had a license to log in the southernmost 2% of the Great Bear Rainforest, located on and around northern Vancouver Island. In 2000, when the CFCI (Coast Forest Conservation Initiative) partnered up with three environmental groups to design land use solutions for the Great Bear Rainforest, TimberWest stayed out of the mix.

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After many hard years of negotiation, landmark conservation announcements were secured in 2006 and 2009. Stakeholders rejoiced in a new plan of ecosystem-based management that would not only preserve 70% of the rainforest natural variation, but strengthen and enhance the livelihoods of First Nations communities as well. On February 1, 2016, Premier Christy Clark announced an agreement that had been reached between the province of British Columbia, First Nations, environmentalists and the forestry industry to protect 85% of the 6.4 million hectare Great Bear Rainforest from industrial logging. Reaching the goal to protect the rainforest.  Today, only 15% of the Great Bear Rainforest remains open to commercial logging, but the timber industry now has assurances that as long as they abide by the rules, no one will come after them with torches and pitchforks.

When First Nations, government officials and stakeholders celebrated victory on the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement this week, they celebrated not only the protection of an enormous amount of old-growth forest in one of North America’s greatest natural treasures, but also the resolution of conflict between parties that 20 years ago, that refused to look each other in the eye.

-Matthew