Edmonton Sikh parade draws tens of thousands to Mill Woods neighbourhood

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Edmonton Sikh parade draws tens of thousands to Mill Woods neighbourhood

The streets of Edmonton's Mill Woods neighbourhood were flooded with parade floats and tens of thousands of people from the Sikh community Sunday.

They were celebrating Vaisakhi, which marks the birth of the Sikh faith more than 300 years ago.

Attendee Sangram Singh said parade attendance has grown since it started in 1999, much like Edmonton's Sikh community.

"The growth is because this country is so accepting to everyone," said Singh, who has lived in Alberta for 20 years. "Everybody here from India or Punjab or the Sikh community enjoys it so much because of the freedom — freedom to have your religion the way you want."

Edmonton's Sikh population has about 20,425 people identifying with the faith, according to the 2011 National Household Survey.

Some members of the Sikh community are drawn to Canada because it reflects the primary teaching of the religion, Singh said.

"Sikhism is all about love and loving each other, loving the community. And why we're in Canada is the same thing," said Singh, noting that Sikhs are sometimes mistaken for Muslims in the U.S. or Europe.

"This is a country where you have freedom of love. You don't have hatred. And that's why the community is growing here."

Other people are attracted to Alberta's job opportunities, Singh said, noting that the Sikh community values hard work.

"When you work hard you want to get paid properly. And whichever country pays for your hard work, you will see the growth of Sikhism there," he said.

"Edmonton, in my eyes, is the best city in Canada by living standards and by growing with your education."

Attendee Satwant Singh said most major Canadian cities have a significant Sikh population. He lived in Toronto before moving to Edmonton.

"There's a chance for everyone — opportunity for everyone," he said. "That's what Canada is all about."

'Community grows around the temple'

Mill Woods has a particularly large Sikh population because two of the city's four Gurdwaras — a Sikh temple — are in the neighbourhood, Sangram Singh said.

"Usually community grows around the temple because of the fact that they want to be connected," he said.

He also noted that Sikh people who are new to the area are often drawn to Mill Woods because they have family in the neighbourhood.

The streets of Mill Woods were filled with the sounds of drums and the singing of hymns associated with Nagar Kirtan, which is practiced during Vaisakhi.

Sikhism was created on April 13, 1699, which is why Vaisakhi is celebrated on April 13 and 14 in India.

Sangram Singh said the Sikh communities in Edmonton and Calgary celebrate the holiday in May because April weather is often too cold for a parade.