Canada and America are interspersed by many Little India districts or hubs of ethnic shops, commercial establishments, and eateries that cater to the South Asian community’s requirements. Among these, one of the most famous Little India districts is the first Punjabi Market in North America, situated along Main Street between 48th and 51st avenues in Vancouver, in the Canadian province of British Columbia.
With time, the street turned into a cultural hub. Outside of Asia, it became home to the first street signs written in Punjabi. It housed more than 300 shops during its peak around the 1980s and 1990s, including 24 jewellery shops. Indians from Canada and the US would visit Vancouver to go to the market to buy Indian spices, Indian food, fabrics, and gold jewellery.
In 2020, the Vancouver Punjabi Market turned five decades old. However, over the past 15 years, numerous businesses moved out of Vancouver to Surrey, a neighbouring city. As a result, the industry began to decline.
The Vancouver City Council, in 2019, voted to pass a motion to commemorate Punjabi Market at Fifty: Celebrating the Past and Planning for the Future.
In an attempt to re-energise the market, a group of young second and third-generation Indian Canadians in Vancouver has now joined hands to create The Punjabi Market Regeneration Collective (PMRC).
“We are a group of passionate community advocates, artists and entrepreneurs who are working to revitalise Vancouver’s historic Punjabi Market, which was founded in 1970. It was a place where people like my parents — new immigrants to Canada at the time — found a sense of community and familiarity,” Jag Nagra, the creative director of PMRC, was quoted as saying. Nagra is also an illustrator and graphic designer.
Nagra and the team want to honour the past legacy and give back to the community. OMRC recently created an art installation called Marigolds in the market, where they decorated a tree with more than 200 marigold garlands.
“We want to create place-making initiatives and public art installations that bring people back to the market and give it a sense of identity once again. We don’t want the market to be forgotten,” said Nagra.
“Marigolds are such a big part of our culture and this was a way to bring some joy to the neighbourhood after a difficult year through the pandemic. And we wanted to create something that not only the younger generation would appreciate, but that the older generation would also understand,” she added.
PMRC has recently partnered with the Vancouver Mural Festival to bring outdoor public murals to the Punjabi Market.
“We’re hoping that through our initiatives, we can draw attention to businesses and bring people back. For those of us who grew up coming to Punjabi Market, we have the nostalgia factor on our sides. We have deep-rooted memories of the shops, shop owners, restaurants and community,” Nagra said.
The PMRC wishes to introduce mainstream Canadians and new immigrants to the history of the market.
We don’t want the neighbourhood to get gentrified and have Punjabi Market be forgotten. We want to ensure that we continue the legacy our elders have started,” said Nagra.