Punjabi Market at Fifty: Celebrating the Past and Planning for the Future 

Punjabi Market’s famous figures: Daljit Singh Sidhu, Kewal Singh Pabla and Harinder Singh Toor.
Photo by Sukhwant Singh Dhillon

VANCOUVER City Council unanimously approved a motion to revitalize Punjabi Market District on June 19.

The Punjabi Market Revitalization Collective says that Councillor Pete Fry bought forward the motion that will help revitalize the Punjabi Market neighbourhood by directing city resources to the market. Specifically, the motion calls for Vancouver’s first “Punjabi Market Day”, and for city staff to identify quick-wins to help in revitalization efforts.

Fry says: I’m humbled the South Asian community and the Punjabi Market Association have instilled their faith in me to bring forth this motion. I am very impressed with the work they have done for the City of Vancouver and it’s an honour to have presented this motion on their behalf and have it passed unanimously.”

“A number of factors have caused the Punjabi Market that I grew up with to struggle,” says MP for Vancouver South, Harjit Singh Sajjan. “Sharp increases in the cost of living have pushed many of the people who built the market out of the area, but its historic importance as a place of welcoming and belonging remains. For that reason, I believe it is imperative that we work together to revitalize the market.”

Michael Lee, MLA for Vancouver-Langara, points out: “The Punjabi Market is an important part of the historical and cultural history of both the city of Vancouver and of my riding of Vancouver-Langara. Since the first store opened in 1970, the Punjabi Market has been considered a place to support cultural identity as is demonstrated every year by the sheer number of upwards of 100,000 attendees at the annual Vaisakhi Parade through the Punjabi Market.”

Many members of the community were at City Hall when this historic motion was passed, cheering and tearing up with joy as the decision was made. Daljit Sidhu, founding member and current board member of the Punjabi Market Association notes:  “As one of the founding members of the Punjabi market, this motion means a lot to me – to feel recognized and supported. We look forward to working with the Council and City staff to move forward together.”  

Aneesha Grewal, part of the Punjabi Market Regeneration Collective, explains: “The revival of the Punjabi Market is vital to the South Asian community. It will give youth space to identify with their cultural heritage, to find safety, and to learn South Asian values of community, giving, and being as one.”

One of the next steps for the Punjabi Market Regeneration Collective is to work with the Musqueam Nation (who’s lands Punjabi Market stands on), the City of Vancouver, different levels of government, and partners to help actualize the motion.


The motion passed by Council states:

1. Sikhism is a religion that originated during the 15th century in the Punjab region of India. Today, over 150,000 Metro Vancouverites identify as Sikh;
2. The first wave of Sikh immigration to Vancouver occurred in 1904. Despite many historic injustices and institutionalized racism, in 1947 Sikhs were given the right to vote and become Canadian citizens;
3. The Punjabi Market is a 3-block commercial district along Main Street between 48th and 51st Avenues that has been a destination for South Asian culture and commerce since Sucha Singh Claire opened a sari and fabric shop in the area on May 31, 1970;

4. The Punjabi Market, also known as Little India was the first and largest South Asian Market outside of South Asia and has historically included several Indian restaurants, sweet shops, jewellery stores, clothing stores, grocers, as well as other businesses catering to the South Asian community, local neighbourhood and tourists;
5. Vancouver was home to the first and largest Vaisakhi celebration outside of Punjab, traveling between Ross Street Temple and Punjabi Market, at its height, there were over 300 shops in the area. Punjabi Market was the first place in the world (outside of South Asia) to have Punjabi on street signs;
6. In recent years, the Punjabi Market has been struggling, and new construction and residential development has the potential to transform the area. Community concerns with regard to public realm, street level retail, and built form called for more comprehensive and collaborative planning for the future of Punjabi Market;
7. In 2016, responding to community concerns, Vancouver City Council directed staff to examine Chapter 23 of the Sunset Community Vision – “Main Street Shopping Area/Punjabi Market” and noted “a robust plan needs to be in place to preserve and sustain Punjabi Market for future generations.”;
8. In 2017 the City commissioned Retail Business Study of the Punjabi Market Area of Vancouver (LOCO BC, Masala) which was delivered in March 2018;
9. In April 2018, staff proposed an Area Management Plan that would include the creation of an area Statement of Significance (including heritage values and key character defining elements) along with a local B.4 working group and strategies and actions for regeneration of Punjabi Market;
10. In November 2018, Vancouver City Council directed staff to expedite the development of a City-wide planning process, that would help to determine the shape of our neighbourhoods, guided by inclusion, heritage, and enjoyable well-designed gathering places, among other things;
11. The health and vitality of Vancouver’s communities is one of the reasons the city is considered one of the best places on earth to live. City staff routinely advise Council on polices, strategies, and initiatives that meet the needs of Vancouver’s multicultural and diverse communities.

It was resolved that Council affirms that the Punjabi Market shopping area is an area with historic significance and present day importance and the Mayor determine May 31, 2020, and the occasion of its 50th Anniversary as “Punjabi Market Day”.
It was also resolved that Council direct staff to review work to date, including the Sunset Community Vision, Retail Business Study of the Punjabi Market Area of Vancouver, and work to date on the Area Management Plan and report back by Q4 2019, and that Council direct staff including Engineering, Arts Culture and Community Services, and Planning to consult with community and identify quick-wins along with necessary budget, resources and potential partnerships to deploy in advance of the occasion of the 50th Anniversary, including but not limited to public realm improvements, and report back by Q4 2019.
It was resolved that Council direct staff to report back by Q4 2019, with budget and resources for the creation of a collaborative and participatory community process on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Punjabi Market and as part of the City-wide planning process: to imagine the future of the Punjabi Market.

ACCORDING to the Punjabi Market Revitalization Collective: “The Punjabi Market community had asked for and/or been promised several City investments, including City funded area beautification efforts with flowers, plants, updated City lighting fixtures to attract more customers, more colour to signposts and City assets in the area like bus stops, more public seating, public parking and public art. In addition, the Punjabi Market name was to be added to the Langara/49th Canada Line stop. Finally, the City had committed funding and support to build an India Gate in the area. Unfortunately, the City was unable to deliver on these commitments. Certainly, the City has honoured certain requests, including the creation of the first-ever street signs in the world in Punjabi outside of India/Pakistan; however, given the consistent increase in commercial and residential property taxes, the community does feel that these efforts are not balanced with the commitments that are left unmet. Overall, without meaningful engagement and dialogue, it is more likely that community members carried their resentments and disappointments out of the neighbourhood into other jurisdictions.”

It states: “Right now the Market is in a time of transition. The market is facing gentrification, displacement, and racism. An example of gentrification that is taking place at this time includes the Tim Hortons which was recently opened on the corner of Main and 49th. This directly competes with local businesses such as Roots Cafe, a local coffee shop owner by Ethel Garcia and her daughter. Four marijuana shops have also opened up in the area which are not connected to the local area. There are discussions and fears within the community that the community will not be able to survive alongside multinational chains and big developers. That being said, the community, elders, youth, and next generation are hopeful that there is still a chance to revitalize the area. They are ready to pour their hearts and energy back into the Punjabi Market to transform it back to its full glory.

In addition to meeting community needs, working on revitalizing the Punjabi Market offers the City undeniable opportunities that would set new precedents for City-Community collaboration, and contribute valuable lessons to the development of the larger City Wide Plan.”

It further states: “The Punjabi Market community is deeply committed to continue the regeneration work for the area with the City, in thoughtful and meaningful ways. Having this motion passed showcases to the community and Vancouverites that the City finds value in regenerating important community economic areas. Completing this work without delays will also set precedents in effective community and City collaboration, as well as offer lessons for future planning with other cultural neighbourhood hubs and also for more broadly for the City Wide Plan. With the speed at which gentrification is closing in upon the Market’s deterioration, there is an urgency to act and act in a meaningful way.  

“Although it may not fully be the City’s role to determine the types of businesses that locate the Punjabi Market or other neighbourhoods, we feel this revitalization has a role in protecting the City’s history and culture as well as guiding new development that impacts the current and future commercial mix.” 


Website: https://www.punjabixmarket.com/

Instagram: @punjabimarketyvr

Twitter: @punjabimarket