Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

After more than a decade, Punjab Cultural Centre to open this fall

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It's taken more than a decade, a few trips to the drawing board and a major move but the Punjab Cultural Centre is expected to open this fall.

"It took so long because we wanted to do it right," said Amarjeet Warraich, president of the Manitoba Sikh and Cultural Seniors Centre Inc. "This is a community project, so we have to listen to everybody."

People didn't like the original location, a lot near Sisler High School the city gave them for $1 back in 2001.

"The community was telling us that, for the amount of money we're going to have to spend, it wouldn't be a good site for this purpose."

Fundraising for the $7.5-million domed building stalled.

"This is a place we intend to use for a long time, so we have to have everybody on side to do such a big project," said Warraich. In 2008, they decided to buy the former Brooklands Collegiate on King Edward for $900,000 and renovate and expand it.

Now that they're at a bigger site at a better location, the community is on side, he said. They just need more cash. Tonight, the cultural centre is holding a major fund-raising dinner with Canada's Public Safety Minister and senior Manitoba MP Vic Toews as the keynote speaker.

"We need to raise about $1.3 million all together to complete this project," Warraich said. It's going to cost close to $8.5 million. The centre, located on Route 90 and a bus route, will have a gym and playing fields, a banquet hall large enough to accommodate big Sikh weddings, a seniors centre, a day-care centre and classrooms for newcomers.

"It's one stop for everybody," said Warraich.

It will open just in time to serve the city's swelling Punjabi population, he said.

"When I came 40-plus years ago, we only had a few families," said Warraich who owns the Maryland Hotel.

"We used to rush over and say hello whenever you saw someone from back home," he laughed.

Seeing someone from Punjab in Winnipeg is no longer a rarity, he said. "Now there are over 10 (Punjabi) grocery stores."

Winnipeg's Punjab Cultural Centre will be the biggest in Canada, and people across the country have pitched in to see it happen, said Warraich. They've raised tens of thousands of dollars in Vancouver, Toronto and Alberta, he said.

"Our culture is so interconnected," he said. People who used to live in Winnipeg or have elderly relatives living in the city wanted to pitch in and get the centre built, said Warraich.

"It is going to be a real jewel for the community."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 31, 2012 J12

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