Ottawa Chinatown

Buddhism in Canada Ottawa Temple Stories

I recently had the opportunity to visit Ottawa’s Chinatown. The city has invested more than $600,000 in stimulus money to revitalize the area and brand it as a visitor destination, similar to Little Italy nearby. Most of the money has been used to create a giant ornamental “Royal Arch” over Somerset Street at the entrance to the neighbourhood’s commercial district. The gate is not quite finished. Additionally, decorative lamp standards and street signs have been installed. There is also a website (a search of which reveals no results for the string “Buddhist”). I will post my pictures shortly. Links from this post are at the bottom.

My goal in visiting the area was to assess the presence/absence of Buddhist organizations and influence. The listings in the Buddhism in Canada website provided the starting point for my walk down the length of Somerset from Bronson to the railway bridge at City Centre Avenue. Here is what I discovered:

The area is definitely in need of rejuvenation. There is not a diverse array of businesses in the community to sustain a solid basis; almost all of the enterprises are either restaurants or small ethnic food stores. The new T&T Supermarket which recently opened on Hunt Club near Riverside, out by the airport, is drawing the vast majority of shopper’s dollars, in much the same way as other big box stores have decimated local independent retailers. Furthermore, Ottawa’s more upscale Asian residents have moved out of the area to newer subdivisions like Barrhaven, where they now form part of the largest visible minority group. At this time, no Buddhist temples or organizations seem to be located in the Barrhaven area. But… back to Chinatown.

There is a vacant lot in the middle of the neighbourhood with a sign promising a future Vietnamese Boat People Museum. It was purchased in 2008, but the lot does not look like it is actively under development. Further down the street, in front of the Plant Community Centre and Pool (which is beautiful and appears to be extremely popular) is a statue commemorating Vietnamese Refugees. Down Dorchester Street is the Vietnamese-Canadian Association. At 1002 Somerset near the bridge is the Chùa Phô Ðà – housed in a relatively large two-storey commercial building with a storefront. The main shrine room is upstairs. Based on my reading of the neighbourhood, I would say the temple serves its local population well, and is well-supported locally.

The Buddha’s Light International Association (BLIA) at 886 Somerset turned out to be a major disappointment. The address turned out to be a computer store with apartments upstairs. The only BLIA presence was a forlorn mailbox.

Across the street was the very attractive Joyful Land Buddhist Centre. This Tibetan-style organization is part of the New Kadampa, which most Buddhists disavow because of its anti-Dalai Lama stance, its self-referential exclusivity, aggressive proselytizing and questionable “ordinations.” Be that as it may, the centre is clearly catering to a western clientele rather than local residents, and appears to be well-funded from somewhere, since the house itself was in good repair, the signage was sophisticated, and a variety of statues were visible through the windows.

While I was walking back to my car, I was pleasantly surprised to meet a Theravada monk who was waiting for the bus. He said he was from Sri Lanka, that he had a Vihara nearby [at the corner of Rochester and Willow, across from the Vietnamese-Canadian Association], and that it was home to another Sri Lankan monk and a Cambodian monk as well. The centre is not listed in Buddhism in Canada, so here is the contact information:

Ottawa-Inter Community Buddhist Society (Vihara)
2-115 Willow Street, Ottawa, ON K1R 6W2 / 613-565-0842
Free meditation class every Saturday from 7-8 pm.

Here are links related to this post: Vietnamese Boat People Museum (Ottawa Citizen article, 2007) Vietnamese Commemorative Monument

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