Vancouver Temples, 1973

Buddhism Buddhism in Canada Temple Stories Temples Vancouver

In 1972, Kalu Rinpoche came to Canada and stayed with us at the Montreal Zen Centre for a few months. In the winter of 1973, he went on to Vancouver to inaugurate a centre to be run by Lama Tsewang Gyurme on Heather Street. We (about 15 of us) followed a couple of months later, driving across Canada in a Ford Econoline van (no seats – insane when I think of it now). We stopped in Thunder Bay, Wawa, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Estavan, Calgary, Lethbridge, Bassano, and a few other places before we got to Vancouver, visiting Buddhist communities (few and far between) along the way.
We stayed in somebody’s shed attached to the back of their house when we got to Vancouver. Very primitive, with slugs crawling across the floor. It was late March and Van was a-bloom with a riot of flowers and trees. Coming from Montreal and passing through Northern Ontario and then Winnipeg in March, we felt like we were in another country altogether.
Every day we would go over to the centre on Heather street for services, lectures, initiations and meditation. It was a like a Shangri-la dream come true.
As it so happened, a local businessman named Mr. Luu had been working to open a Chinese Buddhist temple on Pender Street, upstairs in what must have previously been a Tong or clan association hall. The opening co-incided with our stay in the city. Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua Shih came up from Gold Mountain Monastery in San Francisco to preside and stayed a week, along with six of his American monks. He was as authentic and inspiring as you could ever imagine. Every day they performed ceremonies, such as the Thousand-Handed Thousand-Eyed Repentence of Great Compassion (which I still chant regularly because of that), and we attended. There were also several ceremonies that Hsuan Hua and Kalu Rinpoche did together, and a large vegetarian banquet at the end of the week.
We stayed on in Vancouver for about a month in all, got a better place to live (of which I have absolutely no memory) and supported ourselves by taking on the contract to paint the exterior of an old wooden church that had been de-commissioned and converted into one of the city’s first food co-ops. I have no idea where it was in the city. The job took several weeks.
Our van died and we hitchhiked back to Montreal in pairs. At that time in Canada, there was a huge movement of young people hitchhiking across the country, to the degree that there were many newspaper articles about it and many local politicians either opening hostels or running kids out of town.
I’d like to know if that Tibetan temple on Heather Street and that Chinese temple on Pender Street are still there, and how it all evolved.

A Sumeru story

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