Story and Photos by Julia Pelish
Vacay.ca Visuals Editor
RICHMOND, BRITISH COLUMBIA — In a world of headlines making us cringe from accounts of ideologic extremism exalting the name of God through terror, there is another story of quiet religious harmony that exists right here in the backyard of one of Canada’s largest cities. The straight-and-narrow No. 5 Road, which runs through the agricultural lowlands of British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, has become the auspicious conclave of a thriving multi-faith community. Richmond, an “ethnoburg” of Vancouver, is a city of approximately 207,500 people, 65 per cent of whom are of Asian heritage. It is also home to more than 60 mosques, temples, churches and religious schools of all denominations.
Some of these houses of worship are big, spectacular and architecturally unique monuments and many welcome visitors with open arms whether they are devout or not. It’s a true story of cultural community woven together out of the best values each faith represents. Dubbed the Highway to Heaven, this route’s inadvertent cluster of religious diversity is the result of a city council rezoning initiative in 1990. The Agricultural Land Preserve was being encroached upon by suburban expansion so it was decided that a section of No. 5 Road, between Blundell Road and Westminster Highway (adjacent to Highway 99), would be designated for “Assembly Use” buildings. The stipulation was that residents would actively farm the rear two-thirds of the land. Since then, the faithful from more than 20 religious flocks have populated this three-kilometre stretch of asphalt with their halls of worship.
I recently embarked upon a one-day spiritual sightseeing tour through a few of Richmond’s unique religious establishments and learned about the Buddhist, Sikhs and Hindu traditions thriving in Canada. Each place was colourful, rich and mesmerizing. I felt like I was being culturally immersed into a unique chapter of Richmond’s myriad immigrant narrative. First stop was to the Tibetan Thrangu Monastery for the ethereal morning Green Tara practice.
Tenzin Yonten, one of the resident monks, told me he totally understands why visitors are curious. “Just like me, when I go to other different places, church or such, we feel what’s inside, what does it look like.” The monastery is about a 30-minute drive from downtown Vancouver and just west of Highway 99.
It is also literally next door to my next stop, the Vedic Cultural Centre, a Hindu spiritual awareness centre where my group was offered Indian nuts and treats, and shown around the premises.
At the Nanaksar Gurdwara Gursikh Temple we toured the temple and were treated to free lunch. An all-volunteer full-staffed kitchen continues the Sikh tradition started by the first Guru of administering to the hungry. It was tasty vegetarian comfort food served with a smile and graciousness too.
Ling Yen Mountain Temple allowed us to stroll through its tranquil courtyards and peek into some buildings. The day ended with a mid-afternoon stop at the spectacular International Buddhist Society compound. The beautiful traditional Chinese gardens are a must-see.
Places of worship are not tourist attractions but are private religious organizations so be sure to double check times, customs and protocols before dropping in. We consulted Richmond Tourism to help with our arrangements. The pre-planning was great since it allowed representatives from these various institutes to provide us their time so we could understand the fascinating symbolism, rituals and beliefs.
A lot of attention has been focused on the Highway to Heaven. Do these diverse cultures really interact with one another or is it just good press? Like neighbours everywhere, it took time to get to know each other.
Language barriers initially made connections challenging but real bonds have been formed. Last year, the Highway to Heaven Association — made up of an interfaith council comprised of 20 different religious organizations — created and debuted a 42-foot float in the Steveston Salmon Festival Parade celebrating Canada Day. Educational initiates have sprouted from this unique medley of theological communities. Students from the Jewish Day School and the Az-Zahraa Islamic School exchange visits to learn about each other’s faiths and have joined together to work on a community program for homelessness.
Need inspiration from negative news overload? Get into the car and become uplifted through a visit to Richmond’s vibrant multi-faith communities. They are waiting to welcome you into their homes of worship and they are very conveniently located near to each other.
Take a day out of your routine and join in services, stop for lunch or a book a guided tour, walk through exquisite gardens and get a personal insight to the major religions of the world in tiny Richmond.
Thrangu Monastery (Tibetan Buddhist)
Address: 8140 No. 5 Road, Richmond, BC
Thrangu Monastery is the first traditional Tibetan Buddhhist Monastery in Canada. It opened in 2010. Presently there are six resident monks who are from monasteries in Tibet, Taiwan and Nepal. The congregation is predominantly Chinese but worshippers come from across Metro Vancouver. Visiting hours are Tuesday to Sunday 9 am- noon and then from 1:30-5:30 pm. The temple is closed on Mondays. Check the website for different services and events which are open to the public. On Chinese New Year, Dungse Lama Pema will bestow White Tara Empowerment at a special event on February 21, 2015 at 7 pm. Registration required.
Nanaksar Gurdwara Gursikh Temple (Sikh Temple)
Address: 18691 Westminster Highway, Richmond, BC
The Nanaksar Gurdwara Gursikh Temple is a traditional Punjabi-style Sikh temple. It opened in 1990. A volunteer kitchen provides free vegetarian meals (langar) to both congregation members and the public.
Believing in one God, Sikhs welcome people from all walks of life to attend their services. When entering the Gurdwara, heads must be covered (scarves are provided in the lobby) and shoes need to be removed. The temple is open 24 hours, but check the website for additional information.
Ling Yen Mountain Temple (Buddhist Temple)
Address: 10060 No. 5 Road, Richmond, BC
Ling Yen Mountain Temple is a Buddhist Temple of the Pure Land tradition. Built in 1999, it is a sister temple to the Ling Yen Shan monastery near Puli, Nantou, Taiwan, which is shown in the painting on the temple wall in this photo.
During the celebration of Buddha’s birthday and Chinese New Year, the building is surrounded with 1,000 special lanterns. The temple offers Dharma talks and meditation courses. Check the website for events and information.
The International Buddhist Society of Canada (Buddhist)
Address: 9160 Steveston Highway (between No. 3 and No. 4 roads), Richmond, BC
The International Buddhist Society, a traditional Chinese-style Buddhist Temple, was built on Steveston Highway in 1983. Open daily from 9:30 am-5:30 pm, it provides guided group tours by written appointment any day of the week from 10 am-4 pm.
Celebrate Chinese New Year with traditional blessing couplets, auspicious flowers, snacks and foods at the Chinese New Year Flower Bazaar from Saturday, February 14, 2015 to Thursday, February 19, 2015. Make sure to visit the serene traditional Chinese Gardens designed by the Temple’s Abbot, the Venerable Guan Cheng.
Taste of Zen in the Thousand Buddha Hall offers gourmet vegetarian lunch service Wednesday to Sunday 11:30 am to 3 pm. Call 1-604-274-2822 for more information.
Hindu Ram Krishna Mandir Vedic Cultural Centre (Hindu)
Address: 8200 No. 5 Road, Richmond, BC
Vedic Cultural Centre of British Columbia is a spiritual awareness centre founded in 1983. It is inspired by spiritual leader Swami Chakradhari Ji. The centre’s hours are 6:30 am to 8 pm daily.
The public is also welcome to join in the Vedic Ashtanga yoga classes.