Lethbridge Buddhists celebrate new temple

by Pamela Roth, LETHBRIDGE HERALD, 26 April 2009

Lethbridge, Alberta (Canada) -- Close to 400 people gathered at a new Buddhist temple on Sunday morning to mark the beginning of a new era.

The new temple, located at 470 40 Street South, is the result of the amalgamation of six congregations from Buddhist temples from across southern Alberta, including Taber, Picture Butte, Rosemary, Raymond, Coaldale and two in Lethbridge.

According to Harry Sugimoto, president of the Buddhist Temple of Southern Alberta, the decision to amalgamate the temples has been in the making for the past eight or nine years, but the real work began about two years ago as to what congregations should really solidify.

The smaller communities were having difficulty maintaining their size of the congregation, he said, so in order to assure the growth of Buddhism in southern Alberta, it made sense to bring everyone together under one roof.

The former temples have since been sold, despite the opposition of a handful of members in the congregation. But part of the Buddhism philosophy, said Sugimoto, is letting go of those attachments and doing the best you can today.

“The building itself is just a building. What it really entails is the acceptance of all the different communities coming together,” said Sugimoto, who attended the Raymond temple for most of his upbringing. “There is a real excitement. It’s a give and take, accepting of others. We are hoping that energy we feel right now will carry forward with momentum.”

The dedication of the new temple also marked the 80th anniversary of Buddhism in southern Alberta, drawing visitors from across Canada and Japan, including 10 ministers from Jodo Shinshu temples. Buddhism seems to be catching on in Southern Alberta, added Sugimoto, with a great deal of young people joining the congregation.

The first Buddhist temple was established in Alberta in 1929 in Raymond. In the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, the church became a focal point for the Buddhist and Japanese Canadian communities. It is through this church that the first Judo and Kendo clubs were formed. The temple was deemed a historic site by the Province of Alberta in 1980 and was sold in 2006.

The six founding churches in southern Alberta are members of the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples of Canada, with the national headquarters in Vancouver. The shrines from the various original churches have great historical and monetary value with some of the items brought to the new temple and other pieces donated to the Galt Museum and Archives, and the Royal Provincial Museum in Edmonton.