Buddhism in Canada
By Terry Watada

By 1905, the Japanese presence in British Columbia was firmly established. In east Vancouver, the Issei or first generation Japanese Canadians worked at the Hastings Mill. It was nicknamed the Otasuke Kaisha or "Helping Hand Company" because it was virtually the only business that gave jobs to the immigrants.

With their earnings, the Issei bought property and built homes nearby. They also opened shops and other small businesses. Soon the Powell Street area flourished with activity. The Nisei, the children of the Issei, began appearing in 1889.

Religious teaching became very important since it was the most efficient way to convey moral values. Before 1905, the Anglican and Methodist churches were the only ones available. Some saw joining the Christian Church as becoming Canadian. Some fulfilled a perceived obligation by becoming part of the church. In earlier days, Christian ministers visited the Japanese in their homes and offered help, friendship and even food.

Most, however, feared the loss of their Japanese heritage and culture by joining the Christian congregation. Jodo Shinshu Buddhists, in particular, were concerned their faith would disappear altogether amongst Japanese Canadians. On October 10, 1904, fourteen Buddhists met at the home of Tadaichi Nagao and came away with two resolutions: build a temple and request a minister from the Nishi Hongwanji or Mother Temple in Kyoto.


JCCC Archives - Rev. Senju, Minister, Vancouver Buddhist Church, with wife Tomie Sasaki, circa 1905

The Reverend Senju Sasaki and his wife Tomie arrived in Vancouver on October 12, 1905, and immediately set about bringing the word of the Buddha to the devoted. He delivered the first Dharma Talk in Canada on the steps of the City Hall just two weeks after his arrival.

Soon the Foundation Committee (formed out of the fourteen who met at Nagao’s home) and the reverend visited every sawmill in the Vancouver area to introduce the minister and to solicit donations. Eventually, they raised $5668, and on November 9 the members approved the purchase of property three lots wide at 32 Alexander Street. The existing house on the property was renovated and became the center of Buddhist activity as the first temple in Canada. The official foundation date was recognized as December 12, 1905.