July 01, 2010

Buddhism in Canada

O Canada! Happy Canada Day!

To celebrate I spent the morning flipping through Wild Geese, a solid, comprehensive study of Buddhism in Canada, edited by John S. Harding, Victor Sogen Hori, and Alexander Soucy (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010). It goes over the history of the religion in Canada, looks at various Canadian Buddhist communities, and contains the biographies of a couple of Buddhist leaders in Canada.

In 1905, the Reverend Sasaki Senju, of the Honganji Temple—a head temple of the Japanese True Pure Land tradition—came to Canada to build the first Buddhist temple there. The first sixty years of Buddhism’s one hundred year history in Canada is basically a story of Japanese Pure Land Buddhists trying to establish themselves in a new place. And not just a new place, but a hostile new place—as Sogen Hori points out in the book’s first chapter, Canadian federal policies were explicitly racist at the turn of the nineteenth century. Asians couldn’t vote or own property.

In the 1970s Canada changed its stance on official racism and overhauled its immigration policies [Jeff Wilson points out below that Canadian immigration reform happened in 1967]. Floods of immigrants from Buddhist countries started coming in. At about that same time, Buddhism began to spread outside the immigrant communities and into the lives of Westerners.

This book looks like it's worth picking up for anybody interested in Buddhism in the West, particularly because there is so little information out there specifically on how Buddhism is taking shape in Canada—the True North strong and free!

Pick up a copy here.

Also check out the online guide to Buddhism in Canada.

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Magnetic Akira's picture

Buddhism in Eastern Ontario is particularly underreported. Per the post above, particularly accessible groups would be the Ottawa Buddhist Society and the loosely affiliated Tisarana Buddhist Monastery in Perth ON (use Google). Convert westerners like meditation and both these groups are all about that, under the leaderhip of monks and nuns from the Theravadan forest monk tradition. And we also of have a plentiful supply of the Asian ethnic Buddhist denominations.

Lynette Genju Monteiro's picture

Thank you for this review and an opening to share resources. Buddhism in Canada seems quiet and very understated - though I may be under a serious misapprehension. Here in Ottawa ON (Happy Canada Day!) it's difficult for a newcomer to the practice to wade through the process of finding a sangha. Although the listing may be somewhat out-of-date, http://dharma.ncf.ca/ottawa.resources.html does provide a collection of communities to explore.

We came to Canada in 1965, one of 19 families accepted from the East. There were about 10 families in Toronto, Ottawa & Montreal from Burma at that time. If any were Buddhist, it was not openly shown or discussed. It was wonderful to see the changes that took place in the following years especially after 1967 but we cannot forget the "lost generation" of immigrant children who surrendered their birthrights of culture and religion to assimilate into the majority culture.

Twitter Trackbacks for Tricycle » Buddhism in Canada [tricyc's picture

[...] Tricycle » Buddhism in Canada tricycle.com/blog/?p=2004 – view page – cached To celebrate I spent the morning flipping through Wild Geese, a solid, comprehensive study Buddhism in Canada, edited by John S. Harding, Victor Sogen Hori, and Alexander Soucy (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010). It goes over the history of the religion in Canada, looks at various Canadian Buddhist communities, and contains the biographies of a couple of Buddhist leaders in Canada. Tweets about this link [...]

Jeff Wilson's picture

Thank you from Ontario for the good wishes. Research on Canadian Buddhism has been very sparse compared to American Buddhism, but is beginning to catch up. Wild Geese, which I am reviewing for the Journal of Global Buddhism, is a big step in the right direction. Of course, over the years there has also been a lot of cross-border sharing too.

By the way, a couple of slight corrections to the blog post. The name of the head temple of the main Shin Buddhist denomination is Honganji, not Hoganji. And Canadian immigration reform happened in 1967, not the 1970s.