Biggest temple in town still waits to be found
It’s five acres under one roof, but has very few congregants
If there is a larger church or temple in all of Canada, we’d like to hear about it.
This one hides in plain sight in the middle of Hamilton.
The Fah Hoy Buddhist Temple is just south of Barton, just east of Gage, on a runt of a street called Linden.
It’s five acres under one roof, a converted factory, and is home to one man. Ging Mark lives in the temple with some dogs that belong here, and squirrels and mice that don’t. (No traps — the Buddhist way is to harm no living thing, not even a fly.)
Like a monk, Mark lives frugally and thoughtfully, meditation at the core of his life. But he prefers the term non-ordained seeker. “Nirvana is still far away,” he says. Mark was born in China 66 years ago. He came to Canada at 18, earned a computer degree from Montreal’s Concordia University. About 20 years ago, he retired from a successful career
as a software engineer. Some of his work was related to space exploration.
But he wanted to go higher, to the heavens. So he devoted himself to Buddhism. It is more a way of living than a religion. Peace of mind can be yours.
The factory that became a temple is old. Kraft Containers opened this vast plant in 1936. Later known as Consolidated-Bathurst, it could turn out 37 kilometres of corrugated cardboard in an eighthour shift.
They shut it down in 1983. The building was empty when the Buddhist Association of Canada came by in the late 1990s. The sprawling mother temple in Toronto — which clearly isn’t strapped for cash — was in expansion mode. They decided to build a showpiece in Niagara Falls, right on River Road. It’s an attraction that draws tour buses to the door.
In Hamilton, the Buddhists bought the old container building for about $3 million. Mark, our accommodating guide, explains it was important to make the factory look like a temple. So in 2002 they spent $600,000 for a new facade, with tall pillars, arched doors, and two lions on guard. (They look identical, but careful observers will note that one is definitely a male.)
They spent $2 million on new roofing. Add in improvements like a full commercial kitchen and a large cedar-lined meditation room, and total investment in the property approaches $10 million.
Visitors step into a canary-yellow lobby, with statues and flowers and incense. Beyond that, through a series of doors, are dimlit caverns — each the size of a cathedral.
In the Hall of the Disciples, there are 500 statues. Each is different, each weighs hundreds of pounds, put in place with a forklift. Another room, bigger yet, has 900 statues.
There are large and intricate statues of Buddha. One, made of wood, has a thousand eyes, a thousand hands. The eyes to see suffering, the hands to help it.
“We see Buddha as a teacher,” Mark says. “We don’t see him as a god.”
Throughout these spaces, soft chanting is heard. But it comes from speakers.
And now, a hard truth. This enormous kingdom has nearly no subjects.
There is one service a week, at 10 o’clock on Saturday mornings. It’s in Chinese, but open to all. Some days there are 20 people here. Other Saturdays, less than half that. The congregation is no larger now than when the building opened some 20 years ago.
And the temple is regularly under siege. The steel doors have been reinforced, but vandals still break in, smash windows, damage walls.
All that money spent to plant the flag. Was this a giant mistake?
“We never feel that way in Buddhism,” Mark says. “We just put in the effort and we never question the result …
“We needed to refurbish this building for the people of Hamilton. This is not just for us. It’s available, it’s waiting. Sometimes the next level is very hard.”
Ging Mark with statues of some of Buddha’s 500 disciples at the Fah Hoy Buddhist Temple, just south of Barton and east of Gage.
Ging Mark, the lone resident at the Fah Hoy Buddhist Temple, in a meditative pose with statues of Buddha’s disciples.
“We needed to refurbish this building for the people of Hamilton,” says Ging Mark, left.
A shrine at the back of the temple.
The Kraft Container plant opened in 1936 at what is now the temple site. It later became Consolidated-Bathurst.