There are approximately eight million followers of the Jain religion worldwide – and close to 6,000 of them in Toronto – but it’s part of their ethos to keep a low profile.
Now that’s about to change: For the first time, this community will have their own traditional temple in the city. And at 48,000 square feet, it will be hard to miss.
“It will become another landmark and … tourist attraction,” said Milan Shah, one of the leaders of the local Jain community. On behalf of the Jain Society of Toronto, he teamed up with real-estate developer Moti Champsee to negotiate a $4.8-million deal with the Greek community in June to buy their partially finished Hellenic Cultural Centre on Ellesmere Road and Warden Avenue in Scarborough.
“They had their building [on the market] for over a year and they were asking for $6-million for it,” said Mr. Champsee. “We happened to be there at the right time.”
The new facility will be the first in the city to be furbished as a temple from the outside, in the ornate style of traditional Jain architecture. (Currently, Jains worship in one of two converted buildings in Etobicoke – a former Anglican church on Rosemeade Avenue, or the Sri Jain Mandir, a converted home on Park Lawn Road.) Once it is completed, in 2016, it will be the largest Jain temple in North America.
Jainism, which has its roots in India, is one of the oldest religions in the world; its primary creed is one of non-violence. One of the temple’s goals will be to attract young Jains, many of whom are put off by complicated rituals of the religion, which are in Sanskrit and Hindi.“We continuously have an influx of new Jain families coming to Toronto from India,” Mr. Champsee said.
“Many parents take a lot of interest in making sure that the youths take part in religious activities,” he added. “[But] we have to change our ways in order to attract more youth to our temples.”
The new temple will have a banquet hall, classrooms, computer rooms and sports complex. Its construction will take time, Mr. Shah explained, because the architectural designs have just been completed in India. Once they’ve been approved by the city, artisans from the western state of Gujarat will hand-carve every part of the temple. “They will then be brought to Toronto and assembled at the temple site,” Mr. Shah said. The new designs will be incorporated into the pre-existing structure.
The Jain Society had been looking for years for a space to build their first traditional temple – they looked at several properties but couldn’t find one in the right location that was big enough.
Meanwhile, the Greek Community of Toronto was trying to sell their building. In 2006, they received $2-million in support from the provincial government for the Hellenic centre, but it was put on the block when the funds needed to finish its construction dried up. “We all know 2008, 2009 were bad years for the economy. And so donations stopped coming,” explained Nikonas Georgakopoulos, past president of the Greek Community of Toronto.
But the building was zoned by the city as a cultural centre, so it couldn’t be sold for commercial purposes. For Mr. Shah and Mr. Champsee, it was a perfect opportunity.
With overwhelming support from the community, it only took a few weeks to raise the funds, which they paid in cash to the Greek society.
The Toronto Jain community continues to raise funds by appealing to Jain families one by one. And, says Mr. Champsee, they are getting a great response. They plan to sell their temple building on Rosemeade Avenue once the cultural centre component of the temple is completed next year. The cost of completing two phases of the Jain temple will be close to $10-million. The society hopes to get $2-million for the temple on Rosemeade Avenue, and they have community pledges for $450,000.
Based on the community response, Mr. Shah is confident they will raise the rest over the next few years.
“If the [pace] is maintained – as we witnessed recently when we bought this Greek centre – we should be able to raise the $2.5-million [balance],” Mr. Shah said. “And we have plenty of time on hand.”