Skip to main content
part ii

Lama Pema Tsewang Vajra, Master at Thrangu Monastery in Richmond, B.C.JOHN LEHMANN

Editor's Note: This is the second part of the Future of Faith series.

If there are many paths to salvation, British Columbia's No. 5 Road can be seen as an open-air guide book.

The highway - which runs in a straight line through the city of Richmond, south of Vancouver - is often referred to as the Highway to Heaven, courtesy of more than 20 places of worship that line part of the thoroughfare.

Sikh, Muslim and Hindu structures share the road. So does the Thrangu Monastery, which opened in July and describes itself as the first traditional Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the Pacific Northwest.

The area's attraction for religious groups reflects not a quest for holy ground, but local zoning and immigration trends.

Twenty years ago, Richmond council opened up farmland along the No. 5 road corridor to allow groups to build churches, schools or other buildings for community use. The idea was to attract local churches that were outgrowing their quarters.

Religious groups started snapping up properties along the highway, drawn by relatively inexpensive land prices and the opportunity to build bigger buildings than could be squeezed in to urban settings.

During those two decades, immigrants flocked to Richmond, driving trends in everything from restaurants to real estate and places of worship. Today, more than 60 per cent of the city's roughly 190,000 residents are of Chinese or South Asian origin.

The city's changing character is reflected in new facilities on the strip, such as the Thrangu Monastery, and expansion plans of an elder in the group.

The Ling Yen Mountain Temple - a Buddhist temple operating on No. 5 Road since 1999 - says it needs to expand to keep up with its growing congregation. It has filed expansion plans with the city that include a 15-storey temple and nine other proposed buildings.

The proposal - which has drawn barbs as a "Buddha Disneyland" that is too big for the neighbourhood - is before the council.

Meanwhile, the prayers, meditation, blessings, classes, banquets and celebrations continue, with most passers-by having only a vague idea of the breadth of beliefs and cultures represented on the thoroughfare.

Editor's Note: Globe photographer John Lehmann asked representatives from several religious groups that have facilities on No. 5 road about the keys to their faith and the biggest stereotypes that they face. His photos and their answers can be found here.