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Even in sculpture, Wong Ling Goon looks menacing, as one would duly expect from the guardian of the Tao.

That said, this is Canada, so even the protector of the natural order of things will need some protection before the snow flies.

"We'll put doors on for winter," Mary Biddulph says, pointing to the decorative shelter around the ornate statue, whose assignment is about to begin in earnest: to guard a stunning new Taoist temple in a less-than-likely location, on the Niagara Escarpment northeast of Orangeville, Ont.

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Next Saturday, 2,000 of the committed and the curious from more than 30 countries are expected for the grand opening of the Fung Loy Kok Three Religions Temple. The authentic Chinese-style pagoda, which cost $13-million and took 18 months to build, is nestled amid a rolling, rural retreat that the Toronto-based International Taoist Tai Chi Society opened in 1984.

The event - a kind of mini-Woodstock of Eastern philosophy, with Confucius, Buddha and Lao Tzu (the father of Taoism) as headliners - will draw clerics from Hong Kong, Taiwan, mainland China, Macao and Singapore, as well as Taoist Tai Chi Society members from North America, Latin America, the United Kingdom, Central Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

Some will sleep in tents, RVs and local inns, while the VIPs (chiefly, the priests from Hong Kong) will bed down in a spiffy new wing of rooms otherwise used by society members who come to the retreat year-round for physical and spiritual rejuvenation.

"This is rare and unique in North America," says Ms. Biddulph, assistant general manager of the 42-hectare retreat, officially called the International Taoist Tai Chi Centre.

For that, attendees will have the society's founder, the late Master Moy Lin-shin, to thank.

Chinese-born Mr. Moy studied as a Taoist monk in Hong Kong before he moved to Canada, settled in Toronto and began teaching martial arts in 1970, as interest in kung fu swept the West. His main interest, though, was in the soft martial arts, specifically tai chi, to promote health.

Starting in a small space on Hagerman Street, behind city hall, Mr. Moy began to teach his first Toronto students Taoist Tai Chi, his own (and trademarked) variation on the traditional form. By the time he died in 1998, its popularity had spread throughout the West, and the international society now boasts 40,000 members.

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While he was serious about his art, Mr. Moy was easygoing about its religious aspects when welcoming new followers, says Judy Millen, one of his earliest students and now a director with the international society.

"I was raised Christian but I belong to a Jewish family now," she says, typifying many society members who maintain links to their traditional Western faiths as they explore a form of Taoism that is itself inclusive, incorporating Confucianism and Buddhism (hence the Three Religions Temple).

Mr. Moy also stressed focused physical action, including mundane chores, over high-minded talk.

Ms. Biddulph, a 41-year-old registered nurse from Barrie, Ont., who got into tai chi to relieve stress and spinal pain 11 years ago, says she expected a lot of discussion of Eastern philosophy on her first visit to the retreat centre. Instead, "when I got here and was told to go and wash the dishes and clean the toilets. That was so good," she says. "It was very practical, very grounded and about action."

As for the tenets of Taoism, she has learned plenty in her past two years as a full-time staff member at the retreat, as crates from China continually arrived bearing the elaborate deity figurines and camphor-wood furniture that grace the new temple and associated buildings. She's still learning, but as Mr. Moy taught her, "it's about what's in your heart; it's not about protocol, and there are no mistakes."

The predominance of white folk around the compound sometimes leaves Asian visitors quizzical; members of Toronto's growing Chinese immigrant community have been visiting the retreat in increasing numbers, since its offerings are so rarely found on this side of the globe. (The centre, similar to ones found in Asia, incorporates a health-recovery program, a cemetery and columbarium for cremated remains, and there are plans for a long-term care facility, on another site, for seniors).

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"The Chinese people are amazed - how could all these white people do this?" says Marsha Eberhardt, president of the Fung Loy Kok Institute of Taoism, a sister organization, also founded by Mr. Moy, that works hand-in-glove with the Taoist Tai Chi society's Canadian operation.

Area residents have also taken increasing interest since the retreat opened in 1984. High school students from Orangeville routinely tour the facility for world religions classes, and the curious often wander in for a look.

Ms. Biddulph hopes for a similar outcome for next Saturday's extravaganza, which will begin at 8:30 a.m. with an awareness event and parade in Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto, before buses leave for the Orangeville area just after noon. Of the 2,000 attendees, Ms. Biddulph hopes about 500 will be first-timers checking out the place, "but I'm just guessing," she says.

"Canadians, you know, we're very nice and very tolerant," she says. "The curiosity has been, like, 'Wow.' "

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