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Calgary Buddhists aim to rebuild century-old centre

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Its roots are tied to some well-wishing community members and fast-selling bento boxes.

Since then, the Calgary Buddhist Temple has flourished amid a rising interest in the religion and other practical uses for the century-old site nestled in the rapidly evolving northeast Calgary community of Bridgeland.

"In the 1970s, when my family came here, there were only 40 families, so not enough for a place like this," recalled Lester Ikuta, chair of the centre's board of directors.

But it was the vision of his father, the late Susumu Ikuta, that is largely credited with bringing the centre to fruition. Susumu founded the Edo Japan chain of eateries, which remain popular to this day. In 1981, he used the profits of tasty teriyaki chicken and yakisoba noodles to help fund the purchase of the Croatian Catholic Church, located along 6 Street NE. The building's history dates back to at least the early 1920s.

The Calgary Buddhist Centre was born.

Today even its most ardent supporters concede the site lacks any recognizable external features and could use an update on its design — Sensei James Martin noted with a chuckle during a walk-through Sunday that many newcomers question why the windows are stylized in the Christian symbol of the cross.

Plans are afoot for a major rebuild of the site, with a cost of nearly $2 million. A sleek exterior design and lighting as well as more established gathering places for functions, funerals and the like are among the features.

The centre's permanent congregation of about 100 members is preparing to pack away many delicate and sacred objects come mid-month and could return to a renewed centre by the end of the year.

To date, the centre's board has raised $1.3 million through local donations and those from other Buddhist hotspots around Canada.

The hope is the new centre will be fully open and functional in time for Calgary to host the World Buddhist Women's Convention, which will draw thousands, next year.

"The big thing for us making sure that we have a facility that's not just for us, the Japanese and the Buddhists, but the larger community," said Rod Burylo, vice-chair of the centre's board. "It's an amazing location — and it (the design) should say that."

More information on the Calgary Buddhist Temple's capital campaign, can be found at calgary-buddhist.ab.ca.

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