History of Vancouver Temple
By Jaya Govinda dasa
It was exactly 20 years ago on Janmastami in 1983 that we officially opened our big “new” temple in Burnaby.
It was a grand celebration. A then record number of at least 600 to 700 guests attended.
Of course the opening of the new temple wasn’t the beginning of the Hare Krishna movement in Vancouver. In fact it was as early as 1967, less than a year after the Hare Krishna movement was founded in New York in July of 1966, that His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada began corresponding with a Mr. S.B. Renovich of Burnaby.
On June 9 1967 Srila Prabhupada wrote. “I wish to open a similar branch in Vancouver with your cooperation. If you are serious about it, then you arrange for our reception, and I may go there with some of my disciples.”
Although nothing solid immediately developed from that correspondence, Srila Prabhupada’s merciful glance had now fallen on Vancouver. He again indicated that he was prepared to come here himself as he wrote in another letter to one of his disciples in 1968: “After consultation with Mr. Renovich, and then I shall prepare myself to go to Vancouver.”
Although Srila Prabhupada never actually visited any of his centers in Vancouver, he did set his lotus feet on Vancouver soil while in transit landing at the Vancouver Airport. On September 4th. 1968 Srila Prabhupada wrote from Montreal to a young disciple named Ananda Dasa: “I shall proceed to Seattle and from Seattle, I may go to Vancouver.” Srila Prabhupada did land at the airport where Ananda who briefly met him there garlanded him. His landing in Vancouver was also confirmed in a later letter in Oct 1969. “I passed through Vancouver while coming from Seattle to Montreal, but I never saw the city.”
In those early years many centers only had a few devotees so Seattle and Vancouver used to join up occasionally to hold Harinama Sankirtan together. On August 16th 1968 Srila Prabhupada wrote to Upendra in Seattle: “I am glad to learn that your center and the Vancouver Center are cooperating together to propagate this movement. Your idea of joining together on Samkirtan once in a month for large scale samkirtan Party is nice, and you may do it conveniently.” On December 12th 1968 Srila Prabhupada wrote to Ananda: “I have heard from Upendra that you have had some success in arranging for a temple in Vancouver. This is most encouraging news.” And again on December 17th he wrote: “I am glad that you have already started a center in small scale and please try to improve it as far as possible.”
Unfortunately things didn’t go so smoothly and a few months later on May 25th 1969 Prabhupada showed his concern: “I have learned from Mandali Bhadra and Vrindavaneshvari that you have been disturbed in your center by some rascal boys, and now you are living with Mandali Bhadra. Would you like to close the Vancouver center or are you finding out some better place?” On June 8 1969 Srila Prabhupada appreciates the determination to keep Vancouver alive: “I am very glad to receive your letter and I have noted the new address. I am very glad that you have already paid for the place for one month’s rent.”
This small center was in the industrial area of East Vancouver at 260 Raymur Street. It was here that Krishna Consciousness got its foothold in Vancouver. On October 16th, 1969, Srila Prabhupada again acknowledges the efforts of the few Vancouver devotees in a letter to Chidananda dasa: “I am so glad to read that you have got a nice place for starting our temple. I do no know what is the length and breadth of the space.” Again he writes on November 11 of the same year: “It is very much pleasing to know that Vancouver center is improving daily.”
Srila Prabhupada's desire to come to Vancouver was again expressed in yet another letter and he even had a vision to have Radha Krishna Deities installed here. “Just make your center more established, and when you are prepared to install Deities in a nice place, certainly I shall go. I have never seen Vancouver, and from Los Angeles it is not very far away. So let us hope for that future date.”
The early years of trying to establish Krishna Consciousness in Vancouver were very difficult. The devotees met all kinds of opposition. At one point it seemed that everyone from irate landlords to antagonistic citizens were opposed to the “Hare Krishnas.” The police had even arrested the devotees while performing the age-old process of congregational chanting the holy names of the Lord in public. They were accused of creating a nuisance in public. This wasn’t uncommon either. In the Vancouver Sun, Oct. 16th, 1976, the following article appeared. “Nine members of the Hare Krishna sect will go on trial Dec.1st. charged with creating a public disturbance by singing and dancing in Stanley Park.” When the news appeared in the local papers, a few sympathetic Hindus wrote in defense of this injustice but is was a kind Jewish lawyer freely volunteering his services to defend this religious rights issue who actually won the case, with the help of Lord Krishna of course. The doors were officially opened and the performance of street Harinama Sankirtan continued on the streets of Vancouver.
With the increased street chanting more devotees began joining and it wasn’t too long after that the devotees outgrew their humble center on Raymur Street and had to find a new place for their temple. A large house on West 16th Ave. that was up for rent proved to be a suitable place for Krishna Consciousness to expand even further in Vancouver.
It was here that Their Lordships Sri Sri Radha Madana Mohan were installed on August 17th, 1974, and the following letter from Srila Prabhupada was sent to the then temple president Bahudak das written on September 4 of the same year: “I beg to acknowledge receipt of your invitation for August 17th, 1974, to attend the installation of Radha Krishna in your temple.” “So I will be glad to know how you have installed them in your temple.”
A few months after this Their Lordships went with some devotees to a newly acquired farm in Bridesville. On December 15th, 1974, Prabhupada acknowledges the acquisition of this new farm. He even suggested that it be called New Gokula despite the devotee’s own choice of name. “I am very glad to hear about your new farm ashram there.” “Why don’t you call it New Gokula instead of New Mayapur. I think that is better.” It was also here that Srila Prabhupada himself gave Their Lordships Their name. In a letter sent on December 19th, 1974: “The pictures of your newly installed Deities are very nice. And you can name them Sri Sri Radha-Madana Mohan.”
Once again Radha Madana Mohan came back to the temple on West 16th, where They inspired many more new devotees to fully take up the mission of Krishna Consciousness.
In 1978, with the help of some of our growing Indian Hindu congregation a large property in what then seemed to be way out in the country on Marine Drive in Burnaby was purchased. Once again Sri Sri Radha Madana Mohan took up a new residence there in a small building transformed into a beautiful temple. The original name of New Gokula from the Bridesville farm was transferred there. It was shortly after, that the construction on the proposed new temple began. Then on Janmastami 1983, Sri Sri Radha Madana Mohan were installed in Their new temple building.
Since that first official Janmastami with the newly built temple twenty years earlier, by the grace of Their Lordships, Krishna Consciousness is still growing. Our Janmastami festival especially draws incredible numbers of guests estimated at more than ten times more than when we opened that temple. The beautiful “new” temple isn’t quite so new as it was then or is it quite big enough to serve our present needs any longer.
Srila Prabhupada all along had a vision for Krishna Consciousness for his Vancouver center. What his vision is for the immediate future may not be revealed to us at present but I am confident that it is something extraordinary.
On this 20th anniversary of the opening of our Sri Sri Radha Madana Mohan temple, I would like to have every one of you to consider the vision of what the future holds for our worshipable Lordships Sri Sri Radha Madan Mohan and Krishna Consciousness in Vancouver. Sri Sri Radha Madana Mohan Ki Jaya.
Your servant in Lord Krishna’s service,
Jaya Govinda dasa