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Joyful giant

By Nancy Fornasiero

Happy Buddha. Laughing Buddha. Fat Buddha. Budai, Pu-Tai or Maitreya. He goes by many names, but one thing’s for certain: you can’t miss him. This 90-tonne, 13-metre-tall statue — built in China, disassembled, shipped to Canada and then rebuilt — is one of the earliest structures erected at the Wutai Shan Buddhist Garden in Kawartha Lakes, Ont. And the garden is merely the first phase of an ambitious project spearheaded by the Buddhist Association of Canada: the largest Buddhist retreat outside China.

Meditation mecca

Located on a 700-hectare parcel of land near Peterborough, Ont., the pilgrimage site is a work in progress. When completed, it will boast four holy temples and tranquil gardens connected by a 40-kilometre path for walking meditation. Diane Chen, the development manager, says that the temples will replicate those atop China’s four sacred mountains of Buddhism, which are difficult to fully experience since they’re located far away from each other.

The Laughing Buddha towers over a June consecration ceremony at the Wutai Shan Buddhist Garden in Kawartha Lakes, Ont. Photo by Nancy Fornasiero
The Laughing Buddha towers over a June consecration ceremony at the Wutai Shan Buddhist Garden in Kawartha Lakes, Ont. Photo by Nancy Fornasiero

A labour of love

Funded by donations, the $80-million Canadian site will feature all four temples on one property, making them easier to access for pilgrims with physical limitations and time constraints. Since every piece of sculpture and pillar is being shipped by boat from China and then reassembled, completion of the site is decades away. In addition, the buildings are erected the traditional way using interlocking rosewood brackets — no nails or adhesives. Chen anticipates at least 45,000 annual visitors, who will meditate while moving from one temple to the next. “This site is for everyone, everywhere,” she emphasizes, welcoming “people from all different faiths and cultures.”


Delegates from China, Canada and the United States gathered in June for the consecration of the massive Buddha — one of several events celebrating a half-century of Chinese Buddhism in Canada. (The Buddhist Association of Canada was founded in 1967.) Dozens of official guests, including venerable monks in gold and orange robes, filed over a red-carpeted promenade and ascended the platform supporting the statue. Hundreds of onlookers, both Buddhists and curious local residents, observed the ceremony from below. This particular Buddha, the Maitreya, was chosen as the first to grace the holy site since he represents joy, love and compassion. 

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