Tam Kung Temple is looking at an estimated $600,000 in repairs if it wants to remain Canada’s oldest Chinese temple.
Located in the heart of Canada’s oldest Chinatown on Government Street in Victoria, the building was first constructed in 1912 after the previous building was engulfed by a fire in 1911. The first temple was constructed back in 1876.
Victoria Heritage Trust Foundation is supporting the temple owner, Yen Wo Society, with $300,000 to cover half of the estimated costs to fix the building completely. The funds will go towards fixing the leaking roof, leaking windows, floors held together by masking tape and other crucial repairs to the building.
“The other half is very needed but at this point in time we can’t take that on as a society,” Jackie Ngai, treasurer of Tam Kung Temple, said.
Society president Nora Butz added “we’re making a plea to anyone who wants to keep this temple alive, so we can preserve it.”
The origins of the 1867 Tam Kung Temple started when founder Ngai Sze brought a statue of the Tam Kung deity to Victoria. He left the Island for the Fraser Valley for the gold rush, but he left the statue in a ravine along Johnson Street for people to visit and worship. When he returned to Victoria years later, he had a dream to build and dedicate a temple to Tam Kung. He purchased a small plot of land, built the temple, and moved the deity statue into its new home.
When the fire broke out in 1911, the statue was rescued unscathed along a few other surviving items. In 1912, a four-storey building was constructed to replace the ruined temple. The new Tam Kung temple was placed on the highest level.
In the 1980s the temple endured another fire but this time the Yen Wo Society was able to keep the building up and the statue survived again.
Yen Wo Society was formed in Victoria in 1905 by Hakka speakers. The Hakka people are a Chinese ethnic group that comes from north China.
The lower levels of the four-storey building were a refuge for Hakka immigrants. Many Hakka people new to the country lived in the building before they could find a permanent home. Currently, some Tam Kung Temple staff live in the building along with one other resident.
The first floor is also home to the Smoking Lily handcrafted goods store.
Today, the temple has many uses.
“Tam Kung Temple is a very special place for a lot of our immigrants that have been here for a long time … although new immigrants are discovering the temple little by little. It’s a place for them to have peace of mind – serenity – for them to be thankful. A place where they pay respects to their ancestors, remember their ancestors and be thankful for what they have,” Ngai said. “Also a place people come to when they have important decisions in their life that they need some guidance on.”
Ngai said many will ask for guidance or direction on a course of action.
Visitors will also come for Chinese New Year, weddings, and other special events.
For more information on the Tam Kung Temple visit tamkungtemple.ca.
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