When the Chinese Taoism Kuan Kung Association planted its roots in the Lower Mainland in 1995, it started a spiritual journey that culminates with the grand opening of the Tian Jin Temple at 3426 Smith Ave. on Saturday, April 21.
The building, formerly the St. John the Divine Anglican Church, has a history going back many years and the association is building on that history after buying the building in October 2010.
Jeff Yu is a volunteer and operations coordinator for the temple.
He said the work on the building has taken more money than originally budgeted, but the finished product is well worth the expense.
"We originally thought we could get everything done for about $200,000," said Yu, whose day job is as an assistant manager for a building maintenance company. "I haven't seen the final figures yet, but it will be around $600,000 when we add everything up. ... All of that money was provided by private donors and we have received a lot of support from our members."
The association, which includes people from Taiwan and Hong Kong, along with members from Latin America and locally, has already held some Chinese New Year and Lantern Festival celebrations at the temple earlier this year.
The association has its roots in Taiwan and it has the goal of achieving harmony and personal well-being through Taoist principles and Kuan Kung's spirit and morality.
The congregation numbers approximately 150, and while work was being done on their temple, they had to meet at private residences to pray and worship together.
April's grand opening will be a chance to show off to the neighbourhood what work has been put into the facility, believed to be the first Taoist Kuan-Kung temple established in Canada.
The biggest differences are immediately apparent when you enter the building.
At the front is a dome altar, complete with a sky, sun and moon motif that actually glows in the dark.
The dome altar rises up more than 35 feet and features hidden vents that easily removes the after-effects of the incense that often burns in the building.
Yu said he personally did some of the painting on the highest point and he's happy to show off the Chinese lion and ribbon decoration that frames the sky motif.
With the sun, moon and stars all represented on the mural, the stars were designed to shine or glow in the dark when the lights are turned off.
Master Millie Chen presides over services at the temple and she couldn't be more proud of the facility.
"This is just the beginning," said Chen. "Our road has been long and it's taken us a long time to get to this point."
"We're a 20-year overnight sensation," joked Yu, who said the biggest challenge was to create a traditional temple with a modern aesthetic.
The architects used a lot of natural woods and glass - especially on the exterior, where the new building bears little resemblance to the former Anglican church.
"We also wanted to make sure we continued with the lineage of the Anglican church," said Yu, who said much of the wood was reclaimed and repurposed in the new facility.
Although the temple didn't need the old organ that was part of the Anglican church, it made sure it was saved and donated to another church that could use it.
At the altar is a large statue of Kuan Kung, a God who represents loyalty and benevolence.
At the April 21 opening ceremony, statues of other Gods will be moved to the altar.
"Every statue has a history and represents a virtue," said Yu, who added that the faces of the statues are currently covered and will remain so until the opening ceremony, when the blindfolds will be taken off.
Also of note in the temple are its bell and ceremonial drum, whose sounds echo throughout the building whenever they are in use.
"We built this to create a theatre effect," said Yu. "With the dome in the front and how we've designed the place, sound really echoes in here."
To show off the new facility, the association is hosting the Tian Jin Cultural Celebration Festival on the weekend of April 21 and 22.
The grand opening ceremony is at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 21, with two full days of activities going from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on both April 21 and 22.
The activities will be held based on a MiaoHui, or temple fair, style.
Temple fairs are traditional Chinese cultural gatherings adjacent to the temple. The festival, in its first year, received some grant funding and is committed to promoting the awareness of traditional Chinese culture and enhancing local cultural exchange.
The dance, music, art, and food of diverse cultures will be showcased for visitors in all ages.
"We are inviting the public to come and see this new building," said Yu. "We want to be a place where people can exchange cultures and learn about different cultures. We also want to be a community resource that shows the best of the traditional and the modern."
The temple is located at 3426 Smith Ave. For more info, go to www.tianjintemple.org.