The Great Wisdom Buddhist Institute (GWBI) in the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island (PEI) received official approval on 14 June to build a large dormitory building. Representatives from the town council of Three Rivers, which oversees the community of Brudenell where GWBI is located, voted unanimously to approve the building permit. The decision follows years of planning, sporadic opposition from the local community, and a denied application last fall.*
The new dorm will have 175 beds to permanently house a growing population of nuns at the institute. At last count, there were approximately 500 GWBI nuns living on PEI, but many have lived outside of the Brudenell community due to a lack of onsite living facilities. The Buddhists plan to eventually have some 1,400 nuns living on its 120-hectare monastery.
The newly approved construction permit allows for a two-story building with a basement, approximately 1,300 square meters in size at a cost of some C$8 million (US$6.5 million). The building will provide housing as well as classrooms, washrooms, laundry facilities, a kitchen, and dining areas.
Ven. Yvonne Tsai of GWBI said that the nuns were grateful for the news: “It was a great learning journey for all of us. It reminded us how important communication is and then how important it is to work with the local community hand in hand.” (CBC News)
Brudenell resident Rhonda MacLean attended the meeting this week to show support for the project. She said that GWBI’s development had gone smoothly since the mid-2010s and had undergone several public consultations.
“I guess things changed when everything was amalgamated (including Brudenell),” she said. “People that didn’t really know anything about it started taking notice and thinking of reasons why it shouldn’t happen.” (SaltWire)
Three Rivers was incorporated in September 2018, amalgamating two towns and five rural municipalities. The seven areas together have a combined population of 4,519, according to a 2016 census, down from 4,707 in 2011.
When their initial application failed in a seven to three vote in September last year, the nuns vowed to initiate dialogue with local residents to build greater trust and mutual understanding. This week, their work paid off.
When the nuns found out that residents were worried about being pushed out of the community by the growing numbers of Buddhists and their supporters, they responded by agreeing to put houses already purchased back up for sale.
Three Rivers mayor Ed MacAulay had conversations with residents and the nuns, who were receptive to the concerns of the people in the area about taking up too much of the existing housing.
“The nuns said, ‘Well we don’t want that, we don’t want them to think we’re taking their homes and so on, so we will put them back on the market and do whatever it takes,’” MacAulay said. “So they were very conciliatory and wanted to make sure the local people were not being jeopardized by the parents of the nuns because the nuns, this is their home and they really love it here. And just like any parents, [they] want to see their children doing well.” (CBC News)
Ven. Tsai said that the new residence would be just one part of a long-term plan to house some 1,400 nuns to study Buddhism. Further phases of the project could include public gardens and a playground for children in the community.
“We hope that we are not just building our own home. We hope that we can have some of our areas open to the public and right now we’re still discussing with our neighbours as to what they would like to see happening in the community.” (CBC News)
* Great Wisdom Buddhist Institute on Prince Edward Island, Canada, Faces Local Opposition (Buddhistdoor Global)
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