Thirty students departed the Great Wisdom Buddhist Institute (GWBI), in the community of Brudenell in the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island, in January after local opposition brought to a halt plans to build residence halls for them. The students, aged 14–17, returned to their homes in Taiwan and the United States.
The opposition came to a head in September last year when the town council of Three Rivers voted seven to three against issuing a permit for the new building.* Upon hearing the news, many of the young students took it as a rejection of them personally.
“We kind of had to assure them,” Venerable Yvonne, one of GWBI’s resident nuns, explained. “At first they were a little worried. ‘Are we not accepted here? Is it because of us?’ No, no, no, no.” (CBC)
Leading up to last September’s town vote, residents of the area expressed a number of concerns. One concern was around home prices—as Buddhist laity and family members have moved to the area, some were worried it would make the area unaffordable for existing local residents and their families. Another concern was for the character of the rural community. The town of Three Rivers was only established in 2018, combining seven adjecent municipalities all home to fewer than 5,000 residents, according to recent census data.
Another nun, Ven. Sabrina, noted that with the younger students gone, the institute had become much quieter: “They had so much fun throwing snow, they were very energized, and so we were all very fond of them, just because they were so boisterous,” she said. “Now that they’re gone, the monastery has been very quiet, very peaceful, but at the same time the silence kind of has like a . . . we all miss them.” (CBC)
Due to the pandemic, the institute has not been able to hold retreats or host visitors as it used to. Prince Edward Island currently requires non-residents visiting the province to apply for approval in advance of their travel. Like many Buddhist organizations around the world, they have offered online mindfulness workshops and plan to hold more in the year ahead.
The nuns of GWBI could have appealed the council’s decision, and some members of the local community urged them to do so. Nonetheless, they decided against further action. Their goal, instead, will be to build relationships and further win the trust of the community.
“We want the community to say yes because they want this to happen. We don’t want to force them to accept us here,” Ven. Yvonne said. “And we think the responsibility is ours. We should be more transparent.” (CBC)
Until then, construction on the planned residence hall is at a standstill. In all, they plan to have more than 18,500 square meters of buildings capable of housing up to 1,400 Buddhist nuns on 121 hectares of land. While other buildings were not included in the rejected permit, the residence hall was seen as the first step in their expansion process.
“The reason we wanted to build that facility is because one of our most important missions is we want to make sure women have the same opportunity to learn like men, especially learning Buddhism,” said Ven. Yvonne. “We want to build a facility to provide a better environment for females.”
* Great Wisdom Buddhist Institute on Prince Edward Island, Canada, Faces Local Opposition (Buddhistdoor Global)