Bahá'ís of Ottawa come from a variety of backgrounds, brought together
by a common belief in the oneness of humanity and the unity of
religion. We work alongside others to become a force of positive
change, applying insights from the Bahá'í teachings to bring about a
more just, peaceful and unified community.
“You will be
scattered like gems across the country.” Mina Sanaee recalled
Douglas Martin delivering this message to the Baha’i refugees in
Pakistan when he visited them in the early 1980s. Mr Martin was the
Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Canada
at that time and Canada was the first country to open its doors to
Baha’i refugees fleeing violent persecution in Iran. “Each Baha’i [who
left Iran] faced a supremely painful decision [to leave] after
patiently enduring daily acts of violence and injustice.... We were
dispirited,” Ms Sanaee said, but “he encouraged us with this message.”
On September 21st, Ms. Sanaee, Mr. Martin and others gathered at
Carleton University to participate in a a oneday
Symposium on the Iranian Baha’i Refugee Movement to Canada,
19811989. About 100 people attended the event, including academics,
civil servants, students, and community members. The conference was
sponsored by the Baha’i Community of Canada, the Canadian Immigration Historical Society,
University’s Centre for Public History, Migration and Diaspora Studies Initiative,
and Carleton University’s Department of History.
Prof Howard Adelman, a leading scholar in refugee studies, observed
that the Baha’i community in Iran was targeted because they “reflect
the spirit of modernity in their universalism”. Eventually, some 2,300
Baha’is would come to Canada as part of a special program designed by
the Government of Canada during the 1980s, in cooperation with the
National Spiritual Assembly.
Gerry Van Kessel, who was DirectorGeneral of Refugees in the 1980s,
commented that his work on the Baha’i program had been a “career
highlight”. When Douglas Martin approached the government for their
assistance, there was an existing structure to facilitate the
settlement of Baha’is from Iran. However, Van Kessel observed that what
made the program work was the “trust and credibility” developed between
Baha’i representatives and public servants. “That’s how you get
cooperation... and your credibility with us made this work.”
Participants in the conference also heard from the perspective of
refugees and civil servants in the field. Mark Davidson, now
DirectorGeneral at Citizenship and Immigration Canada, was on his
first posting to Islamabad, and he recalled being astounded by the
remote locations to which Baha’is were resettled. More than 100 local
communities as far away as Sandspit, BC, were sponsoring Baha’is.
Afsoon Houshidari was four years old when her family fled Iran, and she
shared her personal anecdotes and recollections of waiting for
resettlement in Karachi and the excitement of preparing for departure
to come to Canada. She only recently discovered that her family’s visas
were signed by her copanelist, Dennis Scown.
The symposium heard about different experiences of Baha’is who came to
Canada at that time, as well as from the perspective of community
members who welcomed the arrival of the refugees. Panelists commented
that the each experience was unique, and many of them involved trauma
and great difficulty. Their resilience was often strengthened by their
Baha’i beliefs and the unique crosscultural connections made with
their coreligionists and other Canadians.
For more information, see the article on the
Baha’i World Service News. Additional pictures and notes have
been posted on the website of the Carleton University Campus Association for
The symposium website now contains videos
of the full proceedings.
On January 17, 2016
Mayor Jim Watson warmly welcomed members of many of Ottawa’s different
faith communities who had gathered at City Hall to celebrate World
Religion Day. “This is the best turnout we’ve ever seen for World
Religion Day,” the Mayor noted, to a crowd of approximately 250.
characterized Ottawa's faith communities by their “many
contributions and service to our community” which were well‐known and
appreciated by city council, several members of which were also in
attendance. The city’s religious communities have always been quick to
to “step up to the plate” for community issues, such as helping welcome
refugees “to our country, to our city and to our neighbourhoods.” This
spirit of community service helped make Ottawa one of the most generous
cities in the country in terms of volunteerism and charitable
donations, he said. This generosity was
evident from “church to church,
mosque to mosque and temple to temple across the city.”
thanked the Baha’i community of Ottawa for organizing
World Religion Day and before making the official declaration, reminded
everyone that the purpose of the event was “to unite everyone, no
matter what their faith or origin and shows us that there are common
foundations of all religions.” World Religion Day, said Mayor Watson,
“promotes harmony, mutual understanding and respect amongst all people
of faith and it sends the message that we can work together to create a
year’s program reflected on on shared values of service and
building bridges between people, especially during times of conflict,
prejudice and strife. The program featured many musical presentations
from different traditions, and was closed by the Baha’i children’s
Religion Day 2016
Photos © Louis Brunet
Ottawa, November 16, 2015
Canadian architect Siamak Hariri spoke to a packed lecture theatre at
the National Gallery of Canada about the creative process behind the
nearly completed Bahá'í Temple of South America. After a brief
introduction to the evolving philosophy of his Toronto firm, Hariri Pontarini Architects, he
shared some of the fascinating design challenges of this project.
Hariri's accessible presentation style captured the imagination of both
the professional architectural community and the members of the general
public who were present that night.
Bahá'í community has constructed a House of Worship or
mašriqul'aḏkār on every
continent except South America. The
Santiago temple will be the eighth
and final continental “mother temple.” The competitive process included
some unusual building specifications, such as a four hundred year
building mandate. The temple also needed to withstand considerable
seismic activity, since it sits on a major fault line running down the
Andes. Hariri's winning bid boldly proposed a temple of glass.
the beginning, their guiding vision for the project was a “temple
of light.” Hariri narrated the winding journey to the final design. A
recurring theme in his talk was Bahá’u’llah’s parable of the mystic
seeker and his troubled quest for his beloved Layli. Hariri described
many design deadends and failed experiments with materials. As with
the story of Layli, intractable problems gave way to
Consistently, they maintained their focus on a vision of
a sacred building of “embodied light."
translucent nature, the other characteristic of the temple is its
dynamic motion. It appears to be twisting around a central
the centre of the ceiling. Hariri spoke of their desire to create a
sense of "movement and stillness coexisting."
design team asked questions like “what would this building feel
like?” They imagined the irregular passage of light that one
experiences sitting under a canopy of trees. They strove to create a
sensation resembling the organic warmth of illuminated alabaster.
Discussing the textures and forms that inspired their design, Hariri
rarely mentioned other buildings. He referred to organic natural shapes
such as eggs, shells and wings. He studied non-architectural cultural
objects: Japanese baskets, billowing sails, canvas tents and the
whirling robes of Sufi dancers.
innovative building techniques required traditional physical models
and cuttingedge 3D rendering software. Their ideal building materials
had to be invented and factories were constructed to produce them for
construction. A steel lattice system of connector rods and irregular
nodes frame the nine wings. These rest on concrete seismic isolation
pads equipped with pendulums that permit each wing to move two feet
during an earthquake. The steel skeleton is clad with a translucent
skin made of three thousand square feet of custom shaped castglass
panels. Portuguese marble provided a warmer texture on the interior,
"like a jacket liner." The interior tracery, made of nickelplated
stainless steel and oak, was inspired by the abstract expressionist “white writing” paintings of Mark Tobey.
explained some fixed design elements found in all Bahá'í Houses
of Worship. They should be welcoming to all, even those with no faith.
Thus, Bahá'í temples have nine doors rather than one. They
are circular and don't resemble churches, mosques or other
forms of religious architecture.
This critically appraised design has
been under construction for several years and is scheduled to open in
2016. For more information and links to the official photo and video
logs of the construction process, click here.