History of the Baha’i Community of Canada and a Canadian Connection to the Faith
The Baha’i Community of Canada
dates from 1898 when Edith Magee, a youth from London, Ont., became the
first member of the Baha’i Faith living in Canada. In 1902 the first
Baha’i group was formed by May and William Sutherland Maxwell in
William Sutherland Maxwell (1874-1952) was a well-known Canadian
architect. He designed such Canadian landmarks as the Château Frontenac
Tower in Quebec City, the Legislative Assembly Building in Regina, and
the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal. In the Baha’i world, he’s known
for his design of the well-known Baha’i shrine that graces Mount Carmel
in Haifa, Israel.
His wife, May Maxwell, was an early Western Baha’i when she met her
husband in Paris in the 1890s.
In 1912, the small band of believers that formed around the Maxwells
had the honour of receiving ‘Abdu’l-Baha, the son and appointed
successor of the founder of the faith, Baha’u’llah, during his tour of
North America. ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s speeches in Montreal attracted widespread
attention from the press and the public. The Maxwell home where he
stayed is today the only Baha’i shrine in the Western hemisphere.
As a result of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s visit, Canada came to merit a mention in
a Baha’i sacred text: “The future of Canada, whether from a material or
is very great,” ‘Abdu’l-Baha wrote in a work called Tablets of the
Following ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s visit to Canada, small Baha’i communities took
root in major urban centres and then in towns and villages throughout
the country. Today, there are over 260 Baha’i communities in all parts
of Canada, with elected administrative institutions called Local
Spiritual Assemblies. Baha’is live in 1,200 localities in Canada.
The Canadian Encyclopedia notes that some 35 of the faith’s elected
Local Spiritual Assemblies are on Native reserves, and others, with
Inuit members, are in remote Arctic centres.
More than 15% of Canadian Baha’is come from an aboriginal background. A
comparable segment of the community are first or second-generation
immigrants. The community functions bilingually with its French/English
monthly newsletter and national meetings that operate in both official
languages. This cohesion and unity among the great cultural streams
that make up Canada is a conscious and much prized feature of Canadian
Baha’i community life.
Canada’s Parliament was the first sovereign legislature to formally
recognize the faith by incorporating its governing institution, the
National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Canada, by a special Act
of Parliament in 1949, one year after the formation of that national
In 1937, the Maxwells’ daughter, Mary, (1910-2000), married the head of
the Baha’i Faith, Shoghi Effendi. After the passing of Shoghi Effendi
in 1957, Mary Maxwell, or Amatu’l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum, as she is known
in the faith, wrote letters and books, wrote and directed two major
film documentaries, and contributed to the consolidation and growth of
Earlier in the 20th century, the French-Canadian architect Louis
(1856-1930) designed the “Mother Temple of the West,” the
Baha’i House of Worship, now protected as an American historical site,
in Wilmette, Ill., just north of Chicago.
The remarkable architectural contribution of Canadian Baha’is continued
in the last decades of the 20th century when Hossein Amanat, a
Vancouver architect, designed the seat of the Universal House of
at the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa, Israel, along with several
of the other principal administrative buildings there, as well as the
South Pacific Baha’i House of Worship in Samoa.
Canadian Fariborz Sahba
managed the enormous construction project
extended and completed the Baha’i World Centre complex, designing the
magnificent garden terraces that cascade down the side of Mount Carmel.
Sahba had previously designed the famous “Lotus Temple,” the Baha’i
House of Worship in New Delhi, India, reported to be the most visited
building in the world.
As of this writing, work is proceeding on a House of Worship in Chile,
which will serve as the “Mother Temple” in South America. The architect
is another Canadian Baha’i, Siamak Hariri of Toronto.
The Baha’i National Centre is located in Markham, Ont., a suburb of
Toronto. Developments in recent years in Canada include the operation
of the Maxwell International Baha’i School on Vancouver Island, the
opening of the Office of Governmental Relations in Ottawa, which is
housed at the Centre for Baha’i Studies on the University of Ottawa
campus, the conferences and publications of the Association for
Baha’i Studies, annual conferences of the Baha’i Medical Association of
Canada, and the opening of the Baha’i Office for the Advancement of
Women in Quebec City.
Canada has done much to assist the Baha’i community, notably by
welcoming and helping to settle several thousand Baha’i refugees
following the 1979 revolution in Iran, which brought to power a
fundamentalist Islamic regime that turned with ferocity on the Baha’i
community, Iran’s largest religious minority.
Canada’s government has continued to play a leading role in calling the
world’s attention to the plight of the Baha’is, specifically by
co-sponsoring resolutions at the United Nations Commission on Human
Rights and the UN General Assembly for more than 12 consecutive years.
Canada’s international development agency, CIDA, has worked closely
with the Baha’i Community of Canada on international development
projects in India, Central and South America, and several countries in