The Temple Bell at Ontario Place

February 13, 2013 at 6:58 am

October 1st 2012 was the 35th anniversary of the Commemorative Centennial Bell in Ontario Place. The temple bell was a gift from Japanese Canadians living in Ontario to the Province in commemoration of the centennial of Japanese settlement in Canada, back in 1977. The provincial government of the day graciously accepted the gift and chose to locate it in the province’s premier park, Ontario Place.

At the inaugural ceremony, the invocation was given by Rev Takamasa Moriki of the Toronto Buddhist Church. Formal presentation of the Bell was made by Mikio Nakamura, president of the Ontario Chapter of the JC Centennial Society. Several hundred Japanese Canadians watched Ontario Lieutenant Governor Pauline McGibbon make the initial official strike. The TBC choral group sang Yube no Uta and odori was performed by the Nikka Festival Dancers composed of dancers from Sakura-kai, Haruyagi-ki and the TBC to mark the occasion. Interestingly, Ontario Premier Bill Davis was in Tokyo, Japan on a trade mission and sent a congratulatory message read by the Hon George McCague, Minister of Government Services.

Cast in Japan of solid bronze by craftsman, the 1200 lb bell was commissioned by the Japan External Trade Organization for its trade exhibit at the CNE in August 1977. At the end of CNE, JETO offered the bell to the Toronto Japanese Canadian Centennial Committee cochaired by Kunio Suyama and Keigi Saisho of Toronto. It was their suggestion to donate the bell to the province as a centennial gift from Japanese Canadians of Ontario which was enthusiastically adopted by the Ontario Chapter of Japanese Canadian Centennial Society. The Ontario Chapter represented 17,000 Japanese Canadians living in Ontario with local committees in Chatham, Hamilton, Kapukasing, Kitchener, London, Ottawa, Peterborough, St Catherines, Thunder Bay, Toronto/GTA, and Windsor. The chapter facilitated the permanent placement of the bell, supported by donations of funds and technical expertise including a striking belfry designed by architect Raymond Moriyama. The bell was chosen as a fitting gift to the province as its distinct deep and clear sound “Go – on” which translates in Japanese as “gratitude, kindness, goodness and benefit” – which Japanese Canadians experienced from Ontarians and indeed reciprocated. Inscribed on the dedication plaque is a haiku by Takeo Nakano: “Kaede no kuni/Nikei shi kagayaku/Hyaku-nen sei” [“In the land of the Maple Leaf, Japanese Canadians proudly celebrate their centennial”]

In Japan, on New Years, the bell is rung 108 times in the Buddhist tradition. The ceremony is called Joya No Kane. It signifies a cleansing of 108 passions to start the new year with a clear mind and body. Why 108? The rationale is as follows – the passions are rooted in six senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and consciousness) multiplied by three, which represents the feelings (pleasant, unpleasant or neutral) associated with the senses producing 18 which in turn is multiplied by two which represents the positive or negative of each of the three feelings) thus producing 36 which in turn is multiplied by three representing the future, present and past finally producing 108 passions.

Since 1977, Japanese Canadians along with other citizens have held special ceremonies at the Bell by ringing in the New Year with a wish for peace and harmony and celebrating Obon, a day of remembrance of ancestors in early July. This latter event was suspended in the mid-90s, but the bell ringing has occurred nearly annually on New Year’s eve except for one year due to a severe ice storm, another due to threats of coyote attack in the park and unfortunately this year 2012 due to the partial closure of Ontario Place. These events were organized by the Toronto Buddhist Church led by Kunio Suyama which had accepted a request from the Centennial Society to ensure that Bell would be a modest but active part of Ontario Place. One of many highlights remembered by Kunio was ringing in the year 2000 where over 200 celebrants held a long rope attached to the bell striker and together rang in the new century.

With the closure of Ontario Place this year due to the revitalization of park, the TBC was initially refused permission to hold the annual New Year’s bell ringing ceremony there. The TBC was also informed that the future of the Bell at the park was uncertain, depending on whether it fit in with the final revitalization plans now being developed. On being informed of this situation, the Toronto Buddhist Church requested the National Association of Japanese Canadians (as the JC Centennial Society had disbanded) to send a letter in late October to the Ontario Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the Hon Michael Chan, urging the government give serious consideration to maintaining the bell at Ontario Place and to keep the JC community informed on the progress of the revitalization plans and in particular, the future of the bell. A response was received from the government in early December assuring that the JC community would be kept informed of the progress of the revitalization plans for Ontario Place as it might affect the bell. Also, in a surprising gesture, the government indicated they would allow the New Years bell ringing to proceed this year, thus reversing their previous decision not allowing access to the bell and park. Unfortunately, widespread public announcements temporarily relocating the bell ringing ceremony to the Toronto Buddhist Church had already been made, thus it was decided that the ceremony would be remain at the TBC this year to avoid general public confusion. Nevertheless, the NAJC, the Toronto Buddhist Church, and JC community very much appreciate this kind gesture and have respectfully requested that permission be granted to return the ceremony to Ontario Place next year given suitable conditions for access to the site.

This article is an update of the original article which appeared in the December 2012 issue of the TBC Guiding Light newsletter. The TBC thanks the NAJC for bringing this matter to the Ontario Government’s attention on behalf of all JCs in Ontario. The article was written by Ron Shimizu of Toronto.