The oldest Chinese temple in Canada, located in the country's oldest Chinatown, may have to shut down if it can't raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for necessary repairs.
The Tam Kung Temple on Government Street in Victoria was built in 1912.
But its history goes back even further, according to Nora Butz, president of the Yen Wo Society, which manages the temple.
Butz says the property has housed a Chinese temple since 1876, but the building that stands there today was built after the first building was destroyed in a fire in 1911.
"The community came together to build this," said Butz, who has been going to the temple for 60 years, since she first immigrated to Canada as a child.
The temple also survived a fire in the 1980s, where the statue of the deity Tam Kung — brought to Victoria from the Guangdong province of China in the 1860s — was left unscathed.
But the temple now needs extensive repairs. Butz says the roof and windows are leaking, parts of the floor are held together by masking tape, and the building needs seismic upgrading.
Their cost estimate for the repairs is over $600,000.
Butz says the Victoria Civic Heritage Trust has offered to provide $200,000 in funding, and the society is now trying to fundraise the remaining $400,000.
"We need a lot of work to try to preserve it for future generations," said Butz.
"We're asking people to please help us ... preserve this little piece of history, in the oldest Chinatown, the oldest temple in all of Canada."
'A place of worship and refuge'
Jackie Ngai, a board member of the society, says the temple was built by her great grandfather, Ngai Sze.
"He wanted a place of worship and also a place of refuge for many of the bachelor men that came across the ocean and worked on our Canadian Pacific Railway," said Ngai.
The lower floors were previously used as a dormitory to house labourers, Ngai says, adding it provided a safety net for men in need, such as those who couldn't find work or were injured.
It also provided a social network for immigrants at the time — an open-door policy remains today, providing a community for many newcomers, Ngai says.
"It started by people, for people, and over the years it has provided a sanctuary, a place to go, a place to belong," said Ngai.
People come to the temple if they have an important decision to make, be it about relationships, investments, travels, and everything in between, she adds.
"We welcome everybody and anybody."
With files from Justine Beaulieu-Poudrier