Towering Alberta Buddha brings prairie blessings from on high

Standing more than 21 metres over a Westlock, Alta., field, a golden Buddha stands as a reminder of the importance of seeking peace in life.

Meditation centre hopes golden statue will send a message of peace

Buddhist monks and supporters of the Westlock Meditation Centre pose following a March 21 ceremony to bless the Buddha statue before it was lifted into place. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Towering high above a prairie field, a golden Buddha stands as a reminder of the importance of seeking peace in life.

"I feel that our society right now, we really need some time to calm us down to less stress. Less depressed," said Phap Hoa, the Westlock Meditation Centre's abbot.

"That's why we have the statue of the Buddha here, as a symbol of awakening."

Buddha statue towers over rural Alberta monastery

4 years ago
Duration 2:34
Near Westlock, Alta., a 25-tonne, 15-metre-tall Buddha statue is placed on a stage overlooking the Westlock Meditation Centre.

Earlier this week, before the Buddha was erected onto its lotus-shaped pedestal, the 25-tonne statue lay on its side during a ceremony of blessing at the mediation centre. The centre is on a rural road in Westlock County about 72 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.

About 80 people joined with the centre's monks in singing and chanting. A nearby table held an arrangement of flowers, incense, candles and pineapples.

Two cranes lift a 15-metre-tall statue of the Buddha onto its base at the Westlock Meditation Centre. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

"The candle symbolizes wisdom and insight. The flowers symbolize beauty. And the fruit symbolizes the results of the practice," Hoa said.

"We want to introduce the practising of mindfulness, the practising of Buddhism. That's why we have the statue of the Buddha here, as a symbol of awakening."

The plan has been in the works since the summer. The 15-metre tall statue was shipped from China and arrived in January, but weeks of work were needed to bring the structural steel and welding up to Canadian standards, and to repair damage to one of the statue's hands.

After Thursday's ceremony was complete, two cranes lifted the statue up onto a lotus-shaped base. With the base, the structure is more than 21 metres tall.

Donna Wetzel, who attends sessions at the Truc Lam Buddhist Temple in Edmonton, was at the ceremony. She drove to Westlock with friends to observe the statue being lifted into place.

Wetzel said she started studying Buddhism in September. For her, the ceremony was a familiar experience.

"Having spent two weeks at a retreat in Thailand, it was much the same thing," she said. "It's a beautiful, beautiful setting."

Construction workers stand inside the base to ensure the statue is properly lined up before being lowered into place. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

The Westlock Meditation Centre hosts weekly courses and summer retreats for people looking to meditate or practise Buddhism.

It was Hoa's dream to have a meditation centre where people could get away from the traffic and bustle of the city.

"When I found this place I'm very happy because it's not too far from the city," Hoa said. "And also the [county] here allowed us to establish a meditation centre like this, and not only for Asians. It's for everyone." 

Including the base, the statue rises more than 21 metres into the air near the Westlock Meditation Centre at 58012 Range Rd. 270 in Westlock County. (Travis McEwan/CBC)




Travis McEwan

Video journalist

Travis McEwan is a video journalist who covers stories ranging from human interest and sports to municipal and provincial issues. Originally from Churchill, Man., Travis has spent the last decade working at CBC Edmonton reporting for web, radio and television. Email story ideas to travis.mcewan@cbc.ca.