Brief History of ISKCON Toronto

BY: VISVAKARMA DASA
Dec 27, 2010 — TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA
During Srila Prabhupada’s visit they took him on a tour of the current temple at 243 Avenue Road, and was very pleased with this site. He said that he would lend the money from the BBT to purchase the building. Jagadisa made the offer and they said they would rather burn it down than sell it to the Hare Krishnas.

ISKCON TorontoThe International Society for Krishna Consciousness Ontario first opened its doors in Toronto in 1969 at 40 Beverly Street, a house near Queen Street in downtown Toronto. Jayapataka dasa Brahmacari was the first president of the Temple. Soon after its opening, Jagadisa dasa took over from Jayapataka dasa and along with his wife, Laxmimoni devi dasi, expanded the preaching work from Camp Beverly street through street harinam, BTG & prasadam distribution, Deity worship and the Free Sunday Feast. They also sent two devotees to Hamilton to open a preaching centre.

The Hamilton centre was a great success and over 17 new devotees from Hamilton were initiated by Srila Prabhupada and eventually moved to Toronto, when the centre in Hamilton was closed by Jagadisa. This led to the moving of the Temple in Toronto to a larger house in Cabbage Town at 187 Gerrard, just near the corner of Sherbourne, to accommodate all the new devotees. Toronto Temple was booming.

187 Gerrard Street

Over the next few years the Gerrard Street building became a hub of Krishna Conscious preaching work and SKP service to the mission of Lord Chaitanya. All the devotees were fully engaged from early morning until night under the leadership of the temple presidents who followed Jagadisa after he took up his duties as GBC, namely Sri Pati das, Rocana das, Uttamasloka das, and finally Visvakarma das, under whose presidency the current Temple on Avenue Road was acquired.

Sri Sri Radha Ksiracora Gopinatha were installed on Radhastami in 1972 under the loving care of head pujari, Laxmimoni dasi. After this, by Their mercy so many devotees came. The asrama grew to over 80 devotees by 1975, including several families with children through the strength of it’s SKP preaching programs. Everyone lived asrama style and slept on the floor, body to body. The married devotees lived outside the asrama and each had one room in an adjacent apartment building. Conditions were very austere.

Everyday devotees went on harinama and book distribution and worked tirelessly to serve their Deities. The devotees set-up and ran a successful incense factory and later a candle factory. The annual Rathayatra began in 1972, and has now evolved into our annual Festival of India, where over 20,000 plates of prasadam are distributed each year. The young group of enthusiastic devotees lived and served together as a big family.

243 Avenue Road Temple

Srila Prabhupada first visited the Gerrard Street temple in 1975. Uttamaloka was still the President at that time, Visvakarma the Vice President. They had been extensively looking for a new location to purchase for ISKCON Toronto. During Srila Prabhupada’s visit they took him on a tour of the current temple at 243 Avenue Road, and was very pleased with this site. He said that he would lend the money from the BBT to purchase the building. Jagadisa made the offer and they said they would rather burn it down than sell it to the Hare Krishnas.

The Church was then sold to some developers and the idea died.

In 1975 Visvakarma das took over as President and along with his enthusiastic team of devotees, went on a campaign to raise a down payment to eventually buy the Avenue Road temple, as the Gerrard Street temple was bursting at the seams with people.

It came to the knowledge of Visvakarma through their temple lawyer, Hart Pomerantz, that the deal for the Church for the land developers had fallen through because the city would not allow the building to be torn down, as it is a historical landmark in Toronto. The two churches on the corner of Avenue Road and Dupont are known as the gateways to the City.

Through a covert approach and unknown to the Christian group who owned it and vowed never to sell it to the Hare Krishnas, we purchased and successfully closed the deal in December of 1975. In a letter to Visvakarma from Srila Prabhupada, he called the acquisition a top most victory and asked for us to erect a neon Hare Krishna sign so everyone that drove by would chant the Holy Name. Back then, over 20,000 cars a day passed by the Temple. It asked us to use the building for preaching.

The final ecstatic kirtan on Gerrard Street was held on a cold morning in March of 1976, and the devotees escorted Their Lordships into the magnificent new temple on Avenue Road. The devotees moved in and built the Deity house. The grand opening saw over 400 devotees come from all the surrounding temples for the installation ceremonies.

In March 1976, Visvakarma went to see Srila Prabhupada in Sridama Mayapur. He told Srila Prabhupada about the details of the acquisition along with Srila Prabhupada’s godbrother, Krsna Das Kaviraja Goswami, in a private darshan. Srila Prabhupada accepted an invitation to visit again that summer, which he triumphantly did. The history of the Toronto temple and its SKP work and victories are many and are to be told at another time.

The Toronto Temple has now become the center of an expanding Krishna conscious movement in Toronto and Southern Ontario. In 2006, the first new temple in the Toronto area opened in Brampton. Other programs are ongoing, including book distribution, Bhakta Vrksha groups (new devotee studies), children’s programs at two off-site locations, Friday evening Bhakti Shastri classes attended by over 50 students, university clubs at both University of Toronto and York, prasadam distribution programs, children’s Sunday School, drama presentations, women’s retreats, youth events, etc. Our future is unlimited in Krishna’s service.

All glories to Srila Prabhupada. Without his mercy and guidance and the service and sacrifice of his disciples, none of this would have been possible.

Posted in In the News.