by P. Weston

Something new and exciting has come to Calgary. Opened quite recently, the Chinese Cultural Centre is all the more interesting because it is modeled on the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

The temple, as well as the buildings of the Forbidden City, belongs to the Ming Dynasty which flourished from the 14th to the 17th Centuries A.D. In other words, this period corresponded to the Renaissance in Europe, an era of much fine architecture.

We may be sure that the Centre in Calgary had its problems during construction. But one difficulty which the builders of the Temple of Heaven had to overcome was that of transporting huge marble blocks. This was accomplished in winter when the roads could be iced by pouring water over them, and the blocks could be slid along with comparative ease. In order to understand the architecture of the Cultural Centre, it is well to know a little more about the Temple of Heaven. The Emperor of China was the Son of Heaven. In the Temple, he, and only he, worshipped Heaven and Earth. For this reason, the months and the seasons played an important part in the design of the Temple. Four huge pillars represented the seasons. Twelve lesser columns are for the months of the year. All these columns support the roof. Surrounding the Temple is a marble terrace on which the Emperor celebrated the Winter Solstice.

Now, let us look more closely at the Calgary building. It has the same number of pillars, reaching up to support the roof. On the inner side of the domed roof is a painting of a dragon, the Emperor's symbol. The large columns are painted red and have many of the dragon symbols in gold since gold or yellow was the Emperor's color. We have an unobstructed view of the dome as there is an atrium which reaches from the ground floor through the second and third storeys. As well as much red and yellow there are rich blues and greens so that a wealth of color draws our eyes upward. In addition, at the base of the dome, are windows, wide but not deep. The sunlight through these enhances the color and the beauty of the dome. In fact, the dome looks almost airborne. At each of the second and third floor levels is a balcony which brings us closer to the rich colors and the designs. The balconies give access to a number of rooms.

On the second level are classrooms and a library. The library is a real achievement as it provides books in Chinese and English including a section in both languages for children. On the walls of the corridor outside the library are larger-than-live drawings of China's three renowned philosophers and religious leaders: Lao Tzu, Confucius, and Buddha. There is a plaque, too, acknowledging contributions to the Centre by the non-Chinese community. It bears the names of Drs. Orrin and Clara Christie Might. These corridors also serve as an art gallery, displaying painting and photography. The displays are changed from time to time, an important aspect of this cultural feature of the Centre.

Let us now return to the ground floor. Besides the area of the atrium there is a large auditorium with sports facilities and a fine stage. Look about and you will see a health centre with shelves of herbal teas and remedies as this is a centre for acupuncture and holistic medicine. The Centre has a resident doctor whose name is on the door of an office in the Health Centre. Before leaving this area, we were each given a tiny bowl of ginseng tea, an energy restorer, which we welcome after our tour which, by the way, was conducted by a very knowledgeable young man.

In the centre of the atrium on the main floor are two open shops. In one we were able to buy cards with printed designs made from delicate water colors of flowers and butterflies. There were also examples of China's ancient art of cloisonné and a modern version of it, too. The other shop caters to those with a sweet tooth. Some in our group bought popular coconut candies. The preference of others was for preserved ginger.

It was a memorable visit, and we left having enjoyed every minute of it and feeling we had added to our knowledge of China's past and Calgary's present.

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©1996 - P. Weston
21st Century Adventures - March/April 1996