Construction of a new Hindu temple will begin this week in Cambridge

CAMBRIDGE — Twenty-two years in the making, with many setbacks and a councilor vote that could easily have gone the other way, a Hindu temple in Cambridge is set to begin construction this week.

“I think it will be an attraction for the Waterloo region,” says Dwarka Persaud, president of the Radha Krishna Mandir and Cultural Centre.

“People will come to see him.

With a $5 million price tag, the two-story community and cultural center at 85 Boxwood Drive — which will be built on rezoned farmland in the shadow of the Toyota plant — has faced opposition from neighbors concerned about parking, drainage and compatibility, and Toyota factory representatives about potential noise, odor and dust complaints.

The legal battle dragged on for years, sparking controversy and allegations of racism against planners until a staff recommendation against the temple was unanimously overturned by Cambridge councilors in 2018, which paved the way for construction.

For Persaud, who bought the empty one-hectare lot north of Highway 401 in 2000 and led the project every step of the way, that’s all a thing of the past as he looks forward to embracing the surrounding community in the Hindu spirit of peace and good will.

“When we open, the first people invited will be our neighbors,” says Persaud, who envisions the temple as “a place of peace and contentment.”

“I will personally go out and invite every neighbor to have a meal with us and explain what we do and how we do it.”

The current Hindu temple on Old Mill Road in Cambridge is a converted 19th century church that has 2,400 square feet and 21 parking spaces.

When it opens in a year – barring construction delays – its 21,000 square foot replacement will offer nearly 10 times that space, with parking for 112 vehicles, a greenhouse, a prayer room, classrooms for music and yoga and a reception hall for interfaith weddings, celebrations and community events.

“The mosaic is changing,” notes Persaud, who left Guyana in 1969 to study commerce at the University of Waterloo and says an increase in immigration from India, as well as a flood of international students, have fueled the surge in numbers.

“It’s a growing community with at least 10,000 Hindus in Waterloo Region and Guelph.

“When I first came here, if you look up my name in the phone book, there were three people. Now there are two pages.

Back then, he says, questions about religious or cultural affiliation never arose.

“If you saw people from Brown, it didn’t matter where they were from. They have become your friends. You have identified. I still identify with all religious beliefs. Most Hindus do. I have friends from all religions and backgrounds.

The temple held a seven-day Bhoomi Puja ceremony – featuring spiritual leaders and speakers from different parts of India – to give thanks to ‘Mother Earth’ since the earth was shattered on Tuesday.

It ends on Monday and construction is expected to start on Wednesday.