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ABDUL-BAHÁ IN CANADAAugust 30 -September 9,1912
Who was He?‘Abdu’l-Bahá was the son ofBahá’u’lláh—the Prophet-Founderof the Bahá’í Faith—and Hissuccessor as head of the Faith from1892 to 1921.Known to Bahá’ís as the “Centre ofthe Covenant”, the “Mystery ofGod,” and “the Master,” hereferred to Himself only as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the “servant of God”.After a life of imprisonment, exile,and great suffering in the service ofHis father and the fledgling Bahá’íFaith, He was freed in 1908 andimmediately initiated plans to visitthe West.
Images: Mount Carmel in 1894 (top) and today, taken from the samevantage point. The shrines and gardens of the Bahá’í World Centre,started by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, are now a UNESCO World Heritage site.A Prisoner‘Abdu’l-Bahá resided in northern Palestine, inand around Akka, the notorious prison city ofthe Ottoman empire.As Head of the Bahá’í Faith, He was the focalpoint of all activities for the Bahá’í community,then mainly restricted to Persia and parts of theMiddle East.Although unschooled, He wrote extensively tothe Bahá’ís, explaining the true nature ofBahá’u’lláh’s teachings.He gradually established Bahá’í institutionsthroughout the world, and laid the groundworkfor the what was to become the Bahá’í world’ssacred and administrative centre on MountCarmel in Haifa.
The True Example of a Baha’i‘Abdu’l-Bahá was also the exemplar of the Bahá’í principles. He liveda saintly life of selfless service, showering everyone He encounteredwith love. Despite His heavy workload, He managed to spend manyhours every day caring personally for the poor, the sick andoppressed.He was actively engaged insocial-economicdevelopment activities andwas bestowed aknighthood by the Britishfor growing food for thepeople of Palestine duringthe First World War. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá receiving his knighthood in 1920.
In the late 19th Century, the first glimmerings of the new faith reached the West and the first groups of pilgrims began to arrive in Haifa and Akka. ‘Abdu-l-Bahá became enamoured of these Western Baha’is and carefully nurtured their faith.Among these pilgrims was a young woman, May Maxwell, who was to become the first Bahá’í in Canada and start the first Bahá’í group here, in Montreal.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá travels to the West Freed by the Young Turks, ‘Abdu’l- Bahá began his historic travels to Egypt, Europe and the United States in 1910. He was 68 years old, weak and in poor health.In Paris (above) and addressing a large gathering in a church in the United States (below). He visited Montreal for 11 days, from August 30 – September 9, 2012. “The time of sojourn was limited to a
The First Canadian Bahá’ísThe Baháí Faith in Canada dates to the earlyyears of the 20th century, but there werestill only a tiny handful of Baha’is in Canadawhen ‘Abdu’l-Bahá arrived in 1912.Probably the first Canadian to become aBaháí was Honoré Jaxon—a Saskatchewanfarmer who was once secretary torenowned Métis leader Louis Riel—butJaxon joined the faith in 1897 after movingto the United States.Jaxon met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Chicago and issaid to have arranged for his famous talk to500 socialists and workers in Montreal onLabour Day, September 3, 1912.
The Fledgling Bahá’í Faith in CanadaIt was May Maxwell, an American who hadmoved to Montreal in 1902, who is credited withstarting the first Baháí group in Canada.The fledgling Canadian Baháí community of theearly 20th century was populated by a handfulfree thinking social activists, suffragettes, andwhat might today be termed “new agers.”
The Maxwells May Maxwell married William Sutherland Maxwell, the architect of Saskatchewan’s Legislative building in Regina. One of Canada’s outstanding Bahá’í architects, he went on to design the iconic Shrine of the Báb in Haifa, now a UN World Heritage Site.
“Eastern Sage” - “Seer” - “Pacificateaur Persan”‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit to Montreal received full media coverage. More than2500 people met or heard Him speak, while another 440,000 readers heardof Him through 34 articles in 10 daily papers. Of His entire journey to NorthAmerica, no other city had accorded Him a more extensive reception.• Relationship to believers, direct impact on believers• Example of spiritual leadership (humility)
Response to His VisitThe Montreal newspapers were noticeably freeof journalistic extravagances, providing suchheadlines as: ‘Persian Teacher to Preach Peace’;‘Racialism Wrong, Says Eastern Sage, Strife, WarCaused by Religious and National Prejudices’.One newspaper described Abdul-Bahá in thesewords: “a serene majestic figure, calm,commanding, austere and wise.”Abdul-Bahá gave seven well-attended publictalks. Four of these were in the Maxwell home—now the only Bahá’í Shrine outside of the HolyLand—where he spoke on ‘Material and DivinePhilosophy’, ‘Immortality’, ‘Man and Nature’, and‘A World-Wide Spiritual Brotherhood’.During this visit, hecrisscrossed the city on foot,by streetcar, and taxi, visitingcathedrals and churches, theEast End of the city, MountRoyal, and the downtown The Maxwell house in 1912, including ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s room.area….
“A Commanding Presence” In 1912, the aged `Abdu’l-Bahá was a "commanding presence.” Time and again, people coming into his presence for the first time described feelings of awe at the meeting. But at the same time he seemed "intensely approachable." He had, after all, approved an advertisement in The Montreal Star which gave the Maxwell’s telephone number (Uptown 3015) and urged "any Montrealers who want to make an appointment with him" to do so.
With Leaders of ThoughtThe Archbishop of Montréal paid a visit to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, as did thepresident of McGill University. Throughout his visit to America, he met withleaders of thought and made a lasting impression on many of them.During his time in North America, he met with such figures as Canadianinventor Alexander Graham Bell and former President Theodore Roosevelt ,who“pronounced himself as wonderfully impressed withthe teachings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the Persian teacher of auniversal religion, just liberated from prison andexpected in this country in May. He declared that‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s teachings would lift Mohametanism upspiritually into line with Christianity and would makefor world peace.”. Alexander Graham Bell, whose inventions include the telephone, had hosted a gathering that included ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on the evening of 24 April 1912.
Combining Spiritual and Material CivilizationFrequent themes of His Montreal talks were the need to combinespiritual and material civilization and to establish the unity ofhumankind. At the Unitarian Church of the Messiah, He said: “God, the Almighty, has created all mankind from the dust of earth. He has fashioned them all from the same elements; they are descended from the same race and live upon the same globe. He has created them to dwell beneath the one heaven. As members of the human family and His children He has endowed them with equal susceptibilities. He maintains, protects and is kind to all. He has made no distinction in mercies and graces among His children. With impartial love and wisdom He has sent forth His Prophets and divine teachings. His teachings are the means of establishing union and fellowship among mankind and awakening love and kindness in human hearts. He proclaims the oneness of the kingdom of humanity. He rebukes those things which create differences and destroy harmony; He commends and praises every means that will conduce to the solidarity of the human race.”
Unity and Peace One of the aims of His visit was to avert the war brewing in Europe by promoting the idea of the oneness of humanity. When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke at "the largest Methodist church in the world, St. James,” a crowd of 1200 people heard Him speak on the "Bahá’í Principles for the Happiness of the Human Race.” He said:“I find these two great American nations highly capable and advanced in all thatappertains to progress and civilization…. Therefore, it is my hope that these reverednations may become prominent factors in the establishment of international peace andthe oneness of the world of humanity; that they may lay the foundations of equalityand spiritual brotherhood among mankind; that they may manifest the highest virtuesof the human world, revere the divine lights of the Prophets of God and establish thereality of unity so necessary today in the affairs of nations.”Indeed, many of his thoughts on peace were echoed in President Woodrow Wilson’s 14Points and in the formation of the League of Nations following World War I.
The Bahá’í PrinciplesOther principles emphasized by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in His talks included the• Elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty• Elimination of racial prejudice• Equality of men and women• Independent investigation of the truth• The fundamental unity of religion and the prophets‘Abdu’l-Bahá loved the poor and the oppressed and both spoke out forthem and personally assisted them. At Coronation Hall in Montreal, forexample, he addressed 500 workers and socialists on the topic of "TheEconomic Happiness of the Human Race.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s innovative, genialpresentation, and the noble sentiments it evoked, struck a stronglyresponsive chord in this largely working-class audience. Both the talk andthe question period were punctuated with spontaneous and enthusiasticapplause, “so intense that the walls of the building seemed to vibrate tothe foundation.”
True Spiritual LeadershipOne of the most striking characteristics of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is that Hetreated everyone equally, whether a leading religious, intellectual orpolitical figure or the house maid, an impoverished worker, or ayoung child. This was a powerful example of true spiritual leadership. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá frequently met with the children and youth. At a time when discrimination was rife, He insisted people of all races be included in His meetings.
Many rich harvestsOn September 9th, Abdul-Bahá left Montreal by train to continueHis long journey to the Pacific coast. While His sojourn in Canadalasted only eleven days, as He Himself said, “Undoubtedly thoseseeds will grow, become green and verdant, and many rich harvestswill be gathered.” These harvest continue to this day. Some of the early Canadian and American Baha’is.
Rich harvests: The House of Worship in Chicago ‘Abdu’l-Bahá lays the cornerstone of the Chicago temple.‘Abdu’l-Bahá inspired thebuilding of the first Bahá’íHouse of Worship in the West,in Chicago. Organizing to buildthe temple was critical to theformation of North America’sBahá’í communities. Thetemple is now a NationalHistoric Site. The House of Worship today. Jean-Baptiste Louis Bourgeois was a Canadian architect from Quebec who is best known as the designer of the innovative structure.
A rich harvest: Canada’s Bahá’í Architects Building on the heritage of Sutherland Maxwell and Louis Bourgeios, Canadian Baha’is have distinguished themselves as award-winning architects of Bahá’í temples and holy places, including the Lotus Temple in India, among the most visited places on earth. Lotus Temple in New Delhi. The terraces of the Shrine of the Báb in Haifa, Israel. The administrative centre of the Bahá’í World Faith, Haifa.The House ofWorship in Santiago,Chile.
Rich harvests:Establishing the Canadian Bahá’í CommunityThe visit of ‘Abdul-Bahá to Montreal in 1912 galvanized the few early Baha’is into acommunity with a distinct identity. Abdul-Bahá inspired people across racial, ethnic andreligious boundaries.A series of letters he wrote, called the Tablets of the Divine Plan, which urged the fewCanadian Baha’is to travel throughout the country to establish the faith in every corner, canbe seen as the major factor in the formation of Canada’s Bahá’í community. Revealed on April 5, 1916, in the garden adjacent to the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh, and addressed to the Bahá’ís of Canada: “…in the provinces of Canada, such as Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Ungava, Keewatin, Mackenzie, Yukon, and the Franklin Islands in the Arctic Circle—the believers of God must become self-sacrificing and like unto the candles of guidance become ignited in the provinces of Canada. Should they show forth such a magnanimity, it is assured that they will obtain universal divine confirmations, the heavenly cohorts will reinforce them uninterruptedly, and a most great victory will be obtained.”
Rich harvests: Growing the Canadian Bahá’íCommunityIn the early period, the Bahá’í community in Canada was a magnet for suffragists and womensocial reformers who campaigned tirelessly for the advancement of women, the eradicationof poverty and the elimination of prejudice.Yet the numbers of Bahá’ís remained very small. By 1944, there were only 90 Bahá’ís in thewhole country. Soon, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s emphasis on “pioneering”, or moving to new areas toestablish Baháí communities, would contributed to the the exponential growth of Baháímembership. The 17th Annual Convention of the Baha’is of Canada and the United States, 1925.
Rich Harvests: Growth and ExpansionIn 1948, when an Act of Canada’s first National Spiritual Assembly, 1948.Parliament incorporatedthe National SpiritualAssembly of the Baha’is ofCanada, there were 263Bahá’ís living in 41localities.Five years later there were554 Bahá’ís in 102 localities,and the community wasnow sending pioneers toother countries.By 1963, 2,500 Bahá’íscould be found in 290locales, with 68 SpiritualAssemblies spread acrossCanada.
Rich harvests:Inspiring individuals to actionMay and Mary Maxwell are examples oftwo prominent Canadian Bahá’ís inspired by‘Abdu’l-Bahá.May Maxwell travelled throughout Canadaestablishing Bahá’í centres, and latertravelled the world. She died teaching theFaith in Argentina in 1940.While staying at the Maxwell house in 1912,‘Abdu’l-Bahá blessed May Maxwell’s infantdaughter Mary. She went on to become themost prominent Bahá’í in the worldfollowing the passing of her husband,Shoghi Effendi, the Head of the Bahá’í Faithafter the death of his grandfather, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. She took the Bahá’í message to 185countries before her death in 2000.Inspired by their example, Canadian Baha’is,including hundreds from Saskatoon, can befound serving throughout the world.
A typical Bahá’í gathering today. A diverse community focused on building spiritual values in Rich harvests: every neighbourhood and town across Canada. Unity in Diversity A major shift in composition came with efforts to interest Aboriginal Canadians in the Baháí teachings. In 1960, a Baháí couple in Calgary formed a social club for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. By 1961, the club had become the foundation of what later became known as the Native Friendship Centre. Soon, the Baha’i message was beings shared with thousands of First Nations people. In the late 1960s and 1970s, youth enrolments in the Faith also became significant, and the community remains relatively youthful to this day. Today, there are more some 30,000 Baha’is In the last decades the community has increasingly included people of throughout Canada, all spiritual descendants of diverse backgrounds, a truerthe early Bahá’í pioneers inspired by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. reflection of the Canadian mosaic.
The Saskatchewan ConnectionBahá’ís first moved to Saskatoon in the 1940s and the first localassembly was elected in 1953. Today there are about 250 members,but hundreds more have moved throughout the world, another “richharvest” from the tireless efforts of the Master, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. A gathering of Saskatchewan Bahá’í, July 2012.
The 100th Anniversary of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit to Canada