Sited atop a grassy knoll at Ontario Place, a public entertainment, educational and recreational space, the Goh Ohn bell shelter was designed for a ceremonial Buddhist bell commemorating the centennial of Japanese settlement in Canada.
Bonshō are large ceremonial bells commonly found at Buddhist temples in Japan. Traditionally, they are used to summon the monks to prayer and to demarcate periods of time. The spiritual significance of bonshō means that they play an important role in Buddhist ceremonies, particularly the New Year and other festivals.
Cast in Japan of solid bronze, the 540kg bell was commissioned by the Japan External Trade Organization (JETO) for an exhibit at the Canadian National Exhibition in August 1977. The JETO subsequently offered the bell to the Toronto Japanese Canadian Centennial Committee who, in turn, donated the bell to the Province of Ontario as a commemorative gift.
This structure is a modern interpretation of a traditional bell temple found at Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Japan. While its form recalls that of the traditional bell shelter, its modernity lies in its abstraction, lack of ornament, and modern materials; i.e. steel and Plexiglas. The immense bell is suspended from a steel armature, and softly illuminated by an elegant translucent roof.
The project is significant work of the firm of Moriyama and Teshima. The diminutive structure garnered prestigious awards including the Canadian Architect Award of Excellence (1969), a Governor-General’s Award for Architecture (1982), and the 25-Year Award by the Ontario Association of Architects (1999).
Ontario Place is a designated cultural heritage landscape of provincial significance. The Statement of Cultural Heritage Value for Ontario Place states that it “was designed as an inclusive public entertainment, educational and recreational space and programmed to reflect the province’s people, culture and geography, as well as a vision for the province’s future.” Constructed just six years after the park opened, the bell shelter is a small but significant addition to this landscape, expressing the diversity of Ontario’s culture and specifically the contribution of its citizens of Japanese origin. The bell and its shelter have been in almost continual use by the community to celebrate annual events on the Buddhist calendar, since 1977.