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Community Life

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Parsis/Jamshed Mavalwala

With very few individuals resident in Canada before the 1960s, the Zoroastrian community, concentrated in Vancouver and Toronto, met in each other’s homes. As the community gradually grew, particularly in Toronto, its members met in borrowed premises, such as school auditoriums, university halls, and churches. In 1968 the group in British Columbia incorporated as the Zoroastrian Association of British Columbia. This was followed by the formation of the Zoroastrian Society of Quebec, and the Zoroastrian Society of Ontario came into being in 1971. Since then the Zoroastrian Association of Atlantic Canada, the Zoroastrian Association of Manitoba, and the Zoroastrian Association of Alberta have been formed.

One Iranian family in particular has played a critical role in the history of the Zoroastrian community in Canada. Arbab Guiv endowed the Zoroastrian Society of Ontario with a gift that enabled the society to purchase a property in North York and establish its first Darbe Mehr, or meeting place, in Canada. The Guiv family also made funds available to the Zoroastrians of British Columbia to enable them to establish a meeting place of their own.

According to Zoroastrian tradition, a fully sanctified temple is one where a sacred fire is continuously maintained by a team of priests. Since the priests in the Zoroastrian community in Canada work at other jobs, they are available to perform ceremonies only as needed, and thus a formal temple cannot be maintained. The meeting places in the Toronto area and in Vancouver, therefore, have a prayer room where a fire is lit only during prayers. This type of temple is called a Darbe Mehr, which plays an important role in bringing the members of the community together to pray and to celebrate festivals.

In consolidating its identity in Canada, the Zoroastrian community has had to deal with the fact that its widely separated groups have over the centuries followed a number of different calendars. One calendar has been used by Iranian Zoroastrians, while other calendars were adopted in India. These calendars are not religious in their origins, or even in their alterations, but people determine festival days, days of remembrances, and even New Year’s day according to their chosen calendars. A great deal of discussion within the community in Canada has still not led to the adoption of a common calendar. Thus, while some celebrate the New Year in late August, others celebrate it in March.