People and Places

Seeking deep rejuvenation? $5 gets you inside an ambitious park designed to elevate consciousness

It sounds improbable: Over 60 sculptures from such far-distant places as Zimbabwe, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka transported to a woodsy east-Ottawa enclave with the ambitious objective of elevating human consciousness and goodness. Yet that’s exactly what the Humanics Sanctuary and Sculpture Park in Cumberland is all about.

Photo: Brendan Burden
Photo: Brendan Burden

It opened last summer and operates from the beginning of June to the end of October. 

Photo: Brendan Burden
Photo: Brendan Burden

The sanctuary and park is an inspired and inspiring collection of demanding trails, a snaking ravine, soaring maples and pines, and dozens of niches, terraces, and unexpected promontories where sculptures — some of stone, some of mechanical odds and ends including spark plugs and gears — remind us that such qualities as respect, mercy, and love unite mankind.

Photo: Brendan Burden
Photo: Brendan Burden

The 11-acre site also includes a meditation area of elemental rocks and trees, scattered stone benches, a pond with koi, and a large grassy area. Zones dedicated to major religions include areas for celebrations, ceremonies, and religious services. It is at once serene, provocative, and deeply rejuvenating.

Photo: Brendan Burden
Photo: Brendan Burden

The price of admission? Five dollars and a willingness to set aside for a while the daily round of must-dos and temporal distractions.

Ranjit Perera. Photo: Brendan Burden
Ranjit Perera. Photo: Brendan Burden

Ranjit Perera, a man with a talent for persuasion, created the site. “I wanted to build it on the essential values we all share as Canadians,” he says. Promoting those values — non-violence, human development, social justice, and peace — is also the objective of the Humanics Institute, of which Perera is president and which rallied volunteers to help establish the sanctuary and park.

Photo: Brendan Burden
Photo: Brendan Burden

The values are rendered in an enticing assembly of sculptures that reach across countries, religions, and styles and tell both individual and collective stories. A touching piece by sculptor Eddy Nyagweta of Zimbabwe shows the Prodigal Son being welcomed home by his father, Christianity’s message that everyone deserves respect and dignity clearly reflected in the father’s face. Abstract and naturalistic sculptures depict the Buddhist experience of rebirth and the Buddha’s own stages of spiritual progression. Elsewhere, the distracting allure of false heroes, the wisdom of advancing age, and the complex relationship between humans and working animals such as horses take centre stage.

Photo: Brendan Burden
Photo: Brendan Burden

The sculptures and setting embody Perera’s belief in the oneness of reality, that all humans are born equal, and that an intrinsic relationship exists between humanity, the cosmos, and the natural environment.

Photo: Brendan Burden
Photo: Brendan Burden

“I’ve been involved in human development throughout my career, so that sense of commitment to consciousness of the whole has been with me all the time,” says Perera, whose professional life included a long stint with a Canadian international development agency. Ironically, a successful lawsuit against his former employer for racial discrimination gave him the financial means to launch his non-profit sanctuary and park as a way to foster equality and understanding.

Photo: Brendan Burden
Photo: Brendan Burden

Perera is looking for sponsorship so that he can acquire more sculptures and continue to operate the site. “I’m 76 years old, so I have to look at sustaining this,” he says. A believer in humanity’s potential for good, he has high hopes for his project. Among other outcomes, he envisions “busloads of students coming to explore the condition of man.”