Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, 16 October 2018 - Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Lois Mitchell, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and His Highness the Aga Khan today inaugurated the new Aga Khan Garden, Alberta, the northern-most Islamic garden in the world, and the first garden of its kind in western Canada.
The Garden was a gift to the University of Alberta from His Highness the Aga Khan, celebrating over 40 years of partnership between the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and the University of Alberta. Construction on the Garden, which was recently completed, marked both the 150th anniversary of Canadian confederation and the Aga Khan’s Diamond Jubilee – 60 years since he became Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslim community.
The Aga Khan Garden brings to life the principle of pluralism, of which His Highness has been a life-long advocate. In the 4.8-hectare Mughal-inspired space, traditional Islamic landscape design takes on strikingly contemporary features. Garden elements from some of the world’s best Muslim architecture, including the Taj Mahal and Humayun’s Tomb in India, are interspersed with distinctively Canadian features, from Alberta’s wild rose beds to Canadian-quarried stonework.
Speaking at the ceremony, Premier of Alberta Honorable Rachel Notley emphasised the alignment of values between the University and the AKDN, and thanked His Highness for his leadership and generosity. Calling the Garden "an oasis and a sign of Alberta’s welcome to the world," she said that "we stand with you to build a fair and more inclusive world". In his remarks at the inauguration ceremony, His Highness spoke of his happiness in seeing the Garden come to fruition, and of the place, throughout history, of the Islamic garden in reminding us of the notion of good stewardship of the earth and "our responsibility to honor, to protect, and to share the gifts of the natural world". In considering the role that such green spaces may play, His Highness spoke of the Garden as a social space, "a place for learning, for sharing, for romance, for diplomacy, for reflection on the destiny of the human race".
Designed by landscape architect, Thomas Woltz, of the world-renowned landscape architecture firm Nelson Byrd Woltz in collaboration with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (an agency of the AKDN), the Garden provides a stunning example of Islamic landscape architecture that explores the beauty and boundaries of vegetation, light, water, geometry, symmetry, adaptation and human scale. The serenity of nature is highlighted in each of the design elements including secluded forest paths, granite and limestone terraces, still pools that reflect the prairie sky and a waterfall that tumbles over textured stone.
Fruit orchards extend around the large Calla Pond, and the Garden contains more than 25,000 trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and wetland plants, selected for fragrance, beauty and the ability to thrive in Alberta’s climate. Twelve water features and fountains are sprinkled around the Garden, which took 18 months to construct.
Conceived as a centre for research and learning, the Garden will also play host to a variety of events including educational programmes, exhibitions, performances and recitals, film screenings, and cultural events. It is expected that the addition of the Aga Khan Garden will more than double the number of annual visitors to the University of Alberta Botanic Garden (from 75,000 to 160,000), benefiting the local economy and adding significantly to the architectural and cultural landscape.
The Garden is one of numerous initiatives developed by His Highness in Canada for the benefit of all Canadians, including award-winning architectural landmarks such as the Aga Khan Museum and Aga Khan Park in Toronto, the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat and Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa, and the Ismaili Centres in Burnaby and Toronto. Today, the Aga Khan Park in Toronto has become a hub for innovative cultural programming.
The Aga Khan Garden inauguration event is part of a five-day visit for the Aga Khan to Canada, during which he will also be traveling to Calgary and Vancouver to be conferred with honorary doctor of laws degrees from the University of Calgary, University of British Columbia, as well as Simon Fraser University, in honour of his contributions to humanity and his exceptional moral leadership for the world.
The Aga Khan Garden is the 11th such park or garden developed by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) around the world. The creation of parks and gardens has been an important part of AKDN’s work particularly in several rapidly urbanising cities in the developing world, including Cairo, Egypt, Bamako, Mali, Kabul, Afghanistan and Delhi, India. The Trust’s overall objective is the improvement of the quality of life, whether through the physical, social, cultural or economic revitalisation of communities. It includes the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme, the Aga Khan Music Initiative, the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, Canada, the on-line resource Archnet.org and related programmes.
The University of Alberta Botanic Garden, part of the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences, is an award-winning visitor attraction, a research site, and home to year-round adult and children’s education programming.