His Highness the Aga Khan, spiritual leader of Shia Ismaili Muslims around the world, has gifted the University of Alberta with a new garden for research and learning.
Set to open in 2018, the Aga Khan Garden, Alberta spans 4.8 hectares at the University of Alberta Botanic Garden, located 15 minutes southwest of Edmonton. It will become the second garden in Canada, after the Aga Khan Park was opened in Toronto in 2015, and 11th in the world to be supported by the Aga Khan.
The garden was made possible by a contribution in excess of $25 million by the Aga Khan, and stems from the long-standing relationship between him and the University of Alberta, highlighted by a Memorandum of Understanding first signed with the Aga Khan University (AKU) in 2006 and an honorary doctorate given to him in 2009.
The Aga Khan also is no stranger to Canada. In May 2010, he became the fifth person to be granted honourary Canadian Citizenship, in February 2014 addressed the Canadian Parliament, and in September 2016 was awarded the Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship.
“On the 150th anniversary of Canada, it is appropriate that we are creating together a Mughal-style garden which echoes the great contributions that Muslims have made to world heritage,” the Aga Khan said in a release.
“The Mughals built the Taj Mahal and Humayun’s Tomb and the gardens around them, so the university’s embrace of this project is an inherently pluralistic act,” the Aga Khan said. “The creation of this garden therefore both depends an existing partnership and illustrates the pluralistic nature of this country. Measures like this should be encouraged, both here and abroad.”
Designer Thomas Woltz, principal of Nelson Byrd Woltz, was asked by the Aga Khan to study other Mughal Islamic gardens while developing his plans that also incorporated the plants and topography of Northern Alberta.
“The Aga Khan Garden will be a place to connect with nature, a place of inspiration, and a place where cultural understanding will grow,” said David Turpin, President of the University of Alberta. “We are honoured and grateful that the Aga Khan, a champion of openness and understanding between cultures, selected the University of Alberta for this wonderful gift.”
The garden has secluded forest paths, wide, stepped terraces that change with the seasons, geometric water features that stream into wetlands and a spectacular orchard of local plants. It will be situated around the existing Calla Pond at the heart of the University of Alberta Botanic Garden and is expected to increase the number of annual visitors from 75,000 to 160,000.
“Our diversity makes us stronger,” said Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. “This garden will serve as a living reminder of the diverse heritage of our open and welcoming province, which is a big part of what makes Alberta such a great place to live.”
The 80-year-old celebrates his 60-year Diamond Jubilee as the 49th hereditary Ismaili leader on July 11, 2017, and the garden is scheduled to open towards the end of year-long festivities taking place around the world.