His Highness the Aga Khan personally inaugurated the garden he gifted to the University of Alberta on October 16.
The newest addition to the University of Alberta Botanical Gardens was gifted by the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, as a means to showcase Canadian multiculturalism. Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Lois Mitchell, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, and U of A president David Turpin were present to commemorate the occasion.
The garden is located 15 minutes southwest of Edmonton. The $25-million donation was originally announced in April of 2017 as a site that would help foster education, reflection, and the promotion of intercultural understanding. It is one of twelve other Islamic gardens across the globe and is the northern-most in the world.
The Aga Khan said he has watched his dream of the garden come to life over the past nine years and during the building of the garden process which took only 18 months. He said it was completed on time and budget.
“One of the great questions facing humanity today is how we can honour what is distinctive about our separate identities, and at the same time welcome the divisiveness of our identities as positive elements of our lives,” the Aga Khan said. “This city and this country have been among the world leaders in providing positive answers to that ancient question.”
Notley said the garden is an attraction built for all people to experience the beauty of nature in the province of Alberta and the people that inhabit it.
“This garden is a testament to a province where differences are valued and diversity thrives,” Notley said. “In Alberta, we don’t care who you love, where you worship or what colour your skin is. We respect and celebrate our differences. Alberta’s Ismaili community is a great example of that and so is this wonderful garden.”
The gifting of the garden was inspired after a memorandum of understanding which was signed in 2006. Additionally, an honorary degree was given to the Aga Khan in 2009.
Turpin called the garden a “special place” that bridges space, distance, and time. He said it would help foster academic study, cultural understanding, and facilitate social appreciation.
“This spectacular garden is intended to foster greater understanding of people of different cultures,” Turpin said. “It is aptly placed here among other cultural significant gardens.”
Turpin added that the garden is found nestled among the Indigenous Garden: the first Indigenous peoples garden in Canada, as well as the Kurimoto Japanese Garden, which was named after the first Japanese national to graduate from the U of A.
Mitchell said the garden is an “amazing gift” to the people of Alberta and Canada. She said the site allows visitors to experience our common humanity through the beauty of nature.
“This wonderful… garden is an expression of the concepts of peace,” Mitchell said. “What I love about the garden is that it allows us to experience peace and tolerance in a truly immersive way.”
The garden officially opened on June 29, 2018. According to the university, attendance in July and August of 2018 doubled. The Aga Khan Garden is expected to increase the number of annual visitors to the U of A Botanical Garden from 75,000 to 160,000.
During the ceremony, the future site of a pavilion was dedicated. The pavilion will allow the garden to offer all season programming and generate revenue to help support the botanical garden. The pavilion will cost $4 million and is being built completely through donations.
“As we share the garden experience with others we can feel a connection with those who walked through similar gardens in the past,” the Aga Khan said.