The Aga Khan’s 'Garden of Life' gift to Canadian province, a unique statement

Saturday October 20 2018

From left: University of Alberta President Turpin, Lt-Governor of Alberta, Lois Mitchell, Alberta PM Rachel Notley and His Highness the Aga Khan unveil the plaque inaugurating the Aga Khan Garden, in Alberta. PHOTO | AKDN

By The EastAfrican

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and His Highness the Aga Khan inaugurated the new Aga Khan Garden, Alberta, the northernmost 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 of 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.

Stewardship on Earth

The Aga Khan Garden brings to life the principle of pluralism, of which His Highness has been a lifelong 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.

Ms 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 added 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 honour, 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.”

Symmetry and serenity

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 — exploring 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 programs, 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.

Exceptional leadership

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 by the Aga Khan to Canada, during which he will also travel 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 in the world.