The celebrations of 50 years of the Ismaili community’s significant presence in Canada continued today in the city of Edmonton, with a luncheon at Government House attended by Princess Zahra and Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Salma Lakhani, followed by the formal opening of the Diwan Pavilion at the Aga Khan Garden.

Premier of Alberta Jason Kenney welcomed guests to the event at Government House and paid tribute to Mawlana Hazar Imam’s contributions to Canada in general and the province of Alberta in particular.

He also presented Princess Zahra with a Government Proclamation acknowledging 50 years of the Jamat’s significant presence in Alberta and Canada, and stated in his remarks that Canada has “benefitted incalculably from the contributions of the Ismaili community over these past five decades.” 

Princess Zahra thanked the Province of Alberta for their partnership and support of the Ismaili community and Imamat institutions over the course of many years. 

As far back as the 1980s, Alberta Aid supported education, health, and rural development initiatives of the Aga Khan Foundation, and in 2012, Alberta became the first province in Canada to sign an Agreement of Cooperation with the Ismaili Imamat.

“It is a privilege to be here with you today, and to express, on behalf of His Highness and the Ismaili community around the world, our gratitude for our permanent friendship,” said Princess Zahra. “Thank you Alberta, and thank you Canada, for creating such fertile ground for improving quality of life, not just for the Ismaili community, but for all peoples, regardless of their history, origin, or story,” she added.

A notable guest of honour at the luncheon was Lieutenant Governor Salma Lakhani, a member of the Jamat from Edmonton, and a tireless champion of civic engagement. Ms Lakhani is the first-ever Muslim to hold the position of Lieutenant Governor in Canada.

She spoke of the experience of moving to Canada as a child and living within its enabling environment. “Most of us have felt surrounded by the open arms and generosity of spirit, and resources of countless individuals in Canada who have supported us in our aspirations and reached out to us during our challenging times.” she said, before adding, “Just as today we feel a duty, as not so new Canadians, to reach out to others.”

Later in the day, the Diwan Pavilion at the Aga Khan Garden was inaugurated at the University of Alberta’s Botanic Gardens in Edmonton. Presiding over the ceremony were Lieutenant Governor Salma Lakhani, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, University of Alberta President Bill Flanagan, and Princess Zahra, on behalf of Mawlana Hazar Imam.

The Diwan was part of the original vision for the Garden to ensure it could be utilised all year round, not least during Alberta’s cold winters. It provides a space to allow for conversations, events, collaboration, and celebration, as well as reflection on the beauty and mystery of nature.

In his remarks to guests, Luis Monreal, General Manager of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, spoke of Hazar Imam’s aspiration to showcase, by way of the Garden, the environmental ethic in Islam through its emphasis on human stewardship and our responsibility to protect the natural world.

“It is a gift of His Highness the Aga Khan to Alberta,” said Premier Kenney “and we can see in it his remarkable care, his aesthetic sense, his spiritual sense.”

Premier Kenney also shed light on some of the principles that the Garden can teach. “People,” he said, “can bring their families and have a moment of spiritual restoration, of contemplation of beauty, of quiet, of communing with nature, of seeing the best of the spiritual idea of humankind in harmony with nature.” 

The Aga Khan Garden was inaugurated in the presence of Mawlana Hazar Imam in 2018. It symbolises the hope, peace, and unity that comes when people interact with each other amidst the beauty and inspiration of nature. The Garden was a gift from Hazar Imam to the University of Alberta in honour of its long-standing partnership with the Aga Khan University and broader Aga Khan Development Network.