The Key to the City of Toronto was awarded to Mawlana Hazar Imam at a special ceremony hosted today at the Ismaili Centre in Toronto, during which a segment of Wynford Drive was ceremonially named Aga Khan Boulevard.

Prince Amyn accepted the honours on behalf of Hazar Imam and thanked Mayor John Tory and the City of Toronto for the special gesture.

“His Highness is deeply touched by your kindness and graciousness,” he conveyed to the Mayor and guests at the event.

The award acknowledges the Imam’s work to improve the quality of life of all people, regardless of their origin or background. 

“His efforts over six decades have established a wide-range of institutions and projects, including in healthcare, education, culture, habitat, financial inclusion and other areas,” read the citation.

A rare recognition, the Key to the City is bestowed upon distinguished citizens, residents, and honoured guests of the City of Toronto. Previous recipients include the late President Nelson Mandela, the poet and novelist Margaret Atwood, and the cellist Yo-Yo Ma. 

“The fundamental set of values that have stood at the foundation of his own life and his own work,” said Mayor Tory about Mawlana Hazar Imam, “happen to match up quite precisely with the values that I think guide this city on a day to day basis.” 

Today’s event caps the latest chapter in the evolving story of the Ismaili community’s presence in Canada. The community began settling here in large numbers in the early 1970s; many of them migrated to escape crises and instability in other parts of the world.

“We have looked to Canada as a model of pluralism for the world,” said Prince Amyn in his remarks. “Our community, like so many others, has found in Canada a place to grow, to thrive, and to give back.”

Today’s ceremony coincides with celebrations of an important milestone for the Jamat: 50 years since the significant establishment of roots in the country. 

“Many members of the Ismaili community established their first home in Toronto, here in Don Mills,” explained Ameerally Kassim-Lakha, President of the Ismaili Council for Canada. “Over this time span, the city’s commitment to welcoming diversity, reflected in its motto ‘Diversity Our Strength,’ has allowed communities originating from all over the world to prosper in the city.” 

Canada is now home to thousands of Ismailis, a significant proportion of which are in Toronto — often described as the most diverse city in the world. The community makes a significant contribution to the civic, economic, and cultural fabric of the city, helping to enhance the areas in which they reside.

In 1972, as members of the Jamat arrived in the country for the first time, each with very little to their name, few could have predicted the ensuing course of events.

Now, 50 years later, we have in front of us, Aga Khan Boulevard. What a remarkable story” observed Prince Amyn, “one which I am sure will be a source of immense pride and happiness for so many members of the Ismaili community worldwide.” 

The sentiment of the Jamat was expressed by Master of Ceremonies Farah Nasser, who said, “as a first generation Ismaili Canadian, seeing the name of our spiritual leader and honorary Canadian citizen, His Highness the Aga Khan, on a street sign is something my grandparents never would have imagined or dreamed of, and it's a personal point of pride, for not only me but my children and all of the future generations to come.”