The 4.8-hectare Aga Khan Garden, Alberta, located 15 minutes southwest of Edmonton, is the northernmost Islamic garden in the world. Inspired by Mughal-style landscape architecture, it features limestone terraces, geometric water features, an outdoor amphitheater, and an orchard of local plants selected for fragrance, beauty, and ability to thrive in Alberta’s climate.
Construction on the Garden, which was recently completed, took place during both the 150th anniversary of Canadian confederation and Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee. The synchronicity was fitting, given the strong consonance of values between the Imamat and Canada.
During his remarks at the inauguration ceremony, Mawlana Hazar Imam reflected on the evolution of the Garden, recalling earlier visits to the University during his Golden Jubilee year — in 2008, and again in 2009 — when he received an honorary degree from the University of Alberta and expressed his desire to create an Islamic garden in Edmonton.
The Aga Khan Garden deepens and honours an existing partnership between the University and the Imamat. The project’s development has been led by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) in collaboration with the University of Alberta and the Aga Khan University.
After visiting the site of the garden in 2012, Mawlana Hazar Imam charged landscape architect Thomas Woltz with the responsibility of bringing to life an Islamic garden in Northern Alberta that would be “the most beautiful space which man can create using the best of our Earth’s features.”
In his speech, Mawlana Hazar Imam highlighted the role gardens play in our understanding of the natural environment.
“Gardens in this context can be seen not as imitations of Nature but as humanity’s interpretations of nature, their geometric structures providing a human framework in which we can experience — in this case — the magnificent fluctuations of the Albertan landscape,” he said.
The creation of parks and gardens has been an important part of the work of the AKTC, bringing people of different backgrounds together to enjoy and appreciate nature, and seeking to improve quality of life by providing spaces for reflection, spirituality, education, and leisure.
Mawlana Hazar Imam further explained, “The Garden of Islamic tradition is also a place where the flow of refreshing water reminds us of Divine blessing. It is a place for meditation, and quiet renewal. But I would likewise emphasise that the Garden, throughout history, has also been seen as a social space — a place for learning, for sharing, for romance, for diplomacy, for reflection on the destiny of the human race.”
The Aga Khan Garden is Mawlana Hazar Imam’s second landscape project in North America along with the Aga Khan Park in Toronto, and the 11th in a series of parks and gardens developed by the AKTC. The addition of the Aga Khan Garden to the University of Alberta Botanic Garden is expected to more than double the number of annual visitors from 75,000 to 160,000.