Edmonton joins other cities including Bamako, Cairo, Delhi, Kabul, and Toronto in hosting parks and gardens that were conceived or rehabilitated by the AKTC as catalysts for positive economic, social, and cultural change, ultimately enhancing the quality of life for residents and visitors alike.
Situated within the wider University of Alberta Botanic Garden, the Aga Khan Garden is intended to be a place for people of all ages and backgrounds to connect with each other and the beauty of nature. It is a living symbol of hope, peace, and unity — a place where cultural understanding can flourish.
The 4.8-hectare Mughal-inspired space is the northernmost Islamic garden in the world. It features 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 survive Alberta’s harsh climate.
Mawlana Hazar Imam was intimately engaged in the process of creating the Aga Khan Gardens, from the time spent walking through the University’s botanical gardens in order to select the appropriate site, to the design brief and the review of the final architectural renderings.
The Aga Khan Garden, Alberta is a gift to Canada on its 150th anniversary, which coincided with Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee. While the project reflects his dedication to increasing understanding, acceptance, and dialogue between cultures, it is also a symbol of the growing collaboration and long-standing partnership between the University of Alberta and the Aga Khan University, along with its sister educational institutions including the University of Central Asia.
In a written statement, Mawlana Hazar Imam said, “It is appropriate that we are creating together a Mughal-style garden, which echoes the great contributions that Muslims have made to world heritage. The Mughals built the Taj Mahal and Humayun’s Tomb and the gardens around them, so the University’s embrace of this project is an inherently pluralistic act. The creation of this garden therefore both deepens an existing partnership and illustrates the pluralistic nature of this country.”
Thomas Woltz, the landscape architect commissioned to develop the plans for the Aga Khan Garden, visited al-Azhar Park in Cairo, Humayun’s Tomb and Sunder Nursery in Delhi, and other Mughal gardens in India, to conduct research and study Islamic gardens, in preparation for the design of the Edmonton project.
In visiting these AKTC projects, it became apparent to Woltz that “the Trust’s commitment to the value of public space, gardens, and landscape, and their role in cultural dialogue meant this garden [in Edmonton] was a significant opportunity to contribute to a global understanding of the historic tradition of Islamic gardens.”
Earlier this year, Mawlana Hazar Imam inaugurated Sunder Nursery in Delhi, a 20th-century heritage garden complex, which represents another example of the positive societal impact created by cultivating parks and gardens. The Sunder Nursery project has involved major landscape, infrastructure development, ecological conservation, and monument restoration works to create a public park. As part of the Nizamuddin Urban Renewal Initiative, Sunder Nursery has helped make a significant contribution towards socio-economic development and environmental conservation in the local area and beyond.
Similarly, the addition of the Aga Khan Garden is expected to more than double the number of annual visitors to the University of Alberta Botanic Garden (from 75,000 to 160,000), benefiting the economy of the entire region. To ensure a positive experience for the expected influx of visitors, other major upgrades have been made to the University of Alberta Botanic Garden, including parking improvements, a new entry plaza, and infrastructure improvements.
Tours of the new garden will be offered on weekends, providing information on the architectural features of the new space. Future interpretive programming is in development, including components on botany and the environment; art and design; music, sound, and poetry; and intercultural understanding.
“The Aga Khan Garden has been designed and constructed to provide enjoyment for hundreds of years and many generations to come,” said garden director Lee Foote. “As with any garden, it will be fascinating to watch as all the plants and trees mature over time, and how programming and learning grows to incorporate the full potential of the space.”
After the Garden opened, Canadian public broadcaster CBC called the Garden “like no other space in Alberta,” while Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail called it “a monument to Muslim culture and the majesty of nature.”
More recently, Where Canada, a tourist guide, has named the University of Alberta Botanic Garden as the best new or improved attraction for 2018 as a result of the development of the Aga Khan Garden.
As one visitor to the Garden commented, “If you are broken, this place will heal you.”