In a ceremony marking the culmination of 18 years of planning, design and construction, the Prime Minister of Canada — in the presence of Mawlana Hazar Imam — declared the Ismaili Centre, Toronto open.
Recalling the foundation ceremony of the Wynford Drive complex four years earlier, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper repeated remarks he had made in May 2010: “I said then that these projects ‘promise to be another stunning addition to Canada’s growing array of architectural treasures.’”
“We celebrate today the fact that that ambitious promise is now a splendid reality,” announced the Prime Minister Harper.
The realisation of that promise was made possible by the support of many, said Mawlana Hazar Imam, particularly the Prime Minister and the Government of Canada, the Premier of Ontario, and officials at federal, provincial and municipal levels of government. Hazar Imam also recognised the architects and artists, as well as donors, volunteers, staff and Jamati leaders. But the Imam reserved special mention for his brother: “It is with deepest admiration that I thank the person whose guiding hand has been so important at every stage of this project: a member of my family, my brother, Prince Amyn Aga Khan.”
The completion of the Wynford Drive project also owes much to “the hand of friendship,” explained Mawlana Hazar Imam. Recounting a journey that began in the late 1990s, he cited numerous examples where friends of the Ismaili community and members of the Imam’s family extended generous assistance to help the project move forward.
“But I might note… that the decisive role at critical junctures in this process was played by two remarkable women: Princess Catherine and Mrs Bata,” remarked Hazar Imam. He recalled that Mrs Bata had made possible the acquisition of the site of the former Bata building upon which the Ismaili Centre now stands, and that Princess Catherine — the widow of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s uncle, Prince Sadruddin — had made available their collection of Islamic art for the Aga Khan Museum.
The Ismaili Centre, Toronto joins a network of similar buildings in Vancouver, London, Lisbon, Dubai and Dushanbe. Mawlana Hazar Imam talked about the distinct ability of the Ismaili Centres to bring people together: “These are places where Ismailis and non-Ismailis, Muslims and non-Muslims, will gather for shared activities.”
He expects the Ismaili Centre, Toronto, like other Centres around the world, to be “filled with the sounds of enrichment, dialogue and warm human rapport, as Ismailis and non-Ismailis share their lives in a healthy gregarious spirit.”
“Yes,” affirmed Mawlana Hazar Imam to happy applause, “we are a community that welcomes the smile!”
Guests included Prince Amyn, Prince Rahim, Princess Salwa and Prince Hussain, as well as dignitaries and institutional leaders, all of whom had gathered to witness the historic moment. The ceremony incorporated beautiful performances, among them, a unique recitation of the national anthem by Tafelmusik, an award-winning Canadian orchestra. The Elmer Iseler Singers, one of Canada’s most illustrious professional choral ensembles, performed after the ceremony as Mawlana Hazar Imam led Prime Minister Harper on a tour of the building.
“His Highness [the Aga Khan] has greatly contributed to demystifying Islam, throughout the world, by stressing its social traditions of peace, of tolerance and of pluralism,” remarked Prime Minister Harper. “This is a vision of Islam of which all Canadians can be proud especially when a contrary and violent distortion of that vision so regularly dominates the news.”
Pluralism is deeply entrenched in Canada’s history, noted the Prime Minister, who cited the example of George Étienne Cartier, a father of Canadian Confederation. “The wisdom that Cartier advanced 150 years ago, the wisdom of acceptance and tolerance, are lessons that the Canadian Ismaili community teaches still,” he said. “In so doing, [the Ismaili Muslims] have contributed to keeping these fundamental values at the heart of our national identity,” added the Prime Minister.
“And I am therefore delighted to join you in declaring the Ismaili Centre open.”