By Peggy Garritty, Chancellor of University of Alberta, October 1, 2022
In 2018, the city of Edmonton hosted His Highness the Aga Khan to open what has since become a landmark of the city and the province — the Aga Khan Garden at the University of Alberta’s Botanic Garden.
This week, four years later, the Aga Khan Garden was visited by His Highness’ daughter Princess Zahra Aga Khan who, on behalf of her father, presided over the opening of the Diwan at the garden. The pavilion is designed for year-round use and provides a space for meeting, cultural exchange, and collaboration. As chancellor of the University of Alberta, it was my great honour to attend the ceremony and learn so much, not only about the Aga Khan’s incredible gift, but also the history of the Ismaili community in Edmonton and Alberta and the tremendous contributions they continue to make to our community.
The garden has occupied a central place in space and time throughout human history. Today, no major urban centre is without green space. From London’s Hyde Park to New York’s Central Park to Vancouver’s own Stanley Park, parks have inspired solace, balancing the bustling life in the metropolis. As spaces of rest, rejuvenation, and peace, they offer spaces for contemplation for life’s larger questions.The garden has occupied a central place in space and time throughout human history. Today, no major urban centre is without green space. From London’s Hyde Park to New York’s Central Park to Vancouver’s own Stanley Park, parks have inspired solace, balancing the bustling life in the metropolis. As spaces of rest, rejuvenation, and peace, they offer spaces for contemplation for life’s larger questions.
As His Highness the Aga Khan reflected in his own speech at the garden’s inauguration, parks symbolize, “not only the creative blending of the natural and the human — but also the beauty of multiple intercultural co-operation. One of the great questions facing humanity today is how we can honour what is distinctive about our separate identities and, at the same time, welcome a diversity of identities as positive elements in our lives. This city and this country have been among the world leaders in providing positive answers to that ancient question.”
The question of how humanity will come to terms with its own diversity, and the many tensions that this provokes, is a question of critical importance. In Canada, this has not been an easy process, and the Canadian values of pluralism and respect for difference are ones that have been forged in the fires of the country’s history — and not all of it is a source of pride. These are ethics and values that are constant works in progress.
The challenges of our time — climate change, increasing conflict, forced migration and economic uncertainty — demand human co-operation and collaboration on an unprecedented scale. The first step in this collaboration requires the acknowledgement and respect of difference, and then an openness to understand and know the other. The Aga Khan Garden is a gift that catalyses our capacity and ability to know each other. We have here in the garden a setting that actively encourages the encounter with difference.
In its Mughal-inspired architecture and design, the Aga Khan Garden places Edmonton in conversation with the great gardens of the Muslim world — in cities like Delhi, Seville, Mali, Cairo, and Kabul. In its design and inspiration, it inspires questions, conversations, and discussions and in its atmosphere and purpose, it has become a space of peace, of enjoyment, of laughter, and of happiness.
In the four years since its inauguration, it has begun to provide the foundations upon which the Canadian ethics of pluralism and respect for difference can take root, grow and spread, not just within the confines of the garden, city or province, but across Canada and beyond.
Source: Edmonton Journal