Islamic garden coming to University of Alberta Botanical Garden in 2018

The University of Alberta Botanical Garden will receive an Islamic garden set to bloom in 2018 as a gift.

The new Islamic garden will be the first in Western Canada supported by a more than $25 million donation from the the Aga Khan, who leads the second-largest Shia Islam branch. Known as the Aga Khan Garden, it will combine historic Islamic garden elements with the western Canadian landscape. The garden will reside within the University of Alberta Botanical Garden, which is about a 15-minute drive southwest of Edmonton.

“In a tradition dating back 1,200 years, this may be the coldest climate in which an Islamic garden has been built,” said international Aga Khan University President Firoz Rasul at the garden’s announcement ceremony on April 7.

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The garden will occupy 4.8 hectares that surround the University of Alberta Botanical Garden’s Calla Pond. Garden features will include forest paths, stepped terraces that change with the seasons, geometric water features. Plant-wise, the garden’s seed bank will host native Albertan plants that will interact with the surrounding wetland. Once completed, the number of annual visitors to the University of Alberta Botanic Garden is predicted to rise from 75,000 to 160,000.

Taking five years to design, the garden will show that reaching out across cultures, nations, and barriers is possible, Rasul said. Besides its botanical elements, the garden will also include information about Islamic tradition and art.

“It is too often we think of gardens as purely a place for our pleasure and for our repose,” Thomas Woltz, the garden’s architect, said. “Something we consume in relaxation only. This garden, however, is a landscape of ideas. It represents both art and head.”

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The new garden is a product of a Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2006 and an honourary doctorate given to the Aga Khan in 2009. A new Memorandum of Understanding was signed by Rasul and the U of A’s President David Turpin at the garden’s announcement.

“We celebrate the important partnership between the University of Alberta, His Highness the Aga Khan, and the Aga Khan University — a partnership that recognizes the strength of diversity,” Turpin said. “The world need champions for openness, inclusion, and diversity.”

The garden will serve as a permanent symbol of cooperation and cultural exchange, Turpin said. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley also attended the garden’s announcement.

“We recognize the deep connection and deep friendship between the Aga Khan University and the University of Alberta,” Notley said. “This relationship, just like the work of our government, is about making life better for people.”

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U of A students have done internships at Aga Khan University campuses and many complete their clinical electives at hospitals partnered with it as well. Aga Khan students have also completed graduate studies and post-graduate work at the U of A.

“We have a partner in a great university that has a global presence that is interested in the developing world,” Turpin said. “We have a lot of researchers that are very engaged in various problems and to have an institution that’s committed to those same things allows to share research.”