My Wonderful Day at the Aga Khan Garden, Alberta, on Last Day of Spring: Impressive, Thrilling, Beautiful and Exciting…But Lackluster in Some Key Areas
My first thought, even before leaving Toronto in early January to settle in Calgary, was that I would make the 300 kilometre drive to the Aga Khan Garden, Alberta, in Edmonton at least 4 times a year to take photographs at the peak of each season. Toronto’s Aga Khan Park had spoiled me, being open all year around with its location no more than 600 metres from the neighbourhood I lived in. I had taken hundreds and hundreds of pictures at different times of the year and readers had enjoyed them. Alas, to my disappointment, I found out that the Aga Khan Garden, which is one of several gardens at the University of Alberta (U of A) Botanic Garden, was closed during winter. After having visited it, I would say rightly so because walking on its icy or snow-filled pathways would lead to falls and injuries, especially on the concrete surfaces.
The Aga Khan Garden finally opened for the 2022 season in early May. I could not make it any earlier than on the last day of spring, Monday June 20, 2022, and thankfully the weather was in my favour. The drive from Calgary (Hwy 2 North) is straightforward and easy but the Garden’s location from downtown Edmonton (Jasper Avenue) is a good 33 kms. I had two GPSs on and decided, as I got closer to Edmonton to follow Googlemap directions. It was totally different from the route that was suggested on my vehicle’s GPS, despite the recent map software updates that had been applied to it. My vehicle continuously asked me to make a U-turn when I followed Google.
Anyway, ahead of reaching the Botanic Garden, I made a short stop at a rest area that didn’t involve taking a highway exit. I stretched my legs and felt like having a bite at the area’s restaurant that promised “24-hour” service. However the restaurant was closed and the mouth watering menu had to be replaced with quite decent leftovers of a McDonald’s Fruit and Fibre muffin and lukewarm coffee that I had purchased two hours earlier. In my opinion McDonald’s is the best restaurant in the world. I am greeted politely, it is consistent anywhere you go, and offers good fast food, and talk about ambience….it is pleasant and vibrant; and I love the youth running the show! They are good and work in harmony.
Outside the rest area restaurant, a huge green space had become a haven for countless of gophers who had dug up holes everywhere. The little animal is a rodent that’s endemic to Alberta and some other provinces in Canada; I had never seen one in Toronto or Ottawa.
I finally arrived at the large, mostly empty, U of A Botanic Garden parking lot, just off Hwy 60, at around 11:30 AM, under mostly sunny skies, with clouds passing by. That trend lasted a few hours into the afternoon, but the final 2 hours from 4 PM onwards were full of sunshine, with clear blue skies. One of the best features and conveniences at the Aga Khan Garden was the number of benches and other sitting areas all around.
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His Highness the Aga Khan on the Inauguration of the Garden
It is always a great pleasure to greet old friends and welcome new friends at a celebration like this. But today’s inauguration stands out for me as particularly joyous. For one thing, the old friendships we renew today are especially meaningful. We look back, of course, to the welcome in Alberta of members of the Ismaili community who settled here almost a half century ago, often in very difficult circumstances. And those bonds of welcome have been continually renewed through the years, especially through our rewarding partnerships with the University of Alberta.
One of the special gifts that old friends offer is introducing us to wonderful new friends, and that has also happened here. The project we celebrate today — the inauguration of the Aga Khan Garden — is a particularly happy example.
I think all of you have had the pleasure – in your personal life or your professional life — of seeing a fascinating story develop happily from beginning to end. We recall the excitement of a new beginning — as well as that deep sense of grateful satisfaction when the planning works — when the hope is realised, and the vision is achieved. Well that is exactly how I feel today. I was fortunate to have been part of this project’s conception — and I feel fortunate to be here today to help mark its realisation — His Highness the Aga Khan, Edmonton, October 16, 2018
Upon my arrival at the Botanic Garden, and paying a nominal fee of $11.50 for a seniors ticket, I was given an overview of the gardens, and also provided with an excellent map. The map is also mounted at a number of key locations in the Garden, and is available on the Botanic Garden’s website.
My trip to the Aga Khan Garden was amazing and the photographs should highlight how much I enjoyed my 6-hour stay at the Garden. However I was disappointed with the Aga Khan Garden for a number of reasons. I felt the flower beds were not laid out with any strong sense of order; they looked patchy and I am afraid inelegant. But, then, I am not an expert on gardening matters, and the planting season has only recently begun. A few visitors I met, admired the various species of the Iris in different colours but I was unimpressed for the reasons I have noted.
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Well, I hope that during my next two or three visits to the Aga Khan Garden at the height of summer and early autumn, my impressions about the flower and plant beds will change for the better. I had also overheard — or perhaps even read — that the plants and trees contained captions explaining the species. I love fruits, and there was a large area with fruit trees. Again, I did not see descriptive captions on many (or most) of them that are normally to be found at the foot of trees, unless my vision totally failed me.
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The Japanese Garden, I was told, is the most visited of all the gardens. My focus was on picture taking at the Aga Khan Garden but I quickly walked through the Japanese Garden and found it to be elegant and well manicured. I then headed to the café. The staff gladly prepared an excellent multi-grain beef sandwich, topped with a variety of vegetable, and dressed it with dijon mustard and mayo. The sandwich and cranberry juice energized me and I found myself back at the Aga Khan Garden for another 90 minutes for more picture taking, and to sit still on one of several benches located in the Garden. Literally, with the sun beating down on my face, I sat on a bench at the furthest end of the garden, near the rich algae filled Calla Pond for 1 full hour, until around 5:45 PM. Had the botanical garden remained open beyond 6 PM, I would have easily extended my visit for another few hours. My wish was to experience the Aga Khan Garden at sunset, and also during the twilight hour.
I loved the sandwich so much that I almost requested the café for a take out for a late dinner once I returned home. I remembered though that chicken curry, vegetable rice, a piece of a kefta kebob and kheer (milk pudding) had been delivered on Father’s Day to all the seniors in my building.
Finally, before my departure for Calgary, I gave myself 15 minutes to visit the University’s botanic garden shop. I expected to see appropriate gardening literature as well as postcards and other gift items for sale. Nothing is available yet. A book featuring the university’s botanic garden with its many themes and gardens would make for excellent reading.
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Of course, the entire University of Alberta Botanic Garden would require a full-day to visit and enjoy, and I hope to see all the sections of the garden during my next 2 or 3 trips in summer and early autumn. Please enjoy the photos and make the Aga Khan Garden a must place visit if you live in Edmonton and surrounding areas, or if you travel to Edmonton. Take your children or younger siblings with you. I saw several children in groups led by their dedicated teachers. They were enjoying the Botanic Garden a lot. Please make it a family trip and everyone will thank you for this fantastic outdoor visit.
MORE BEAUTIFUL PHOTOS AND INSIGHTFUL QUOTES
His Highness the Aga Khan on the Symbol of the Garden
….the great tradition of Islamic gardens has its roots in very different times and places. The symbol of the garden as a spiritual symbol goes back to the Holy Qur’an itself — where the garden ideal is mentioned many times. Down through many centuries, Islamic culture has continued to see the garden as a very special place, where the human meets further proof of the divine. The development of the garden as a symbol of Islamic ideals flourished most magnificently some 500 to 600 years ago — and that happened, of course, in the warmer climates of Southern Asia. And yet, there we were in Edmonton a decade ago, proposing to extend that lovely eastern and southern tradition, at the start of the 21st Century, to the unique natural environment of northern and western Canada. This proposed new garden, to be precise, would be the northern-most Islamic garden ever created — His Highness the Aga Khan, Edmonton, October 16, 2018.
EPILOGUE: His Highness on Honouring Separate Identities
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, through 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. And even as we share the garden experience with one another, we can feel a connection with those who walked through similar gardens in the past.
I would also mention one additional aspect of the particular garden we inaugurate today. It symbolises not only the creative blending of the natural and the human — but also the beauty of multiple inter-cultural cooperation.
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 project we inaugurate today is a beautiful extension of that Canadian tradition — His Highness the Aga Khan, Edmonton, October 16, 2018.
Date posted: June 22, 2022.
Last updated: June 23, 2022 (typos and correction, see note below).
Correction: When referencing the Aga Khan Garden, the text in the original version, including all the captions, read “Aga Khan Garden, Edmonton”. This has been changed to “Aga Khan Garden, Alberta”, which is consistent with the name as it appears on the inauguration plague. We regret this oversight in the original post.
1. For more details of the Aga Khan Garden, including videos, please visit the official page HERE.
Malik Merchant is the founding publisher and editor of Simergphotos (2012) as well as its two sister websites Simerg (2009) and Barakah (2007). An IT consultant for 40 years in the UK, USA and Canada, he now engages in small family related projects and is passionate about his websites. His interest for literature and community publications began in his childhood years through the work of his late parents Jehangir (d. May 2017, aged 89) and Malek Merchant (d. January 2021, also 89), who both devoted their lives to the service of the Ismaili community, its institutions and the Imam-of-the-Time, His Highness the Aga Khan, as missionaries and religious education teachers. In the UK, Malik edited the flagship Ismaili magazine, ILM, with his father. The internet encouraged him to launch his first website, Simerg, in 2009. A resident of Ontario since 1983, he relocated to Alberta in January 2022. He has an animal loving daughter Dr. Nurin Merchant; she is a vet and practices in Ontario. Malik can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also be reached — and followed — @twitter and @facebook.
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