After nearly a decade of planning and 18 months of construction the Aga Khan Garden at the University of Alberta Botanic Garden in Devon, just outside Edmonton, opened to the public recently and as the garden is the northernmost of its kind in the world and only the second in North America I wanted explore this notable new local landmark on day-trip with family.

The 12-acre Mughal-inspired garden was made possible by a CAD$25-million gift from the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslim community, and according to a press release from the Aga Khan Development Network is meant to be “a space for connection, enjoyment, contemplation and education, where cultural understanding can flourish.”

Edmonton was chosen as the garden site despite our harsh winters because of both the city’s sizable Muslim community and its historical significance for having been home to Canada’s first mosque built in 1938 by early Arab Muslim immigrants. The site was announced in 2009 when the Aga Khan came to Edmonton to deliver the university’s commencement address.

The main entrance to the gardens is along a metal walkway through a Woodland Bagh.

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The first water feature is a black granite oval pool meant to reflect the surrounding woods and sky above.

Climbing a few steps visitors arrive at an upper terrace called a Talar, a Persian word for throne, with the fountain at its center representing the source of water for the garden.

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At the top of the Talar there are sweeping views over the Chahar Bagh or four-quadrant courtyard divided by walkways and reflecting pools. The Nahr or stream is meant to celebrate water in its different forms: falling, flowing, reflecting and creating sound.

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The lower terrace is decorated with splashes of colour as throughout the inaugural 2018 season gardeners will complete the planting of over 25,000 new perennials, trees, shrubs and wetland plants but a formal grand opening ceremony is being delayed a year to give the new plantings a chance to become established.

 

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Sprinkled around the garden perched among the fountains and green spaces are life-size bronze salamanders, frogs,  toads, walleye and lake trout which are all native to Alberta. There are 16 of these whimsical animals to be found and spotting as many as possible a good way to entertain the young and young-at-heart.

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Islamic decoration makes frequent use of geometric patterns which has developed over the centuries and are often built on repeating square or circles which when combined form high intricate and complex designs.

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The twenty stone columns each stand 18-feet tall and from a distance resemble Egyptian temples I’d seen during past travels. While most of the stone used in the garden was Canadian sourced the pillars are one exception as it’s a unique limestone imported from Portugal.

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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 and to handle the larger crowds upgrades have been made to the site’s parking lot along with a new entry plaza and other infrastructure improvements.

The new garden is is open to visitors daily from 29 June through 8 October 2018 and joins a network of 11 Islamic parks and gardens built or restored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture around the world including Delhi, Cairo, Kabul and Toronto. For admission fees, hours of operations and tours consult the University of Alberta Botanic Garden website.