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Enews: $300 million Aga Khan project begins construction in Ward 26 - 2010-06-03

Thursday, 2010, June 3
John Parker

From: John Parker Toronto City Councillor Ward 26 - Don Valley West

May 28 marked an important milestone in an exciting project in Ward 26 that will create a new landmark in Toronto of international significance.

On that day the Prime Minister of Canada joined the Aga Khan and several hundred invited guests at the Foundation Ceremony marking the start of construction work on the $300 million Aga Khan Centre at the corner of Eglinton and the Don Valley Parkway.

The project features three significant components: The Aga Khan museum, the Ismaili Centre, and a large, beautiful, park and garden for public use and enjoyment. The site could not be more prominent: The hillside site clearly visible from miles to the south and west of one of the busiest intersections in Toronto .
The Ismaili Centre will be a gathering place for spiritual and intellectual discourse. The museum will gather, preserve, and display art and artefacts of Muslim civilization and heritage. Together they will advance the Ismailis’ moderate outlook and respect for the search for knowledge and beauty.

The Prime Minister put it clearly: “ Canada is honoured to have been chosen as the site for these important institutions. They will serve to promote pluralism, peace, and tolerance through greater understanding of Islam.”
He went on to say, quite correctly, that the project “will be a stunning addition to Canada ’s growing architecture. It will be a grand destination and will be a magnet to visitors from Canada and around the world and will promote pluralism, peace, and knowledge.”

The Aga Khan echoed the Prime Minister’s comments, saying, “It will help people understand and embrace the power of human diversity.... It will have a strong education aspect.”

The Aga Khan is the leader of the world’s approximately 15 million Ismailis. His passion for his own work and for his people worldwide is to promote peace and understanding. In a world where I believe our biggest human problem is ignorance and suspicion, the initiative represented by the Aga Khan Centre is a welcome step in the right direction for all of us, whatever our faith or background.

Canada is home to about 70,000 Ismailis, many of whom live in Ward 26. For that reason alone it is entirely fitting that this great landmark project be located here. But the Prime Minister gave a more compelling reason: Commenting on the writings of the Aga Khan, the Prime Minister said, “If I may say, sir, you sound like a Canadian. And in fact, you are.”

He then surprised everyone in the audience by delivering to His Highness a certificate confirming the unanimous declaration of Canada ’s Parliament conferring on him honorary Canadian citizenship. This act added the Aga Khan to a list of only four others – Holocaust hero Raoul Wallenberg, Burmese democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Dalai Lama, and Nelson Mandela – to be so honoured.

“I have always felt at home in Canada ”, said His Highness, “But never more than this moment.”

The occasion was a special one for me too. As city councillor for ward that includes the project site, I have worked closely with the project team and city staff in working through the plans and processes involved in granting approval for this particular development. This has commanded a significant part of my attention during my term as Ward 26 representative at City Hall. I have been privileged to see the personal attention that His Highness has given to the project, and the sense of high minded purpose that the project team takes to each element of the design and function of the development.

I was honoured to hear His Highness mention my name specifically in his public remarks. Even more flattering was the opportunity to meet with him informally after the event and learn what a close eye he had been keeping on my involvement in the project. He was able to tell me about things that I had done that I had already forgotten! He could not have been more gracious, and I could not have been more impressed with the sincerity of his kind remarks.

He said he hoped I would continue to be helpful as the project entered its construction phase and continued onward in the future. (As if there was the remotest possibility that I would want to be anything but!) He gave me a warm hug when I assured him that being able to contribute to the successful completion of this project is greatest honour I could hope for.

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