Recollecting a beautiful Canada Day moment in Winnipeg, and the Aga Khan’s message of 1978 that inspired thousands to make Canada their permanent home

Publisher/editor SimergSimergphotos  and Barakah (2017)

July 1, 2017 was 150th anniversary of Canada’s founding. I had planned to be in Ottawa for the greatest Canada Day celebration in the country. However, my 45000 km road trip that began in Vancouver was delayed, and I arrived in Winnipeg on June 30th after having driven 2600 kms (including the detours I had taken to see sites in Alberta and Saskatchewan)! Ottawa was a further 2200 kms away, and the forecast there called for rainy weather.

Winnipeg was basking in sunshine when I woke up! At the hotel, I had learned about Winnipeg’s 11 year old tradition of forming a living Canadian flag in various parts of the city. For the 150th anniversary, the largest living Maple Leaf formation was going to be at the city’s downtown intersection at Portage Avenue and Main Street.

Canada Day Living Maple Leaf in Winnipeg Simerg
Canada’s Largest Living Maple Leaf formed with the participation of thousands of individuals in Winnipeg on July 1, 2017, to celebrate the country’s 150th birthday. Photo: Downtown Winnipeg Biz.

2,500 red T-shirts were handed out at 8:30 AM, and Canadians of all backgrounds were asked to position themselves in the square. Nigerian born Ismaila Alfa, host of Up To Speed on CBC Radio One in Winnipeg, led the sea of reds through a couple of practice sessions to get everything right. Then, he asked the crowd to look up at the camera hosted in a high rise office tower for two photos — the first with a smile and the second one with the cheerful singing of “Canada” . This was a truly memorable moment for me as I have never witnessed anything like this before, and have only attended Canada Day Celebrations in Ottawa! I share the photographs from that happy day 3 years later, while we are all stuck at home watching the 153rd Canada Day virtually due to Covid-19.

Canada Day Living Maple Leaf in Winnipeg Simerg
Canada’s Largest Living Maple Leaf formed with the participation of thousands of individuals in Winnipeg on July 1, 2017, to celebrate the country’s 150th birthday. Photo: Downtown Winnipeg Biz.

As an Ismaili Muslim, my first impressions of Canada were formed in November 1978 when I travelled to Toronto from the UK for Mawlana Hazar Imam’s, His Highness the Aga Khan, first ever visit to his newly settled Ismaili followers. When he repeatedly called on the Ismailis in Canada to “Make Canada your home” I reflected on that message and decided to make Canada my home some 2 years later.

This unique and historical photo signed by the late Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, was taken in the Prime Minister’s Office during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Silver Jubilee visit to Canada in April 1983. (l to r) – Hon. Secretary Farouk Verjee (Aga Khan Council for Canada), Mr. Gerry Wilkinson (His Highness the Aga Khan’s Secretariat, Aiglemont, France), Hon. Secretary Mohamed Manji (Aga Khan Ontario Council), President Amirali Rhemtulla (Aga Khan Grants Council), Mawlana Hazar Imam, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Prince Amyn Muhammad Aga Khan, President Mehboob Dhanani (Aga Khan Ontario Council) and President Zulficar Lalji (Aga Khan Council for Canada). The full signature line note from the Prime Minister read: To Farouk with the best of Memories. Trudeau. 1983. Photo: Farouk Verjee Collection, Vancouver.

Mawlana Hazar Imam’s profound affinity and respect for Canada has been explained in a very thoughtful piece by Mohib Ebrahim. I urge everyone to read it. I take a number of quotations from Mohib’s article which reflect the Imam’s confidence in Canada as a force of good:

“Canada [is] an international power who takes her responsibilities seriously and whose policies have never in her history been tainted by the cruder forms of colonialism, racialism or isolationism.” — Diplomatic Banquet, Toronto, November 1978.

“Successful experience with democracy, civil society and pluralism are the national genius of Canada of which much of the developing world is in dire need.” — Ottawa, June 2005

“[A]s you continue your search for the best constitutional solution to your future, … let me emphasise that Canada remains for the rest of the world an enviable haven. A haven of peace, and of immense natural beauty and wealth. The wealth I speak of, is not merely its natural resources but the peoples of Canada, steeped in your tradition of tolerance, generosity and compassion in alleviating human suffering and respect for diversity of thought and culture.” — Diplomatic Corps Banquet Toronto, August 1992.

On this 153rd anniversary marking the birth of Canada, my 89 year old beautiful mother Maleksultan and my lovely daughter Nurin join me in wishing all Canadians and everyone living in this great country a very Happy Canada Day.

Ismaili Muslim is appointed as the new Lieutenant Governor of Alberta

We are particularly proud and joyous that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced yesterday, June 30, the appointment of Salma Lakhani, a proud Ismaili Muslim, as the new Lieutenant Governor of Alberta. Ms. Lakhani will be the first Muslim Lieutenant Governor in Canadian history.

Salma Lakhani

A long time resident of Edmonton, Ms. Lakhani has dedicated her life to helping people in need and those who face obstacles to success in our society. Through her work to advance education, health care, women’s empowerment, human rights, and support for new immigrants, she continues to be a champion of diversity, pluralism, and inclusion.

Born in Uganda, her home country from which her family was expelled in 1972, Ms. Lakhani completed an honours degree in Clinical Biochemistry at the University of Manchester. She moved to Edmonton with her husband, Dr. Zaheer Lakhani, in 1977. The couple has two daughters. I recollect Dr. Zaheer as the Aga Khan Council Chairman for Edmonton during the early 1980’s. He mingled with everyone in the Jamat, and as a leader consulted with Jamati members regularly. He was always supported by his wife Salma during his term.

The Ismaili, the official website of the Ismaili community, has published a special article about her appointment.

We congratulate Ms. Lakhani and her family on her appointment, and wish her happiness and success in the role she will play for all Albertans.

As we all celebrate Canada Day, we sincerely hope that this great nation of 37.6 millions people will come out even stronger from the Covid-19 pandemic that we are living through today with the rest of humanity.

Date posted: July 1, 2020.

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few.


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Malik with his mother Maleksultan
Merchant at the Vancouver Ismaili

Malik Merchant is the editor of Simerg (2009), Barakah (2017) and Simergphotos (2012). A former IT consultant, he now dedicates his time to small family projects and the publication his websites. He is the eldest son of the Late Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (1928-2018) and Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant, who both served Ismaili Jamati institutions together for several decades in professional and honorary capacities. His daughter, Nurin Merchant, is a veterinarian based in Ottawa. Malik may be contacted at


3 thoughts on “Recollecting a beautiful Canada Day moment in Winnipeg, and the Aga Khan’s message of 1978 that inspired thousands to make Canada their permanent home

  1. Ya Ali Madad Malik

    Thank you for the updates I look forward to the Simerg readings.

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article about your recollection of Canada. We are so blessed to be in this country. I remember the day I landed here in 1980 from Tanzania; the sun was shining and lots of snow — it truly looked beautiful. May Mawla always be with you & that you keep us informed through this website.

  2. Dear Salma,

    Lots of Mubaraki for your appointment as a Lieutenant Governor of Alberta. May Mowla give you success in your endeavors. Ameen

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