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London, Ont. community honours anniversary with Our London Family community garden

Imran Saeed, a close family friend of the Afzaal family, standing beside his garden plot, which he is tending to in the family’s honour. Sawyer Bogdan/Global News London

London, Ont., continues to remember the four members of the Afzaal family killed one year ago with the unveiling of a new community garden to honour Our London Family.

Located in Maple Grove Park, the garden follows several other tributes happening throughout London on Monday in marking the anniversary of their death.

Read more: ‘Reclaiming, healing and remembering’ — London, Ont. community honours Afzaal family

On June 6, 2021, the Afzaal family was out for a walk when they were struck by a pickup truck on the corner of Hyde Park Road and South Carriage Road.

Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Afzaal and Salman’s 74-year-old mother Talat Afzaal were killed. The couple’s nine-year-old son sustained serious but non-life-threatening injuries and survived the attack.

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Nathaniel Veltman, 20, is accused of deliberately hitting the family with his truck.

He is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in what prosecutors say was an act of terrorism.

Various members of the community left flowers at the site of the attack, standing as a symbol of solidarity towards those affected and lost.

According to Deputy Mayor Josh Morgan, a piece of that compassion stands within the new community garden.

“Instead of those flowers just getting thrown in the garbage or put away, they were kept together and composted,” said Morgan. “The compost with those flowers was used in this community gardens and gardens at the site. So, when you think about the outpouring of love and support that those flowers represent, that same love and support is in each and every one of these gardens.”

Included in the Our London Family community garden are 10 plots of land complete with three raised beds. Filled for this year, each plot is dedicated to one gardener.

Identifiable by the Our London Family image on the welcome sign, this marks London’s 18th community garden.

“Second to the London Muslim Mosque and his religion, Salman grew a love for gardening,” said Imran Saeed, a close friend of the Afzaal family. “We used to joke with him that he had grown an Amazon Forest.”

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“Salman was a very simple person,” Saeed added. “In 2010, when we moved here, he was the first person who welcomed me, who became my first friend.”

As one of the 10 gardeners chosen this year for the Our London Family community garden, Saeed said he plans to personally give back to the community with the produce he grows, something his friend did quite often.

“He used to grow vegetables and distribute them to us,” said Saeed. “I will continue (doing) the same thing.”

Afzaal’s gardening legacy is also being kept by other friends in the community, according to Saeed.

“I remember watching his neighbours water his garden after he passed away,” he said. “They did that every day.”

Tariq Bhatti, a trustee of the Pakistani Canadian Association for London and surrounding areas, said he was also a friend of Salman, recalling the days they played cricket together.

“He was a friend of everybody,” said Bhatti. “He was always there to help and not just Salman, but that entire family. They were very loving.”

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Regarding Salman’s nine-year-old son, Bhatti said “he is going to be our superhero one day.”

“He’s endured so much loss and grief and somebody who comes out of that situation is a real superhero,” he said.

“Every Canadian needs to recognize that Islamophobia is real,” added Bhatti. “The first step is to acknowledge that Islamophobia is real at all levels. Once we acknowledge that, then we can do something to combat it.”

— with files from Global News’ Sawyer Bogdan

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