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Little City in the Prairies: Lethbridge, Alberta

Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden (Photo: Travel Alberta)

By Laura Pellerine

You can almost imagine outlaw whiskey traders wandering through the streets of this former frontier town in southern Alberta, about a two-hour drive south of Calgary.

Agriculture and government are the main industries here, but it’s also a university town, so you’ll find live music, art and theatre. If you’re into the outdoors, there are 70 parks to explore. An icon of the landscape is Canadian Pacific Rail High Level Bridge, the tallest and longest bridge of its kind, just outside downtown. Built in 1909, it was once considered one of the wonders of the world.

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Attractions

Fort Whoop-Up National Historic Site
Originally known as Fort Hamilton when it was built in 1869, the fort earned the nickname Fort Whoop-Up when it became an illegal whiskey trading post.

Authentic period rooms with audio vignettes tell stories of the fort’s past. One of the galleries houses artifacts from a war chief who participated in the Last Great Indian Battle, which took place on site in 1870.

Galt Museum
Inside the Galt Museum are interactive exhibits touching on Lethbridge’s coal mining past, First Nations history and prominent historical figures. Watch for oversized artifacts like the giant bottle of Pilsner (Lethbridge was home to Alberta’s first brewery). The building itself is a relic: built in 1910, it was the town’s hospital until the mid-20th century.

Pick up an ammolite necklace at the gift shop—the rare, rainbow-hued jewel is Lethbridge’s official gemstone.

Exhibit at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery

Southern Alberta Art Gallery
Exhibits from contemporary local, national and international artists that push boundaries are on display at SAAG. Last year all five short-listed Sobey Art Award artists were shown here.

The gallery also house a collection of art relating to the southern Alberta region, including abstract works inspired by Lethbridge by acclaimed Canadian painter Harold Klunder.

Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden
Opened in 1967, this serene, four-acre garden was designed by respected Japanese landscape architect Tadashi Kubo.

On the grounds are a waterfall, reflective pond, pruned trees and shrubs, and rocks from a nearby mountain pass. For an even more tranquil experience try the traditional tea ceremony on Sunday in the tea house. The garden is open mid-May through mid-October.

The Windy City
Lethbridge’s nickname is the Windy City, and for good reason: wind speeds have been known to reach 120 km/h, or low-end hurricane levels. The average wind velocity is a tamer, moderately breezy 21 km/h year-round, with the highest gale-level winds in winter. In Canada, only St. John’s, Newfoundland, beats Lethbridge for the number of windy days per year.

Alberta Birds of Prey Centre
Ten minutes east of Lethbridge, and on 70-acres of wetlands, this bird recovery centre focuses on the rescue and release of injured hawks, falcons, eagles and owls from across southern Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon.

Be sure to go on a hawk walk in the backyard (where you might spot a bald eagle up close), take in a live flying demonstration (every 90 minutes), view nature photography in the Natural History Building and wander through the aviaries to see feathered friends like snowy owls.

Eat

Stop by for a latte or glass of wine at the tiki-inspired Mocha Cabana. On Friday and Saturday nights, go for the “locavore” three-course, prix fixe and live music that ranges from jazz to country.

Coffee beans are ground in-house and roasted locally—try the signature Blacksmith Blend.

Sleep

Luxury bed-and-breakfast The Norland is in a restored 1910 Victorian mansion just outside of town. Five acres of private gardens surround the 7,500-square-foot estate. Inside, the inn has a pool, weight room and hot tub. Rooms have heated floors, jetted or claw-foot tubs and Wi-Fi.

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