Story by Sarah Deveau
LETHBRIDGE, ALBERTA Having grown up in Nova Scotia, where the entire province has a fairly uniform landscape, I’m always surprised by the variety of terrain in Alberta.
In southern Alberta, a straight shot west to east will take you from the soaring Rocky Mountains through thick forests then to the arid hoodoos of the Canadian Badlands.
There are many cities scattered throughout the southeastern part of the province that make for great home bases for exploring the region. One of my favourites, Lethbridge, has long been a destination for nature lovers.
Oldman River valley
Adventurers will love the spectacular Oldman River valley parks system, a collection of eight interconnected urban parks in the Oldman River valley. Combined, these 16 square kilometres makes it one of the largest urban park systems in North America, and the third largest in Canada.
A good starting point for a self-guided walk through the valley is the Helen Schuler Nature Centre, a beautiful LEED-Gold certificated building with changing exhibits and a variety of public programs for children and adults. The centre features extensive living roofs which insulate the building and provide habitat for pollinators and other small wildlife species.
A focal feature of the city, Henderson Lake, is a 24 hectare manmade lake, circled by mature trees and groves, gardens, picnic shelters, playgrounds and more than seven kilometres of trails. On the southern edge of the lake sites is the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden, where visitors are greeted by a host in traditional Japanese garb. Guided tours are available, though many return visitors choose to simply just find a place to sit to enjoy the tranquility of the garden in solitude.
Established during Canada’s Centennial in 1967, Nikka Yuko was built to recognize the contribution made by citizens of Japanese ancestry to the city, and as a symbol of international friendship. The garden merges Japanese and Canadian culture with many layers of symbolism in the design, with rocks, bridges and water features providing beautiful highlights.
The structural components (teahouse, bell tower, azumaya shelter, gates and bridges) were handcrafted in Kyoto, made of yellow cypress wood and dismantled and shipped to Canada. Master tradesmen from Kyoto reassembled the structures on the site. The bronze Friendship Bell, which hangs in the bell tower, was commissioned specifically for Nikka Yuko and cast in Kyoto.
Our winged friends
The Alberta Birds of Prey Centre is Canada’s largest birds of prey facility. Situated on 70-acres of beautiful wetlands, visitors can learn about the hawks, falcons, eagles and owls of Alberta.
The hawk walk is a popular part of a trip to the centre. Walk along the path to view these strong and noble birds mere feet from the pathway. Flying demonstrations are another highlight, and take place every 90 minutes throughout the day.