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Friendship & Beauty in the Coulees of Southern Alberta | Things to Do in Lethbridge

Updated: Jul 19, 2023


Things to Do in Lethbridge | background of green grass and bridge over water in Japanese Garden Nikka Yuko



Nikka Yuko Garden was established in 1967, during Canada's Centennial. The name, Nikka Yuko, translates to "Japan-Canada friendship" and the garden is a symbol of the contributions made to Lethbridge and Southern Alberta by Japanese Canadians. You wouldn't expect to find such a beautiful, lush garden among the coulees of Southern Alberta. It is a tranquil escape in the middle of Lethbridge, with beautifully landscaped greenery and babbling streams and waterfalls. A must-see for anyone visiting this part of the country and one of the top things to do in Lethbridge!



 


Yagai Outdoor Picnic

We started our visit with the Yagai outdoor picnic. We picked up our food at Cleo's Cafe, then made our way to the gates of the garden, where we were met by two people in beautiful traditional yukata outfits. We were escorted into the garden and led to a small table located on one of the small hills. As we enjoyed our meal, we listened to the babbling stream and waterfall to our left and soaked in the peace and tranquility.


The food was delicious! And there was more than we could eat, so we ended up bringing some home with us after. The picnic included: sushi, gyoza, rice and chicken with teriyaki sauce, garden salad and dressing, and water bottles. We also had our choice of drinks. Despite the 30+ degree Celsius weather, my daughter chose hot chocolate. I went with the more practical cold green tea, which was refreshing and delicious. We finished our lunch with a Matcha maple cookie.


Just as we were finishing, some rain started to roll in so we made our way to the Tea Pavilion.



Things to Do in Lethbridge | Yagai outdoor picnic food including sushi, gyoza, rice and chicken with teriyaki sauce, background of the Japanese garden Nikka Yuko



 


Origami and History

As we waited for the rain to pass, my daughter was instructed how to make a lily using origami paper and I listened to one of the interpreters tell the history of the garden and her personal experiences in Japan. The rain wasn't stopping my son though and he wanted to stay outside, so one of the friendly staff lent him an umbrella.


The 1.6-hectare garden was established in 1967, during Canada's Centennial, to recognize the contributions of Japanese Canadians in the community of Lethbridge. Design and landscape architect Tadashi Kubo was commissioned to design Nikka Yuko, with the values of reflecting the natural landscape and culture, remaining "authentic and of the highest quality" (Nikkayuko.com). Most of the structures were built in Kyoto, Japan, then dissembled and shipped to Lethbridge, where they were reassembled. "The garden contains plants that are local to the area, but they're arranged in a Japanese design", explains Melanie Fast, marketing and event manager.


Nikka Yuko translates to "Japan-Canada friendship" and the merging of Canadian and Japanese landscape and culture signifies this. An important element of the garden is the "friendship bell", which was cast in Kyoto. "The bell's deep tones ring a friendship call to all visitors" (nikkayuko.com). Guests are able to ring the bell and enjoy the reverberations and harmonious tone as it resonates through the garden.


This friendship is also evident in the Canada-Japan sister and friendship cities program, which consists of sixteen communities in Alberta which have sister cities in Japan. Lethbridge's sister is Towada City in the Aomori Prefecture of Japan. The goal is to promote friendship, education, and tourism.


Why a Japanese Garden in Southern Alberta?

In 1942, after Pearl Harbor, the Canadian Government issued a foreign enemy decree which provided Japanese Canadians with three options: 1. go "home" to Japan, 2. go to internment camps in British Columbia, or 3. make the trek across the Rocky Mountains to Alberta. "The treatment of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War marks one of the most tragic and unjust series of events in Canadian history" (nikkayuko.com). The majority of residents who came to Alberta worked in sugar beet farms in Raymond, Alberta, which was not much better than the living conditions they would have in the internment camps. They were able to negotiate a better quality of life, and became an integral part of the development and infrastructure of the communities of Raymond, Lethbridge, and most of Southern Alberta.



 


Experiences in the Garden

Aside from the wonderful Yagai picnic, there are many experiences to have at Nikka Yuko. Included in the cost of admission is interpretive programming, with different themes daily. We had the privilege to participate in origami at the tea pavilion. During previous visits, I've witnessed traditional dance performances. There are also traditional tea ceremonies, Japanese board games, taiko drumming, Sumo wrestling, and anime cartoons and activities.


One can also participate in yoga, meditation, private tea ceremonies, Japanese language sessions, and gin and sake tastings. However, these experiences are not included in admission and require arrangement.


While we were visiting, a wedding party arrived for a photoshoot and we had fun observing them as they posed and laughed and enjoyed themselves. The garden was the perfect background and atmosphere for such a beautiful and special day.


On its 55th anniversary, the Bunka (pronounces "Boon-ka", meaning "culture") Centre was debuted and houses a cafe, gift shop, and interpretive exhibits, including a memory booth. The memory booth provides visitors with an opportunity to watch videos or record and share a personal story, as part of the Nikkei Memory Capture Project. It's an opportunity to listen, learn, and share.



Memory Booth in Bunka Centre at Nikka Yuko Things to Do in Lethbridge


 


Our Experience

We were humbled by the history of the Nikka Yuko garden and were honoured to be able to experience a part of the culture. Not only is the garden a place of peace, tranquility, and an escape in the middle of the city, but it is a symbol of friendship. One can't help but feel revitalized and rejuvenated after visiting this carefully and thoughtfully designed piece of Eden among the Southern Alberta coulees. The lush, green landscape, babbling streams and rushing waterfall provide the perfect space to read a book, spend time with friends and family, or release the hustle and bustle outside those gates. We are truly blessed to have such a wonderful place right here in our own backyard.


Click here to purchase admission tickets:


Or head to Nikka Yuko's website to book your Yagai outdoor picnic:


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