Things to Do in Lethbridge
Lethbridge is a prairie city in southwest Alberta that lies on the Oldman River less than 100 kilometres east of the Rocky Mountains. Founded in an area populated by different First Nations tribes, Montanan fur and whiskey traders, American prospectors, and officers of the North West Mounted Police, Lethbridge was a coal mining boomtown that, after World War II, gradually transformed into an agriculturally-driven city. Today, with over 80 000 permanent residents, Lethbridge is the fourth largest city in Alberta (after Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer).
Most of Lethbridge’s attractions stem from the city’s rich history and profound dedication to cultural development. Below are some of the places worth visiting if you ever find yourself with free time in Lethbridge.
Before coal mining became the predominant industry in southwestern Alberta, most of the region’s commerce took place at Fort Whoop-Up. Initially named Fort Hamilton after co-founder Alf Hamilton, Fort Whoop-Up was an infamous trading post run by Americans from Fort Benton, Montana, who sold wool blankets, whiskey, repeating rifles and other goods to the local Blackfoot in exchange for buffalo robes and other furs. Much of the trade at Fort Whoop-Up, in particular the whiskey and firearm trade, had a devastating effect on the plains natives.
Today, a replica of the original fort stands in Indian Battle Park. A National Historic Site, this fort contains a courtyard and rooms reminiscent of the original Fort Whoop-Up of the 1870’s and ‘80’s. The interpretive centre, also within the fort’s palisaded walls, includes two small museums that showcase and describe artifacts that once belonged to descendants of a late local Blackfoot chief, and relics of the frontier days of the Oldman River Valley, respectively. In addition, the interpretive centre is home to the largest period firearm collection in all of Canada.
Indian Battle Park
Indian Battle Park is the site of the last great Indian battle on Canadian soil, the Battle of Belly River. The park itself is comprised of a 5 kilometre trail system dotted with picnic areas and a unique natural playground. Near the entrance of the park is the replica of Fort Whoop-Up, which stands in view of the famous High Level Bridge.
The High Level Bridge, officially termed the Lethbridge Viaduct, is not so much something to do as it is something to see. Constructed by the Canadian Pacific Railway from 1907-1909, the huge steel trestle bridge that stretches across the Oldman River Valley is the largest railway bridge in the world.
Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden
The Nikka Yoku Japanese Garden, located in Henderson Park, is arguably Lethbridge’s most impressive, and suitably most popular, attraction. A product of Lethbridge’s Japanese community and exceptional devotion to culture, the traditional Japanese garden is a Canadian Centennial Project that was built to recognize the international friendship between Canada and Japan and the contributions of Lethbridge’s Japanese community.
Designed to incorporate both Canadian and Japanese elements, Nikka Yoku includes a waterfall, a stream, a number of stones from the Rocky Mountains, an island shaped like a turtle, a reflective pond overlooked by carved stone lanterns, and several yellow cypress structures handcrafted in Kyoto. The garden is open from mid-May to mid-October, from 9 am – 5 pm daily.
The Water Tower
One of Lethbridge’s most historically prominent structures is the old 12-story-high municipal water tank that stands on Mayor Magrath Drive South. Although originally used to house the town’s supply of potable water, the water tower has since been converted into one of Canada’s most unconventional restaurants. The tower is currently home to Ric’s Grill, a steak and seafood restaurant.
The Galt Museum and Archives
If you’re into the history of southern Alberta, the Galt Museum should be on your list of places to visit. With over 20 000 artifacts and 300 000 archival documents from Lethbridge and other parts of southern Alberta, the Galt Museum is a playground for amateur historians.
Before it was converted into a museum in 1964, the Galt Museum building was the Galt Hospital. According to local legend, the spirit of a man who died in the building’s elevator en route to an appendectomy in 1933 haunts the museum to this day.
The Southern Alberta Art Gallery
The Southern Alberta Art Gallery, also known as the SAAG, is one of Canada’s most prominent contemporary art galleries. The gallery exhibits contemporary art pieces from local, regional, national and international artists. It is located next to the colorful Galt Gardens.
Although the SAAG is admired predominantly for the art displays inside it, the gallery building itself might be called a work of contemporary art. One half of the SAAG occupies a brick-and-mortar Carnegie Library built in 1922 (at one time the Lethbridge Public Library), while the other half of the gallery is an obviously more recent addition with an appropriately contemporary design. The juxtaposition of these halves creates sharp contrast.
The ENMAX Centre
The ENMAX Centre is Lethbridge’s famous multipurpose arena. The 5 479-seat arena, which features an Olympic-sized ice rink and a walking track, is the home of the Lethbridge Hurricanes (a WHL junior hockey team). The ENMAX occasionally hosts concerts and other such events, including a performance by Jerry Seinfeld in 2011 (honestly the funniest comedy show I’ve ever attended) and an Elton John concert in 2012.
The University of Lethbridge
If you’re a prospective student in search of a reputable graduate institution, you might want to consider checking out the U of L campus. Ranked as the third best primarily undergraduate university in Canada in the 2013 Macleans University Rankings, U of L is an institution that focuses on both academics and athletics. In my opinion, the coolest thing about U of L is its University Hall, which is built into the side of the Oldman River valley.