Lethbridge is a fascinating city with a rich western history. First established as a trading post, it expanded with the coming of the railway and the development of coal mines. In the 1920s and 1930s it had the reputation of being the wickedest town in western Canada. It was noteworthy for its unchecked gambling, drinking and associated unsavoury activity. Now it is a town with a fine university and a number of highly civilized attractions.
Dominating the city is a high-level railway bridge that is said to be the longest and highest of its type. The steel bridge, which replaced wooden trestle bridges in 1909, is still in use today so you can see very long freight trains cross it on their way to or from the Rocky Mountains. The peaks of the mountains can be seen from Lethbridge off on the western horizon.
In the park below the bridge is Fort Whoop-Up National Historic Site. On the site of this reconstructed fort American fur traders traded whiskey with the indigenous peoples. Their activity was terminated with the arrival of the Canadian North West Mounted Police who brought order to the region in the late 19th century.
The history of Fort Whoop-Up is told by costumed guides who explain the details of life in this typical western fort. The colourful name of the fort is celebrated in Lethbridge‘s major summer event, Whoop-Up Days, held in August. This event, more or less a smaller version of the Calgary Stampede, includes typical western pancake breakfasts, a parade, rodeo, musical performances and the entertainment one expects at an exhibition. The dominance of Whoop-Up Days in the agenda of festivals and events in Lethbridge is always under threat by the ever growing popularity of the Lethbridge International AirShow.
In contrast to the noise and hoopla that comes with Whoop-Up Days or the Lethbridge International Air Show the city has a remarkable oasis of calm in Nikka Yuko Garden. This spectacular Japanese garden right in the heart of Lethbridge gets its name as follows; Ni from Nihon meaning Japan, ka from Kanada and Yuko which means friendship in Japanese. The garden is a treasure of the community and is quite unique in the Prairie Provinces. Designed by a Japanese architect and constructed by expert craftsmen from Japan, the garden is meant to combine contemplation of the carefully arranged forms of rocks, water and plants with views of the natural prairie environment of Lethbridge. The buildings that dot the garden were handcrafted in Japan and re-erected here.
The dominance of the trestle bridge on the topography of the coulee in which flows the Oldman River is challenged by the fabulous main building of the University of Lethbridge. Designed by the Canadian architect Arthur Erickson and opened in 1972, this long multi-storeyed structure sits on the high bank of the Oldman and spans two small coulees. It is well worth visiting the university and checking out this remarkable piece of modern Canadian architecture. And while you are at the University of Lethbridge be sure to pop into the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery. It has a great permanent collection of works by Canadian and foreign artists and has a regular program of changing exhibits.
Every visitor to Lethbridge should not miss seeing the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre in the village of Coaldale just 10 minutes drive along the Trans Canada Highway. Again this is a unique attraction where you can see birds of prey up-close. Just outside the welcome centre you will take the Hawk Walk where you can inspect birds from a distance of just a few feet and even better photograph them on their perches. A little further on, at intervals of 90 minutes, there are dramatic birds of prey flying demonstrations. In the aviaries at the Natural History Building you can inspect such birds as Great Grey Owls, Snowy Owls, Ferruginous Hawks and Eagles and you will be presented with exhibitions focussed on the remarkable world of birds of prey.