Travelers on the East Access Route to the Alaska Highway will hit Lethbridge about an hour after crossing the Canadian border. Lethbridge is the biggest city until Calgary, and offers plenty of things to do for those who want to spend some time and enjoy the area.
The region was home to three indigenous nations, collectively known as the Sow-ki’tapi (Prairie People.) The city of Lethbridge has its origins in a trading post built in 1869 at the confluence of the St. Mary and Oldman rivers. The post became the most notorious of the posts in southern Alberta. Buffalo robes were the main trade commodity. Whiskey was an important trade commodity, although the “whiskey” was a concoction of 9 parts river water to 1-part pure alcohol with a plug of chewing tobacco added for color and a can of lye for more taste. The post became known as Fort Whoop-Up, and is now an attraction in the area.
Construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway brought more settlers to Lethbridge in the early 20th century. A bridge, now known as the High Level Bridge, was built across the Oldman River. Opened for use in 1909, the bridge is still used by trains today. At 314 feet high and more than a mile long, it’s the highest and longest trestle bridge in the world.
Today Lethbridge has a population of almost 100,000 and is the third largest city in Alberta.
Fort Whoop-Up Interpretive Center
Fort Whoop-Up is a replica of the fur and illegal whiskey trading fort in the area. The fort tells the story of the era’s settlers and the first nations.
The center holds historical reenactments in the summer and holiday-themed events during the shoulder months and winter season.
Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens
Nikka Yuko was built to recognize the contributions of Japanese to the community of Lethbridge. The garden integrates traditional Japanese philosophy and symbols with the Canadian landscape. It has meticulously pruned trees, water features, and giant rocks from a nearby mountain pass carefully placed to add to the aesthetic. The garden also has a teahouse, bell tower, and other structures made in Kyoto from yellow cypress.
Nikka Yuko is open for the summer and for a winter lights festival over the holidays.
Helen Schuler Nature Centre
The nature center is open year-round and within minutes of downtown Lethbridge. It has trails that explore the Oldman River valley. Every year the center has six interactive hands-on exhibits for learning about wildlife
The Galt museum preserves the human history of southwest Alberta. It’s hosts rotating exhibits and is home to more than 17,000 artifacts and over 1 million historic photographs and documents. It offers a fantastic view of the High Level Bridge and the museum grounds have two gardens.
Alberta Birds of Prey Centre
About 10 minutes east of Lethbridge, this rescue and rehabilitation center features hawks, falcons, eagles, and owls. Many of the centers birds are rescued from traumatic events and undergoing rehab before being released into the wild. The center is situated on more than 70 acres of wetlands and holds flying demonstrations. Visitors can also take the “hawk walk” and stroll past birds of prey like eagles that are perched just a few feet from the walking path.