October 22, 2021

Wiral Baby

What Is Baby ?

Lethbridge attractions offer otherworldly experiences close to home

From an authentic outdoor tea ceremony demonstration to a burrowing owl rescue, there’s plenty to discover

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I never expected to find myself nose to beak with a golden eagle.

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Yet here I am, at the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre in Coaldale, just 10 minutes south of Lethbridge, looking deeply into the eyes of Sarah, a 37-year-old resident at the charity raptor rescue and conservation organization. It’s both terrifying and exhilarating, exemplifying just what a unique and special place this is. Founder and managing director Colin Weir assures me that Sarah “is actually friendlier than the ducks and geese on site.”

Upon entering the centre, our first stop during a quick getaway to Lethbridge, ridiculously cute baby burrowing owls greet us. These owls are endangered in Canada, and are therefore the only species at the foundation that are bred in captivity, then released. All of the other birds are rescues, which are rehabilitated and released, or remain as educational animals or foster parents of wild orphans if their injuries do not heal well enough for them to survive in the wild.

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It’s hard to contain our delight interacting up-close and personal with these amazing birds, including great horned owls, barn owls and a red-tailed hawk. “The excitement of the kids really does make us feel like rock stars when we handle the birds,” laughs Weir. Watching Grace, a young bald eagle, soar through the sky during her daily flying exercise is again terrifying and exhilarating as she swoops directly above my head.

The next day, we make our way to explore the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden. Lethbridge may not be an obvious place for a Japanese garden, but this one has a uniquely southern Albertan aesthetic. “The garden is a Canadian garden done in Japanese style,” explains Melanie Fast-Berdusco, Nikka Yuko’s marketing and events manager. “We use plants suitable to our climate, but our gardeners have trained and work very hard to reflect the Japanese garden design philosophy.”

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Established in 1967, Nikka Yuko means “Japan-Canada Friendship.” All of the garden’s structural components like the tea pavilion, gates and bridges were handcrafted in Kyoto, dismantled and shipped across the ocean, then reconstructed. Currently, a new cultural centre is under construction, and is set to open this fall to engage the community with year-round cultural experiences and programs.

Nikka_Yuko_Japanese_Garden
All of the garden’s structural components like the tea pavilion, gates and bridges were handcrafted in Kyoto. COLLEEN SETO

As we stroll through the meticulously pruned trees, the precise rock placements and soothing water features, even my seven-year-old son is struck by the serenity and beauty as he tells me that he’d “like to move in.” I find ringing the garden’s 750-pound friendship bell tremendously satisfying — an act which “sends the message of friendship and goodwill to all who hear it,” says Fast-Berducsco.

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To really take advantage of this gorgeous Japanese setting, don a yukata — a light casual kimono — for a fun photo shoot, or enjoy an authentic outdoor tea ceremony demonstration. The garden also hosts long table dinners, or you can order a day ahead for a picnic or charcuterie package to enjoy on site. Arriving on short notice, we simply grab a delicious matcha maple cookie and a Japanese soda for a quick treat at the visitor centre and gift shop.

Later, we head over to Fort Whoop-Up, where we learn about the buffalo robe and illegal whisky trade of the mid-1860s to the early 1890s. I’m impressed by how engaging our tour guide Donna is as she points out how firewater (aka whisky) played a devastating role for the Blackfoot peoples. As we walk through the replica fort, we get a sense of what it was like to live with 20 men to a room, relying on candlelight and a wood stove for heat and preparing food. Afterwards, we hop aboard a horse-drawn wagon ride through the river valley, which takes us right under the High Level Bridge, the world’s longest and highest trestle bridge.

Fort Whoop-Up is a replica of an original fur trading fort built in the late 1800s. COLLEEN SETO
Fort Whoop-Up is a replica of an original fur trading fort built in the late 1800s. COLLEEN SETO

By visiting these and other Lethbridge-area attractions and businesses, you can enter Tourism Lethbridge’s passport contest  until Sep. 15. Get your passport stamped at participating hotels and attractions, including the four UNESCO World Heritage Sites near Lethbridge: Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Waterton Lakes National Park and Dinosaur Provincial Park. Each stamp is an entry to win a $5,000 ammonite prize package.

This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division.

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