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What defines Lethbridge Spirit? This is the question I set out to answer through an exploration of endless Summer fun in the third installment in this three-part series finding the spirit of Lethbridge. Thus far on this journey I’ve discovered the spirit of adventure inside Lethbridge in Part I of my trek and I’ve unearthed the spirit of the culture and history of this land, as documented in Part II.
by Dax Justin
Now what about the spirit of play? You know, let your hair down and just have fun kind of day. Lethbridge in Summer is like the perfect place to explore with your friends and family. Everyday on this journey has brought unexpected gifts around every corner and today was no different! This piece showcases what you could do with 24 hours or 1 day to spend in Lethbridge, and focuses on endless Summer fun and discovering a sense of play for the whole family. The following activities are about getting the most fun into one day! Pack the car. Bring the kids. Go wave surfing. Explore Japan. Seriously, it all happens through Summer in Lethbridge.
Let’s Start Here: The Stoketown Cafe + Cure
Before kicking off your full day in Lethbridge I recommend stopping into the Stoketown Cafe + Cure for pure human fuel. Here’s where you’ll find delicious handheld sandwiches, baked goods and a decadent cup of coffee. Our time here turned into a small feast as we took advantage of the variety of snacks and beverages, great company and conversation, and basically not wanting to leave! What a start to the day, we were all fired right up.
Discover Your Vitality at the Cor Van Raay YMCA at ATB Centre
After we grabbed food and drinks from the Stoketown we made our way over to the West Side of Lethbridge, where you’ll find the new at ATB Centre. This is a multi-use facility and has everything under one roof. Phase I of this building included recreational arenas for skating and curling, and Phase II has been the Cor Van Raay YMCA within ATB Centre. Honestly, this complex is an athletic and recreational haven suited for anyone wanting to achieve any level of physical activity. When we stepped inside this place we instantly couldn’t believe the amount of amenities and opportunities to step your game up! You can even go wave-surfing and hit the slides at the pool or even go ROCK CLIMBING IN THE POOL. You can even ride trails in other countries on a large screen in the exercise bike room. Am I still in Lethbridge?
This facility has something for everyone, and just opened to the public this year! You will have a smile peeled across your face the entire time you’re here, and you will leave full of vitality.
ABOVE: Photo by Dax Justin in Lethbridge, AB
Witness the Future: Exhibition Park
As I took part in the Indigenous culture events from Part II, I couldn’t help but notice what’s happening at Exhibition Park. This is a GAME-CHANGER for this region. If you’ll look at these renders – you’ll see first-hand what is coming to life at this place! Since the first fair in 1897, it has hosted more than a century of agriculture, trade shows, midways, rodeos, sporting events, and numerous special events. That was the past… and the future is what is going to be absolutely spectacular for this place because this will become the largest outdoor festival venue in Alberta!
The future of Exhibition Park looks extremely bright, and it’s also the hot spot for the upcoming Whoop-Up Days starting this August in Lethbridge.
Another World in Lethbridge: Experiencing the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden
There is an unexpected oasis right here in the prairies, and it holds a special place in my heart. Once you enter the gates at the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden you’ll find yourself inside an unforgettable cultural experience, combining the sheer beauty of nature in a serene setting. Japan and Canada come together. Established during Canada’s Centennial in 1967, Nikka Yuko was built to recognize contributions made by citizens of Japanese ancestry to the multi-cultural community of Lethbridge, Alberta, and as a symbol of international friendship. TOGETHERNESS.
ABOVE: Photo by Dax Justin in Lethbridge, AB
You can experience this place through horticultural, cultural, and historical programs offered consistently throughout the week. When you visit I recommend booking a private tour for a deeper look into the garden and the history that has brought it to life. Beyond that, you can also get a Japan-Canada Experience, led by a historical expert.
You know, the reason why this place is special to me is that I had the opportunity to meet and photograph the original architect of this place from Japan. From the beginning, it was agreed that the garden had to be REAL, and accurate in a high quality, immersive experience. An authentic Japanese garden not only reflects the local natural landscape, but also the culture. Respected Japanese garden designer and landscape architect Tadashi Kubo, of Osaka Prefecture University was commissioned to design it. He was here visiting for the first time a couple years ago, and I was blessed to meet him and capture his portrait.
I’ve visited in both the Fall and Summer, and they both hold unique photo opportunities for photographers. You won’t be disappointed by the views, and if you can catch the calm water you’ll be gifted reflections that will make your jaw drop! If you happen to visit on a Sunday, be sure to drop in for Sumo Sumo Sundays – where you can watch sumo tournaments streamed from Japan, and enjoy Japanese beverages and snacks. You can even dress up like a sumo wrestler and wrestle opponents as your sense of play comes alive!
Huge Smiles, Laughs, and Food & Drink at Mocha Cabana
After experiencing the Japanese Gardens your appetite will need some serious attention. For that, Lisa, Amelia and I went to a place called Mocha Cabana. It’s situated right in the heart of downtown Lethbridge and I’ve never been to this place until now. What we discovered is that Mocha is Lethbridge’s original farm to table restaurant with a commitment to all things fresh & local. What that means is here you can taste and play with the flavors of Lethbridge. You can also support local and enjoy the patio throughout Summer! After enjoying dinner you have to try a slice (or two) of cheesecake, as this is a specialty of theirs. Overall, this restaurant is a hidden gem of southern Alberta… Bon appetit!
Listen & Watch Live History: Fort Whoop-Up
To complete our journey, we went into the past and found ourselves experiencing an immersive, interactive play from the old days in the valleys and coulees of Lethbridge.
This experience at Fort Whoop-Up is called “Trader Tales” and the next one is coming up on August 15th and runs from 7:00PM – 9:00PM. “Fort Whoop-Up is excited to partner with New West Theatre to present Trader Tales—a fun, interactive evening.” The stories brought to life cover parts of the rich history of Fort Whoop-Up and southern Alberta. This was a blast! Most of the time was spent laughing and admiring the performance, we loved every moment and even got to try fresh bannock as we were transported into the old west.
Accommodations for this journey were graciously provided by the team at the Sandman Signature Lethbridge Lodge, where you can unwind in the pool, catch some Zzz’s and get a hot breakfast in the morning. This place is southern Alberta’s premier lodging and conference facility, and I couldn’t even believe there was a hot tub in my room. AMAZING, and I now wouldn’t stay anywhere else.
BELOW: Photo by Dax Justin at Fort Whoop-Up in Lethbridge, AB.
Dax Justin is a Canadian explorer and adventure photographer, currently based in Calgary, AB. His photos and stories are focused on connecting humans back to nature. His work is concerned with ocean health, Indigenous rights and distinctiveness, and our environment, covering stories such as eco-tourism in the Great Bear Rainforest, the human impact of marine debris, and trekking with Polar Bears on the Hudson Bay tundra. Dax is a newly-elected Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (FRCGS), Contributor to Canadian Geographic, a National Geographic Certified Educator, TEDx speaker and creator of the the ‘Explore in School‘ (EiS) initiative. You can explore more of his images and adventures on instagram.com/daxjustin or facebook.com/daxjustin.