Historical fun at Fort Whoop-Up (photo: Hubert Kang/Travel Alberta)

The Weekender: Lethbridge

By AMA Staff

The Chinook winds gusting down from the Rockies are hardly the sole source of warmth in Lethbridge. The Southern Alberta city is known for its hospitable atmosphere. It’s not hard to see why everyone’s so easygoing: Bisected by the rolling coulees of the Oldman River Valley, Lethbridge boasts more than 1,700 hectares of parkland that, on average, are bathed in Prairie sunlight for 320-plus days a year. It’s also a campus town, with students at both the University of Lethbridge and Lethbridge College underwriting a diverse cross-section of cultural happenings and welcoming haunts.

Lethbridge’s landscape plays a role at natural and constructed attractions alike. The Galt Museum is a striking example. Preserving southern Alberta’s history through award-winning exhibitions, the institution is housed in an angular glass-encased building (attached to a century-old former hospital) that overlooks the Oldman valley’s coulees and grassland—as well as nearby Indian Battle Park, which commemorates the Battle of Belly River, a significant 1870 conflict between the local Cree and Blackfoot First Nations. The park is also home to Fort Whoop-Up, a recreation of an 1860s trading post that offers further insight into the settlement of the west—and its impact on existing First Nations populations.

Across the river you’ll see University of Lethbridge. Its main complex, a stepped, low-slung building designed by legendary Canadian architect Arthur Erickson, is uniquely nestled within the undulating hills.

A solid youth contingent also frequents Owl Acoustic Lounge. The cozy downtown pub is decorated with works by local artists (plus a smattering of vintage vinyl album sleeves) and boasts a full slate of shows by indie musicians. There’s also a diverse lunch and dinner menu with options like a steak sandwich, tofu and quinoa curry, and “burnt butter” pasta.

Steps away, a slightly more sophisticated cultural experience is available at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, which highlights unique contemporary works primarily by Canadian artists. Until September 11, check out the group exhibition “Field Portraits of Contemporary Western Culture,” a collection of works that comment on portraiture’s role in creating (and deconstructing) the visual identity of Western Canada.

Or you can explore Eastern traditions at Lethbridge’s Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden. Created as part of Canada’s 1967 Centennial to recognize the importance of Alberta’s Japanese community, the meticulously manicured oasis promotes quiet contemplation—as well as cultural connection, through events such as taiko drumming performances, tea ceremonies, guided tours and more.

There are myriad ways to tastefully fill your belly in town. For example, you could choose to follow up your Nikka Yuko garden visit by indulging at Lighthouse. A Lethbridge favourite for more than a decade, it plates more than four-dozen superior sushi and sashimi offerings alongside a variety of donburi bowls.

You’ve also “gotta eat” at Two Guys and a Pizza Place, a cozy, brick-lined pizzeria that’s been featured on Food Network Canada. Pizza maker Cory Medd has earned acclaim for his numerous pies—some traditional, but many others more complex. Try the Louisiana Cajun Chicken (or indeed, one or more than a dozen chicken-topped pizzas), or the Sweet Canoe with spicy tomato sauce, teriyaki steak and more.

Local hangouts like Telegraph Tap House and The Penny Coffee House also offer filling fare to go along with their drinks and congenial ambience. The former features memorable gastropub options (plus a two-egg breakfast on weekends for only $2.99), washed down by more than 20 draught beers. The latter pours more than two-dozen international coffees, accompanied by made-fresh café food like soups, sandwiches and pastries.

And if you’re out and about, keep your eyes peeled for the Flyin’ Hawaiian food truck, which doles out items like a pulled pork, Hawaiian donuts and refreshing shave ice.

Kapow is one of Lethbridge’s more unique boutiques. The community-minded comic books-and-collectibles shop has a huge stock of mainstream and indie comics, naturally, alongside tabletop and card games, miniature figures, apparel and more. Notably, it also houses southern Alberta’s largest gaming space, which hosts an open-to-all Board Game Meet Up every Thursday evening.

If your interests are of the sartorial sort, hoof it to The Shoe Tree, which focuses on fun and flirty footwear for females. Or make tracks to Park Place Mall for more than 100 name brand retailers, including The Source and Paris Jewellers.

The Coast Lethbridge Hotel and Conference Centre obliges with all the expected amenities plus proximity to the Nikka Yuko gardens and Henderson Lake Golf Course. The Best Western Plus Service Inn & Suites offers a similar stay (plus an indoor pool with waterslide) on the outskirts of downtown.

Lethbridge is just over 200 kilometres south of Calgary (and 170 clicks west of Medicine Hat). Consider upgrading to a Plus or higher membership, which allows for extended towing distances, free passport photos, free fuel and delivery, and enhanced trip collision reimbursement.

Stay for less: AMA members can save 10% or more at Best Western properties across the country, including the Best Western Plus Service Inn & Suites.

Dining discounts: The Ultimate Dining Card makes it easy to eat on the road—by offering savings at Montana’s, Swiss Chalet, Milestones, Harvey’s, and East Side Mario’s restaurants. Buy your reusable card at an AMA centre and earn 5% in reward dollars on the purchase amount, plus 5% more each time you reload it.