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NIKKA YUKO GARDENS: PRAIRIE TRANQUILITY

Author: Joanne Elves

Her grade school report card said Joanne asks a lot of questions. She took that as a compliment and with family in tow, continues to ask as she travels the province in search of exciting adventures and interesting destinations.

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It’s a chance for me to come to a full stop. To pause and listen to the water; to smell the blossoms and to stroll the path and cleanse the road weariness from my soul. Busy Mayor Magrath Drive in Lethbridge is a stone’s throw away but the tranquil Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden seems worlds away.

Japan on the Prairie

It may seem odd to find an authentic Japanese garden in the Alberta prairies, but it’s been at the heart of Lethbridge for nearly 50 years. When a Buddhist priest suggested the idea of a friendship garden, melding Japan and Canada in a reflective space based on landscapes, plants and symbols of both cultures, the city of Lethbridge embraced the idea. It was a perfect way to celebrate friendship between two nations.

Not only did they create a garden – they created a word for it: “Nikka” from the Japanese words Ni (meaning Nihon or Japan) and Ka (for Canada). Yuko means friendship.  

Is Green a Smell?

The garden hugs the shores of Henderson Lake where shrubs, trees, grass, water and rock are used to create harmony. Like most of the structures at Nikka Yuko, the teahouse was handcrafted in Kyoto then dismantled and shipped to Lethbridge to be reassembled. Without the use of nails it’s as sound as the day it was erected and hosts countless tea ceremonies.

The meandering pathway is my favourite feature. It was designed to roll and flow with the contours. Authentic and symbolic lanterns and pagodas line the footpath, along with benches and shelters carved from aromatic yellow cypress wood, offering a shady place to find inner peace and serenity. The garden is continually ranked as one of the best Japanese gardens in North America and it’s easy to see why. Not a branch or dried twig to be found out of place. And it smells so green!

Water Flows Through it

Water plays a huge role in the garden, setting the mood and refreshing the spirit along the trail. Bridges cross the gurgling stream as it rolls over rocks and boulders hand-picked from neighbouring mountain passes. Reflective ponds calm the waters before they leave the park to mix with Henderson Lake where the “borrowed view” or shakkei extends your sightlines.

The Sound of Friendship Soothes the Soul

A visit is never complete without pulling back on the huge log that acts as a mallet to ring the bronze Friendship Bell. The deep peal is a call for friendship and can be heard for kilometres. Did the craftsmen in Kyoto actually know that tone would vibrate through our souls in such a calming way?

The garden works magic on me instantly. My frown lines soften, my shoulders relax and the noises of the road are replaced by the music of the land and the soft echoes of a koto played somewhere in the park.

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