Of all Alberta’s second cities—the oil and gas engines of industry like Red Deer or Fort Mac, or the pockets of urbanity among natural wonders like Banff, Canmore or Drumheller—none are Wild Rose Country distilled as much as Lethbridge.
Your first peek of the city—two hours south of Calgary through postcard prairie towns and with arid foothills rising into jagged peaks on the west horizon—is from the top of the Oldman River valley and one you’ll never forget. The High Level Bridge, iconic in the town and province, rises tall and stark against the valley walls (called coulees) as the river flows slowly below. Sure, there are no towering Rocky Mountains (more on that in a bit) but the distinct, enigmatic and approachable topography fits with Lethbridge like a hand in (ski) glove.
Descend and you’ll find a walkable core with plenty of independent boutiques and (at last count) three breweries: 10-year-old, obsessively perfectionist Theoretically Brewing Co., Coulee Brew Co. (home to one of the city’s best patios) and newcomer Spectrum Ale Works. Century-old buildings are everywhere downtown, preserving—and in many ways confronting—little-known Canadian and Albertan history. The town’s first public library today houses the Southern Alberta Art Gallery (SAAG), and two prominent buildings (the Oliver Block and the old Catholic Charities building) have either been renoed or are in the process of being so.
The Nikka Yuko Garden is a beautiful example of a traditional Japanese green space nestled beside the equally beautiful Henderson Lake, but it’s also a reminder of the local internment camps that held Japanese Canadians and German POWs during the Second World War. After the war, many stayed and helped build the city, along with the Ukrainian and Dutch immigrants already here, and the more recent Mormon and Hutterite settlers. The fact that the city is located on Treaty 7 territory and the traditional lands of the Niitsitapi (Blackfoot), Nakoda (Stoney) and Tsuut’ina First Nations is also more evident here than elsewhere in Alberta. Year-round Indigenous festivals educate and celebrate this millennia-long legacy. The SAAG also goes by its Blackfoot name, Maansiksikaitsitapiitsinikssin, meaning “the new making of images, related to the telling of our Blackfoot peoples’ stories.”
The city ranks #3 among small cities in our deep Place category, including second for number of sunny days. The chinook winds here are known to occasionally spike a January day up to +15°C. Lethbridge’s short commute times (ranked #12 in that subcategory) also give residents a chance to breathe the fourth-best air quality among small Canadian cities. The city also boasts an impressive #6 ranking in our Health- Care Practitioners subcategory, with two hospitals within a 30-minute drive. In a province with a chronic medical services problem, this matters.
But as much as Lethbridge has going for it within city limits, it’s what’s just a 90-minute drive away that is staggering: Castle Mountain Resort, Waterton Lakes National Park, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park—global tourism destinations and UNESCO heritage sites…all within a quick day trip. No wonder the Lethbridge Airport was just renovated in anticipation of a post-pandemic tourism boom. And with house prices averaging $370,000, likely a new resident boom, too.