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Visit Nikka Yuko gardens

Larry Hodgson
Photography by
Van E. Christou

Visit Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden in Alberta.

Imagine a piece of traditional Japan set in the harsh climate of Lethbridge, Alberta, and you'll have a good idea of what this garden is all about. Although there are many Japanese gardens in Canada, few are as pure in style or as meticulously maintained as the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden.

Nikka Yuko's authenticity is intimately linked with its history. During the Second World War, hundreds of Japanese-Canadians were forcibly uprooted from their homes in British Columbia and relocated east of the Rockies, many in the Lethbridge area. After the war, some returned to B.C., but most families stayed on. It was these families, and other interested Lethbridge residents, that proposed establishing a traditional meditative Japanese garden as part of Canada's 1967 centennial. Nikka Yuko was designed as a symbol of the friendship between the Japanese and Canadian people: “Ni” stands for the Japanese word for Japan (Nihon), “Ka” for Canada, and Yuko for friendship.

As planning for the four-acre garden began, renowned Japanese landscape designer Tadashi Kubo, of the University of Osaka Prefecture, was invited by the city to help with its design. Kubo's first task was to choose the garden's location. He selected Henderson Lake Park, a site of great natural beauty with a view of the lake and without urban visual distractions such as tall buildings.

To ensure that Nikka Yuko captured the spirit of a true Japanese garden, structures such as bridges, gates, pagodas and shelters were built in Japan-and later assembled in Canada-by traditional artisans. Kubo's assistant, Masami Sugimoto, also helped oversee the project, handling such details as the selection and location of plantings.

Henderson Lake doesn't form part of Nikka Yuko, but there's a large pond that dominates the centre of the garden. The pond contains an island shaped like a turtle; in Japanese culture the turtle represents long life and luck. Attention to detail is so meticulous that even the stones on the pond's small beach were individually selected and arranged by hand.

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