Lethbridge's Japanese garden ranked in North America's Top 10 'Places to Travel for'

The 2018 Winter Light Festival at the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden in Lethbridge, Alberta

The Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden is being recognized by peers in the North American garden industry, as a place worth seeing. 

Nikka Yuko was named as one of the 2019 Top 10 North American Gardens Worth Travelling For  November 5, at the North American Garden Tourism Conference in Victoria, British Columbia. 

The awards are given out every two years, by a jury made up of members from the Canadian Garden Council, the Mexican Association of Botanic Gardens, and the American Public Gardens Association.

“This shows that we are being recognized as a destination,” said Michelle Day, Nikka Yuko’s executive director. “For many years the theme was, visit Nikka Yuko as you are driving to Waterton, but now that conversation has shifted to, you must see Nikko Yuko Japanese Garden when you go to Lethbridge.”

Prior to this year, the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden was considered among 150 gardens to see in Canada.

“It’s an amazing journey,” Day said.

The shift began about four years ago, when they began focusing on festivals, events and programming that could turn the garden into a world-class attraction. They have developed experiences and collaborations within the community with an intention to become export ready.

Mayor Chris Spearman says the award is another opportunity to raise the profile of the city.

“As visitors come into our city, our hotels and restaurants benefit from that, but also our other tourist attractions."

Lethbridge East MLA Nathan Neudorf said it’s an incredible achievement to be recognized on the North American stage.

“For a small city of 100,000 plus people this is a really big achievement, and we should be very, very proud of the success of Lethbridge and the garden.”

The timing of the award couldn’t be better. The garden is gearing up for the fourth annual Winter Light Festival, which opens November 29th.

The event attracted just under 15,000 visitors in 2018.

“This is actually, probably the most popular time to come to Nikka Yuko,” said marketing and events manager Melanie Berdusco.

She said the light festival has quickly become a winter staple in Lethbridge and the garden has added several new partnerships to elevate the guest experience.

The Lethbridge Lodging Association/VisitLethbridge.com is continuing to partner with the garden to offer packages to the festival for out of town visits staying at select hotels.

Nikka Yuko is also working with California Dream Limousines to offer a unique night out, and the Little Lethbridge Opera Company will be on hand to sing songs from The Mikado on Saturday nights, adding to the ambiance of the festival.

This year will also include a public art installation, The Deep Dark, that will be set up in the green space near the garden entrance. It will be free for visitors to walk through.

“We continue to grow by leaps and bounds,” said Day.

The garden will be decked out with about 150,000 lights this year, but for the public, one of the most noticeable changes will be a new ticketing system. People will be able to buy their tickets online, and through the Enmax and Yates ticket offices. 

The people behind Nikka Yuko hope that will eliminate some of the long lineups, and allow visitors to spend less time waiting, and more time enjoying the Winter Light Festival.