“Prairie wind blowing through my head.” ~ Neil Young
The last time I saw Lethbridge was in 1985. With my (senior) memory serving, expectations for my impending visit were lower than a snake’s belly. However, the destination had more to do with a little quid pro quo with my Albertan pen pal, who had recently made the journey to “the Loops” to meet me in person.
Upon arrival in Calgary, myself and a buddy, rented a vehicle and hit the road. Rolling into the Southern Alberta town after decades, my first impression was surprisingly sunny and my reunion with my correspondent less anxious, but no less rewarding than our first meeting. After catching up over dinner, Rick treated us to a cruise in his vintage Cadillac. The old downtown definitely conjures up nostalgia — neon-signed Chinese restaurants, junk stores, bandstands and legion halls. But Lethbridge has evolved, bringing a thriving foodie, arts and music scene. It’s a quirky potpourri of past meets present.
Our host with the most, chauffeured us about his prairie town delivering on his well-crafted list of activity and cuisine options. Dining experiences ranged from authentic road-side Mexican food, to the retro Chinese joint, to hipster cafés with trendy menus, such as Acoustic Owl Lounge.
First up on our itinerary was the Lethbridge Farmer’s Market. This seasonal community event is a feast for the senses, featuring a cornucopia of fresh produce from local farmers, including Mennonite and Hutterite communities. Their quaint folksy attire makes the ambience delightful. We also found baked goods, art and crafts, gourmet coffees, plus food stands offering a creative selection of perogies.
To absorb the otherworldly beauty of the prairies, we took a road trip to Waterton Lake National Park. Stops along the way included the stunning Alberta Mormon Temple and the fountain dedicated to Cardston’s own Fay Wray. Continuing on, the endless, waving golden plains finally morphed into bench land, then rose to heavenly peaks. Winding through the changing landscape, we arrived in Waterton — a hidden jewel akin to a ‘mini-Banff.’ Its waterfalls are spectacular. But watch out! After trekking up to the viewpoint, we had a close encounter with a bear coming down. The hamlet is charming to wander through. There are outdoorsy Canadiana tourists shops, cafés and gourmet ice cream. A visit to the historic Prince of Wales Hotel with its panoramic lake view is essential.
My pen-pal really dug playing ‘tourist in his own town’ — just as I did whilst entertaining him in Kamloops. Here, we explored The Wildlife Park, took in some live music, browsed our Farmers’ Market and dined at my fave spots. We also bonded through river walks with Super Nova, his canine companion — doing all those things we often take for granted. Likewise for him, as we adventured off-road, visited the Lethbridge Japanese Gardens and roamed the grassy trails along Old Man River, dominated by the historic train bridge towering above.
It’s a rare privilege in life to have a friendship as unconditionally true as ours. Despite the convenience of the internet, pen-pal relationships are becoming a lost art. After careful consideration, we chose to throw caution to the wind, and meet in person. And although we live many miles apart — from the Thompson Okanagan Valley, over the Rockies, to the Southern Albertan prairies, from our respective homes, we look up at that big old moon and blow a kiss, knowing it will be caught. And a therapeutic rant or a comforting word is only a click away, thanks to technology…or, as we call it, “The Cosmic Wormhole.”