Written content & photos courtesy of Pamela MacNaughtan of Urban Guide Quebec
I remember nights at the Movie Mill with $2 movies and delicious popcorn. I loved the piping hot round tin foil pans filled with cheesy lasagna from Top Pizza. The streetlight near the Water Tower Grill that never turns green late at night. Nobody wanted to drive to the west side and windy days took one's breath away.
Twelve years after moving back to Ontario, Mom and I drove into Lethbridge on a warm sunny Tuesday afternoon. I was delighted to see that many things are the same and, of course, changes here and there. Was the Real Canadian Superstore always blue outside? When did Casa open? Downtown Lethbridge is… cool?
Sip, Taste, Explore!
Between visiting family and old friends, Mom and I were eager to explore the city. The Sip, Taste, Explore program was the perfect way to do it. It’s an exciting initiative, highlighting small local businesses in the Lethbridge area.
Over 30 local businesses take part in Sip, Taste, Explore; many offer discounts. Getting the pass and saving it on your phone is easy. The hard part is deciding where to go, when, and with whom.
We kicked things off with dinner at Italian Table. Located in the Sandman Signature Lethbridge Lodge, Italian Table is a sun-filled space. It's white and blue and gives off European coastal vibes. The menu has several traditional Italian dishes, many of which are shareable. In fact, if you prefer family-style dining, they have a special menu for that purpose.
Two of Mom's high school friends and their husbands joined us for dinner. Seated at a round table in the solarium section, the conversation flowed non-stop. I'm amazed they found time to eat!
We started with pasta chips and dips, which were a big hit, as well as bruschetta. I sipped my Italian soda too fast and found myself ordering another before our mains arrived. Mom loved the lasagna, and I devoured an order of lobster and crab raviolo.
This is why Mom and I are here, to reconnect with family and friends, and spend some time in a city close to her heart.
Sometimes, You Need to Come Home
Mom grew up in Cardston, hanging out in Lethbridge on occasion with friends. In the 1960s she moved north to Edmonton, met my dad, got married, and spent the next 40 years moving around Canada. One of my parent's last moves was to Lethbridge in the early aughts.
Retired from jobs they loved, they bought a small house in Parkbridge Estates. Mom wanted to live closer to her mom, and I like to think I was an added bonus, having moved to Waterton six months prior.
When Mom and I talked about doing a road trip earlier this year, spending time in Lethbridge was at the top of our list. We wanted to revisit the places we loved and see how the city has changed in the last ten years. Seeing family was important, too. At 79 years of age, and a widow of eight years, Mom craves her family.
On our second day in Lethbridge, I saw the depth of her need to see family when we arrived at her cousin Connie's house.
Cousins, Coaldale, and Connection
Mom and Connie sat on a bench outside Broxburn Vegetables & Cafe, a big wagon wheel behind them. We had spent an hour eating the best vegetables I've ever had, sandwiches, and salads. The healthiest meal on our month-long road trip.
I want to take a photo of Mom and Connie together, the cousin besties together again. They lean into each other, heads touching. The smiles stretched across their faces enhance the laugh lines around their twinkling eyes. Their pure joy of being together radiates through the photo on my phone.
I had a full day of Sip, Taste, Explore planned, but leaving Connie at home after an hour-long visit felt criminal. So, we brought her with us! First to Broxburn (does anyone want to slide me that dip recipe?), then off to the Coaldale Bakery. I'm cursing myself for not buying a second cream-stuffed donut.
Back in Lethbridge, we drove through the streets downtown, marvelling at the changes. Streets lined with restaurants, cafés, and shops. Festival Square, public art, museums, and microbreweries. This is not the Lethbridge I left behind in 2009. I'm loving the city's glow-up.
A Toothsome Food and Drink Scene
Bourbon and Butter was at the top of my restaurant list for Lethbridge. Crisp white linens cover the tables, there’s a warm atmosphere and an elevated menu. Mom grew up on meat, corn, potatoes, and gravy, this is not the type of restaurant she frequents. Another reason for us to go.
The tuna tartare is good, but a tad spicy for Mom. When the bone marrow brûlée arrives I'm delighted when Mom agrees to try it. It's served with a topping of spicy chimichurri and a stack of crunchy crostini. Mom has a couple of bites, then leaves the rest to me.
I'm proud of her, and while she said it was good, I'm thankful she doesn't want more. The striploin I ordered was good, but the bone marrow still makes my mouth water. The only improvement I'd suggest is offering soft bread as well to sop up the leftover juices.
Bourbon and Butter is not the only delicious destination in Lethbridge. Chef Stella Diner is a staple, serving up breakfast platters and bowls, smash burgers and subs. I mean, how can one pass up a fried chicken French toast sandwich? On the lighter side, Break Milk & Honey is a serene spot for a breakfast sandwich, and some coffee or a London fog tea.
While we didn't have time to visit The Penny Coffee House, I'm so happy to see that it's still thriving. It's a place I went to often during my time in Lethbridge. There are quite a few places still thriving, like the Water Tower Grill, a restaurant known for its steaks.
Hickory Street was another restaurant that was at the top of my list. Unfortunately, I mixed up the days of the week and they were closed on the day we tried to go. This is reason enough for me to begin planning another visit to Lethbridge. This time solo, with a focus on all things food and drink.
It was a hazy day when Mom and I drove down to the Helen Schuler Nature Centre. Opening its doors in 1982, it was once known as the Helen Schuler Coulee Centre. The grounds surrounding the centre's building feature walking and cycling trails. It's rich with flora, and fauna, too.
Visit the Coalbanks Kiosk to learn about the area's coal mining history, and stop to listen to nature. Inside the nature centre is a lovely community art gallery, as well as an exhibit on the river valley. Before leaving, a visit to the living roof is highly recommended.
Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden is my favourite escape in Lethbridge. I've spent hours sitting by the ponds, soaking up the beauty of the manicured garden. I admit the sushi roll public art outside the gate made my heart flutter with joy. A part of me wants it to be there, always. The rest of the park surrounding Henderson Lake is lovely as well.
Towards the end of our time in Lethbridge, we headed out to The Lilac Row, a U-Pick flower farm. It was early evening and Mom was like a kid in a candy store as Charlyn introduced us to her flowers. I sat back and watched as Mom picked flowers with Charlyn. The Lilac Row holds small group flower events throughout the summer. Sometimes one around Christmastime, too.
I'm pretty sure we spent too much time there, but Charlyn is so lovely and generous. She had encouraged us to pick flowers and keep them in mason jars in the car for our ride, but as we left The Lilac Row, another plan formed. Connie. She's losing her eyesight, and while she can still see, we want her to enjoy as much of Mother Nature as possible.
Lethbridge, I need to come back!
When I left Alberta in 2010 to travel around the world, I had no intentions of returning to Lethbridge. I was starting a new chapter in my life, one filled with new people, cultures and food. And as it turns out, a new career, too.
Returning to Lethbridge as a travel writer, with my Mom in tow, gave me a new appreciation for this charming windy city. Spending a couple of days juggling city explorations and family was tougher than anticipated. And rewarding.
My appetite teased and my heartstrings tugged. I'm coming back, there is no question in my mind. The first place I'll go to is Hickory Street, and then ordering a piping hot cheesy lasagna from Top Pizza for a midnight snack (ha!).
It's so easy to take a place for granted, especially where we live. I love that the Sip, Taste, Explore program introduced us to new places. Not only to Mom and I but to our family and friends who live in the Lethbridge area.
Small local businesses are the backbone of a community/town/city. They are its heart and soul. Are you ready to rediscover the richness of Lethbridge's food and culture? I'll be with you in spirit as you do.