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Nikka Yuko Centennial Garden


Other Names:

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Nikka Yuko Centennial Garden is a 1.6 hectare garden located at the west end of Henderson Lake in a large, centrally located municipal park in Lethbridge. Officially opened in 1967, the garden is a carefully manicured landscape of trees, shrubs, ornamental rocks and other features arranged around a central pond fed by a stream and waterfall. From the main gate, paths and wood bridges lead from a large tea pavilion with its enclosed rock garden to a summer pavilion and bell tower.

Heritage Value
The Nikka Yuko Centennial Garden is provincially significant as an outstanding example of garden design that strongly reflects Japanese-Albertan identity in the 1960s. It is further significant for its symbolic association with the Canadian Centennial in 1967.
The Nikka Yuko Centennial Garden is a potent symbol of Japanese cultural tradition that was initiated by southern Alberta’s Japanese community. It blends various traditions of classical Japanese garden design with features of the Alberta landscape. Conceived as a ‘Canadian garden in a Japanese style,’ the garden was designed by Dr. Tadashi Kubo, head of the Department of Landscape Design at Osaka Prefecture University in Japan. A specialist in traditional Japanese gardens, Dr. Kubo adapted the classical principles of Japanese garden design to the prairie environment, drawing heavily on materials gathered throughout southern Alberta (including trees from as far away as Calgary and Brooks and rocks from the Crowsnest Pass). This harmonious fusion of elements strongly communicated the community’s conviction that pride in its Japanese heritage was in no way a barrier to full participation in Albertan society – a powerful statement of belonging, given the trauma and dislocation endured by Japanese-Canadians during World War Two. The Garden’s siting in southern Alberta was significant, given that it was the region where the Japanese community had a sustained and continuous settlement presence since the early twentieth century. The Garden thus recognized the historic roots of Japanese settlement in Alberta while bringing a crucial element of Japanese culture to the forefront of public consciousness, thereby expressing pride in the community’s past and asserting the group’s full and equal place in contemporary Alberta.
In addition, the Nikka Yuko Centennial Garden draws symbolic significance from its association with the Canadian Centennial, a landmark celebration of Canadian nationality, citizenship and history. The Centennial represents the framework through which the Garden was financed, constructed and promoted. The City of Lethbridge embraced the Garden as the centrepiece of its Centennial commemoration, viewing it both as a tourist attraction and a means of supporting intercultural education by recognizing the contributions of Japanese-Albertans to public life. The Garden stands alone in Alberta as the only major Centennial Project dedicated to the history and traditions of an ethnocultural group – highly significant, given the Centennial’s heavy symbolic focus on nationality and citizenship. In this way, the Nikka Yuko Centennial Garden reflects the broader reimagining of Canadian identity that was occurring in Alberta (and throughout Canada) in the 1960s, moving in the direction of a more inclusive vision of nationality.
Source: Alberta Culture and Tourism, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des 2359)

Character-Defining Elements

The character-defining elements of the Nikka Yuko Centennial Garden include its:
- Siting in Henderson Lake Park;
- manicured landscape of pruned trees and shrubs, ornamental rocks, stone lanterns, and other elements arranged around a central pond fed by a stream and waterfall;
- carefully maintained view planes within the garden and to Henderson Lake;
- arrangement of structures and plants, according to design of Dr. Tadashi Kubo;
- mix of local and imported plant species to adapt the Japanese garden aesthetic to southern Alberta’s climate, seasonal variations, and lighting conditions;
- paths with wood bridges designed to evoke, in microcosm, mountain, prairie and classical Japanese landscapes through the modulation of perspective, sounds and other perceptual qualities as the viewer progresses along the paths, with rocks and other elements alluding to islands and other landscape features;
- simplicity and harmony of the overall design through a balance of natural and architectural elements, forms, colours, and materials;
- natural weathering of wood, copper and other elements reflecting natural processes, the passage of time, change and impermanence; and
- synthesis of Japanese garden traditions incorporating numerology, Shinto and Buddhism symbolism, and design techniques of “borrowed view” (shakkei) and “hide-and-reveal” (miegakura).

The character-defining elements of the Main Gate and Wall include its:
- Mass, form, and proportions;
- combination of white stucco panels, unpainted wood elements and copper roofs with clay tile ridges;
- interplay of solid wall panels, openings beneath the wall roof, and screened sections giving partial views into the garden beyond; and
- bronze plaque commemorating the garden’s July 14, 1967 opening by members of the Japanese royal family.

The character-defining elements of the Tea Pavilion include its:
- Mass, form, and proportions;
- wide overhanging roofs of varied pitch and orientation;
- wood and stucco panel exterior with metal roofs;
- synthesis of traditional Japanese wood frame construction with glazed windows and other elements reflecting Canadian construction practices and climatic conditions;
- interior of white wall panels, wood framing, and oiled cypress floors with tatami mats;
- floor plan, including tea room;
- integration of pavilion interior with surroundings through a transitional walled courtyard, translucent sliding shoji screens, and a verandah creating architecturally framed vistas of the pond and garden;
- adjoining dry garden of raked gravel and large rocks within a low walled enclosure; and
- Okame masks and related ceremonial elements, emblems of good fortune placed in the attic by the builders in accordance with Japanese tradition.

The character-defining elements of the Summer Pavilion include its:
- Asymmetrical but balanced design with wide overhanging roof supported on staggered inset columns;
- integrated benches with unimpeded view to Henderson Lake; and
- “rustic” round timber construction contrasting with the square joinery of the Tea Pavilion.

The character-defining elements of the Bell Tower include its:
- Wide, low-pitched roof on a wood structure of four slender, slightly canted columns and a substantial concrete base with stone veneer; and
- large cast bronze Friendship Bell with dedication in Japanese and English.

The character-defining elements of the Prairie Garden include its:
- Open lawn intended to evoke a prairie landscape and provide space for cultural events and performances; and
- meandering walkway of large, separate fieldstones.


Street Address: 9 Avenue South and Mayor Magrath Drive
Community: Lethbridge
Boundaries: Area A on Survey Plan 1811005 within Block M, Plan 1178GT
Contributing Resources: Building
Landscape(s) or Landscape Feature(s)

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
M (Pt.)

Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
49.687 -112.8034 NAD 83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type
369917 5505442


Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2017/10/19

Historical Information

Built: 1966 to 1967
Period of Significance: 1966 to present
Historic Function(s):
Current Function(s):

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-1385
Designation File: DES 2359
Related Listing(s): 4664-0357
Heritage Survey File: HS 6113
Website Link:
Data Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 2359)
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