I’d been living in Calgary for far too long to have an excuse not to visit Lethbridge. Plenty of friends grew up or went to university there, and I’d heard on more than one occasion the reasons to visit. The Japanese Gardens, the river valley and coulee trails, local parks. And, lately, the added attraction of a couple of local brewers crafting some fine beers had piqued my interest.
Driving into the city, two hours south of Calgary on Highway 2, I rounded the bend to see the striking black steel High Level Bridge, spanning high above the Old Man River and the pretty rolling coulees of the river valley. I don’t know what I expected to see in this once a busy coal mining hub, but I certainly didn’t expect to see such a pretty sight.
If you haven’t been to Lethbridge in a while or have yet to check it out, there are two big festivals happening in September – the Summer Shine On Festival and the Lethbridge Oktoberfest – that are very good reasons to head there. Both would make a fun, fast and easy weekend getaway.
First up on the calendar is the Summer Shine On Festival, happening Sept. 2 to 3, with a concert as the main event, featuring one of southern Alberta’s favourite hometown sons, singer-songwriter, Corb Lund, also a U of L alumnus. The concert is the main event of a weekend-long party celebrating the 50 th anniversary of the University of Lethbridge.
Also on the bill are country-rock crossover artist Dallas Smith, indie rock band Mother Mother, Lethbridge’s Millz Skillz and The Washboard Union. The stage will be set up at the university’s Community Stadium with seating for 6,000, where the hometown rugby team, the Pronghorns, will also play an exhibition tournament the same weekend.
Lund says there’s a good chance concert-goers will hear some of his favourite songs, like The Truth Comes Out and Little Foothills, both inspired by the Southern Alberta’s landscapes he grew up with around Lethbridge.
Other events like a golf tournament, beer gardens, a local vendor market and a heart-thumping performance by the local Taiko Drummers Ensemble are on the schedule, too.
In late September it’s time for the fourth annual and immensely popular stein- hoisting Lethbridge Oktoberfest, happening Sept. 29 and 30.
Galt Gardens in downtown Lethbridge is the venue for lively Munich-inspired beer festival, put on by locals John and Roy Pogorzelski (aka the Pogo brothers). The brothers have done their research to put on the most authentic beer fest as possible. They’ve traveled to Munich to see how a proper Oktoberfest is run and tapped the knowledge of some local German friends.
Local craft brewer, Theoretically Brewing Co., supplies the party with two special limited edition beers this year – a nice and easy sipping summer beer, Hefeweizen and a chewier Ein Prosit Wheat Ale. There will also be a selection of dozens of German beers, “as many as we can get our hands on,” says Roy.
Locally made Bavarian fare like Bratwurst, schnitzel and pretzels will be served all weekend.
The park also becomes “one big dance floor,” says Roy, when Alpen Schatz, from Medicine Hat and the local band the Polkaholics strike up the oom-pah-pah tunes.
The brothers say to make the most of Oktoberfest, learn a few polka moves and a couple German beerhall tunes. Ziggy Zaggy, Ziggy Zaggy Oi, Oi, Oi, (it’s that simple) or Ein Prosit will ring through the park when the brothers instigate a singalong.
When the festivities are over, find a little tranquility in the beautiful river valley for a walk, cycle or roller blade, or a stroll through the Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens.
Follow it up with a visit to one of two local and fairly new microbreweries.
Theoretically Brewing Co. offers tasting and tours, while the Coulee Brewing Co. offers the same, but also large sunny patio and pub food paired with a long list of its beer.