President's Report 2021


The Lethbridge & District Japanese Garden Society held their Annual General Meeting virtually on May 12, 2021. We thank our members who joined us and to Mocha Cabana for delivering care packages to attendees! 

Below is the President's Report as submitted by Brad Hembroff. 

The Garden for the first time since opening was closed for May in 2020 as the world hit pause with the global pandemic. Today, we are in the same situation as the board and staff continue to focus on our responsibilities to keep our staff and visitors safe. The pandemic caused all levels of government to provide ongoing direction and guidelines for businesses that constantly changed our programs and experiences. Ongoing reviews of what we could do to ensure all protocols and communication processes were in place. With a decline in our visitation over the summer, we continued to observe our resources and applied for the support offered by both government and non-government sources. This helped us tremendously to weather the effects of the pandemic to this point. Funding included money for signage, personal protective equipment, program support, miscellaneous supplies and extra staff support to ensure our guests had a positive and safe experience.

We had so many supporters help us this historical year. Elizabeth Songer’s team have from Songer Architecture Inc have been working side by side with the City of Lethbridge and our team to ensure the programming in the future will be of the highest quality by embracing the future of technology with Panasonic Canada. Sonny and Kim Nakashima continue to support the Winter Light Festival from the inception in 2015. Last year, the City Cemeteries garden team set up the lights for the best garden display to date. We also want to recognize Panasonic Canada’s support to the visual programming with their donation towards the projectors. As we couldn’t have our normal engagement in the garden, the Nakashima’s and Panasonic Canada support allowed us to still provide that festival feel. Lethbridge Tourism marketing enhanced the awareness of our festival and their sponsorship was put towards part of our amazing ice sculptures. This year’s Winter Light Festival survey resulted in a stunning 847 people responding with 93% giving excellent reviews. A remarkable outcome which shows that when we receive such support, the community is aware and it creates a sense of community pride.

The Board of Directors had ongoing meetings with all levels of the City of Lethbridge. We are doing our part to work with the City on numerous projects that council and Management leadership have initiated. This includes working with RC Strategies consultants to partake in the development of a Recreation and Culture Department Master Plan. Since the City led KPMG report, the City has made some changes that relate to the Garden and the Cemeteries Department now falls under Parks.

We met with all levels of the City to review our plans for the future regarding Fee for Service Funding. Our Fee for Service contract will continue with funding that was passed by Council for 2021/2022 until we can meet with the City to develop an updated Fee for Service/Lease agreement. The new agreement will ensure the stability and consistency of expectations of the City, and of the Society, will be defined into the future. The Fee For Service development process will be determined by the approval of a Recreation and Culture CIP Garden Master Plan presented to Council in mid-May. The goal of this Master Plan is to review the current condition of the structural and horticultural pieces of the garden, in order to examine how the City and the Society will move forward to establish a plan to protect, maintain, and replace our structural and natural assets into the future. As we are a Provincial and Municipal Historical Resource, we need to work through the provincial guidelines as we develop a future plan. The consultation will also review how to best operate the garden including establishing a garden horticultural quality of standard and best practice plan. This report will be pivotal in determining how to ensure the original concept and design of the garden is maintained to keep our authentic “Gem of the South” status as a Canadian Garden done in a Japanese style. Until the report can be completed, the Board of Directors will continue to work with the established Japanese Garden Operations Committee with City Management and Administration.

We are happy to announce that the name “Nikka Yuko Bunka Centre” will be established as part of the new cultural center piece of the garden experience as passed after our presentation to Council. Bunka (Boon-kah) means culture. The New Building Committee is working hard in the back ground with many organizations such as the University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge College, local businesses and other organizations to ensure our content development and experiences will be authentic, educational and fun. This includes many hours reviewing the garden history, the history of those of Japanese Ancestry in Southern Alberta, and traditional and modern cultural programming and experiences. We look forward to showcasing these initiatives at one of our many open houses this fall. We expect the garden public opening will be in conjunction with our 6th annual Winter Light Festival.

The Board advocacy continues by working with MP Ms. Harders Office. Working with the Canadian Garden Council of Canada, we are supporting the efforts to have the federal government to deem year 2022 the Year of the Garden. This will highlight the importance of all types of gardens that give our community and visitors ongoing benefits. COVID 19 has highlighted the need for our mental wellbeing to connect with nature and to enjoy the beautiful display of botanical art pieces. We were delighted that MP Ms. Harder and Lethbridge Tourism have supported this national campaign.

Working with MLA Mr. Neudorf for advocating for our garden and tourism led to a tour of the Garden with Premier Jason Kenny. We believe that our MLA offices know the importance of our garden and how tourism is an important part of supporting our local economy. Although we are a small piece of the loss of $1,5 billion from international tourism in 2020, tourism development, investment and marketing support will assist us to be a part of the solution to getting our economy back on track.

The Society is turning their attention to strategic planning for the Society’s future this year as soon as COVID allows. As the new building is completed and opened, where do we go from here? Board members will be reaching out to all of our stakeholders to conduct an interview. We have hired a facilitator Nancy Ferries, who is the Vice President of the Canada West Regional Development Centre (RDC). Nancy is a long serving volunteer with the Calgary Stampede and is on the board of Run Calgary. She holds a degree in Physical Education and an MBA, both from the University of Calgary and served as the Senior Vice President of Association Advancement and Development with YMCA Calgary. Her passion with her community development, experience with the Calgary Stampede will assist us in looking at the future potential of Nikka Yuko while ensuring we are engaging our community to be a part of that future vision.

Since last AGM, the Board has also passed a Governance Policy Handbook and an Employee Policy Handbook. This was years in the making and ensures we have a strong foundation to move our organization forward. This provides consistency with all of our Policies and procedures from the front line to the Board level.

Last year the garden was a large feature of the CBC GEM documentary “Borrowed from Nature”. The film shows the significance of Japanese gardens and how we need to ensure the community is part of the garden growth. One of our Life Time Honourary members Tosh Kanashiro and Gardener Cody Fong represented our garden alongside other gardens including as New Denver Internment Garden and Nitobe garden in Vancouver. I highly encourage everyone to watch this film. We believe in Dr. Hironaka’s philosophical understanding of “Does our Garden reflect the Community that nurtures it?” We do not want to lose sight of the importance of community engagement and some feel that are members are our gentle guardians of the garden. We appreciate every one and all the Board members who strive to ensure the garden legacy continues into the future.

Last but not least, we wish to recognize Darcy Tamayose for her keynote presentation at our 3rd Annual Golden Maple Reception. Her presentation “Southern Alberta Okinawan Diaspora (1907-Present) a Kika Nisei Journey” was well attended and opened our hearts again to understanding those who have contributed to Southern Alberta and how those of Japanese/Okinawan ancestry continue to contribute today. We hope to host our fourth Golden Maple reception in our new building if allowed. We thank the University of Lethbridge and the Centre for Oral History and Traditions for assisting us in these special annual receptions.

We thank all that joined us for the afternoon Calming of the Earth Spirits and Ground Blessing including Mr. Kobayashi the Consul General of Japan, Mayor Chris Spearman, City Manager Mr. Craig Dalton and all the other attendees. It was a special ceremony conducted by Rev. Izumi Sensei and Elder Calvin Williams which gave everyone the feeling that the project will be a great success.

We look forward to 2021 despite a difficult start. Thank you to our Executive Director Michelle Day and her team for all that they do. They continually rise to assist the board, the community, and ensure we are informed and engaged. Thank you.

Brad Hembroff
President, Lethbridge & District Japanese Garden Society

Posted on:
Wednesday, May 12, 2021