The Japanese Gardens of Canada

When one hears the word “Canada” the mind usually moves towards thoughts of red-coated Mounties on sleek horses, or the snow kissed peaks of the Canadian Rockies, or even the cobblestone streets and 400 year old buildings in Old Quebec. But Canada is also a nation of immigrants, among them the Japanese. It is not surprising that these enterprising individuals from the Far East brought their gardening traditions along with them.

One of the most extensive Japanese gardens in all of Canada is at the Montreal Botanical Gardens in Quebec. Opening on June 28, 1988 the 2.5 hectare property features a variety of Japanese gardening styles. Designed by Ken Nakajima, the traditional Tsukiyama garden greets visitors with pathways leading past azaleas, peonies, a mini forest of crab-apple trees, carp filled ponds, stone lanterns and cascading waterfalls.

The pathway leads to a Pavilion housing a tea room and, along one of the outside walls, the Bonsai Garden. Thirty tiny trees, including Japanese maples, the Maidenhair tree, azaleas and junipers are on display, some almost 350 years old. On the other side of the Pavilion, a Zen garden, done in the abstract Karesansui style, features eleven stones of blue-green peridotite carefully placed in a sea of white sand

Moving west, we travel to Lethbridge, Alberta to the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden. The gardens were founded in 1967, the year of the Canadian centennial. The name Nikka is actually taken from the Japanese words for Japan (Nihon) and Canada (Kanada). Designed by Tadashi Kubo, of the Prefecture University in Osaka, the garden uses Japanese methods and local materials to create a miniature model of the Alberta landscape. Kubo took time to travel throughout the province before putting his design to paper.

Rocks, some of them weighing more than a ton, were taken from the Canadian Rockies to line the tranquil ponds and create tumbling waterfalls. One boulder that had the shape of a turtle was placed in the middle of the largest pond. This mini island is a Japanese symbol for long life. Other rocks were used in creating a Karesansui dry garden next to the teahouse.

The cypress wood teahouse, bridges, gates and azumaya shelter were all crafted in Kyoto and shipped to Canada. Hand carved stone lanterns and a bell tower equipped with a bronze Friendship bell were also crafted in Kyoto and imported. Open from May until October, the Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens are especially lovely in early spring when the azaleas blossom and again in autumn when the maples turn into fiery visions of red and gold.

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To visit these gardens, see above map.

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