Opened in 1982, the Helen Schuler Nature Centre is operated by the City of Lethbridge. The Nature Centre offers nature-based exhibits and environmental education programs in Lethbridge, Alberta. We are a community resource to learn about nature!
To support and inspire closer relationships between people and the natural world around us. Our team of volunteers, staff and partners work together to foster environmental awareness and leadership.
Together with Nature!
Our community values and cares for our local environment.
Learning from nature
Memorable outdoor experiences
Creative, quality programs
Balance and conservation
Who is Helen Schuler?
A common question asked by our visitors is “who is Helen Schuler?” Our original name, Helen Schuler Coulee Centre, was submitted by the Lethbridge Naturalists’ Society to City Council as a tribute to a very special woman.
Helen Schuler was an influential force in founding the Lethbridge Naturalists' Society, the Federation of Alberta Naturalists (now known as Nature Alberta), the Lethbridge Nature Reserve Park, and the Lethbridge School District's Environmental Education Program. She was very much an activist, researching information, preparing briefs and writing letters on environmental concerns.
Helen Schuler was instrumental in establishing the environmental education programs in Alberta schools – a program that became so successful it eventually played a major role in the construction of the Centre. She passed away in 1977 at the age of 46, from cancer. Her contributions and concern for the environment are remembered in the dedication of our building.
Helen Schuler was known for her appreciation of nature and protection of the environment. Her love of nature and willingness to share it with people continues with volunteers who carry on in her tradition.
Helen Schuler, one of Alberta’s most active and knowledgeable naturalists and conservationists, was part of the dedicated group that struggled to found the Federation of Alberta Naturalists. She served as a Director and first Treasurer from 1970 to 1974, guarding the meagre funds of the young organization so well that she was able to pass the books to her successor with a healthy balance in the bank.
She was the daughter of Steve Mann, a pioneer rancher and noted naturalist of the Skull Creek area, adjacent to the Saskatchewan Cypress Hills, and Marjorie (Nickell) who had journeyed west from Ontario to teach at a school near the ranch. Early experience endowed her with a deep knowledge and love of nature and a desire to protect and conserve it.
Helen prepared, or made important contributions to, all the major briefs presented by the Federation in its early years. Her wide acquaintance with conservationists throughout western Canada enabled her to obtain important background information required for developing an effective and convincing presentation of the naturalist views. She also wrote many letters to governments to inform them on protection of natural areas, conservation of animals and plants, and development of interpretive programs. When action was required, she took it.
The local scene also benefited from Helen’s special knowledge and abilities. While a nursing instructor she contributed as an executive member of the fledgling Saskatoon Natural History Society. She was a principle organizer of the Lethbridge Natural History Society in 1969, and served as its first president. She was instrumental in persuading the City of Lethbridge to establish a nature reserve and interpretive trail in the coulees and to restrict non-recreational development in the coulees within the city. She also established environmental education in the school system to give children an opportunity to understand the natural world that surrounds them. She initiated a trail program that was so successful that the Lethbridge Public School system has expanded the program under the guidance of a citizen coordinating group, and recently funded construction of an interpretive centre in the nature reserve for use of the environmental education program.
As I think of the name Helen Schuler I am reminded of how much the City of Lethbridge owes to the foresight of this extraordinary woman. As an active naturalist, Helen worked hard to involve school children, friends, City Council, and others in an appreciation of the special nature of the prairie.
It was in the early 1970’s, that Helen Schuler and Liz Hall started talking about school environmental programmes and working with schoolteachers and curriculum organizers to put together such a programme.
Volunteers were approached to help in this area, and I was fortunate to be in this early group. Working with schoolteachers in elementary grades to reinforce what was being taught in science in the classroom, the children took part in hands-on experiences.
The children in small groups of four or five, would move from station to station manned by a volunteer instructor who would help the children learn from experience about interrelationships. A rock would be moved and under it would be a beetle or bug, so the rock would be replaced giving a home back to the creature. A piece of plastic would be picked up and the children discovered that the grass was yellow because the sun was shut out. Along the fence line the grass grew taller and signs of something eating the grass was seen. Bit by bit, little discoveries were made, questions asked, and lessons learned.
Later the classes would be taken to a vacant lot near the school, then to undeveloped land near the LCC or U of L, to study mice and gopher communities.
Helen encouraged our sons to build bluebird boxes following the Saskatchewan Bluebird Society model. She wrote very personal weekly nature articles for the Herald. She spearheaded a group whose presentations to City Council resulted in keeping a part of the river bottom as a natural area. She and Francis Schultz formed the Lethbridge Naturalists’ Society in 1969, and Helen was its first president. She helped establish the Federation of Alberta Naturalists in 1970 and was a director and treasurer. Briefs and letter writing on environmental issues were part of her work.
Following Helen’s untimely death in 1977 at the age of 46, the School programmes were carried out with an expanded group of volunteers trained by coordinator Mary Bailey. The natural area provided a focus for the study of the various ecosystems (top of coulee, side slopes, on the flat bottom land, and along the river).
When a name for the proposed interpretive Centre was requested, the Lethbridge Naturalists’ Society submitted the name “Helen Schuler Coulee Centre” to remember Helen who contributed in so many ways to environmental appreciation.
I would invite everyone to visit the Helen Schuler Coulee Centre, to learn from the displays, to enjoy the chickadees and nuthatches at the bird feeder, to look for the Great Horned Owl’s nest, and to pick up the brochure on the Helen Schuler Nature Centre and the Lethbridge Nature Reserve and especially one entitled “Helen Schuler, A True Naturalist”.
Helen Schuler and Elizabeth Hall were two of the key people behind the creation of the Helen Schuler Nature Centre. These exceptional individuals invested more than 20 years of effort towards the preservation of the Oldman River Valley in Lethbridge. Together, these women were the motivating force behind the establishment of environmental education programs for local school children that would eventually lead to the creation of the Helen Schuler Nature Centre.
Elizabeth Hall was a City Alderman who worked hard to promote environmental awareness and concern within our community. During her nine years on city council, Elizabeth Hall aimed to ensure the river valley would be developed in such a way as not to disturb the natural environment. She passed away from cancer in 1987 at age 63. Her memory will forever be preserved in the naming of the Elizabeth Hall Wetlands on the west side of the Oldman River near the CPR High Level Bridge.
The river valley has always been a special place to the citizens of Lethbridge. This valley has been the site of many important events in our local history, including the original settlement, coal mining, Indian battles, and the construction of the High Level Bridge. Today it plays a very different role in our community, one that is becoming increasingly important as the city grows. The original town site of Coalbanks was located right here in the valley. By the 1960s most people had relocated as flooding made living in the river valley untenable. At that time, the provincial government gave the city the reserve land on conditions that it remains in its natural state. There was also growing concern in the community that the river valley should be preserved.
A river valley ad-hoc committee was appointed by City Council and submitted a report on suitable development in 1974. A River Valley By-Law was based on this report and passed in 1975. The provincial government declared the river valley a Restricted Development Area in 1977.
Environmental education studies in the schools began in 1974 thanks to the leadership of Mary Bailey, Helen Schuler, Elizabeth Hall and a small group of environmental leaders who were involved with the Girl Guides. The program continued to expand and soon the need for a building became pressing. With the leadership of the Lethbridge Naturalists' Society funding was looked for and found in funds from Project Cooperation grants put towards the construction. This is how the original building and nature reserve park came to be. The reserve was originally a total of 196 acres, bounded by the High Level Bridge, Oldman River, and Highway #3. It included prairie, coulee, and river valley habitats all rich in abundance of wildlife.
The original building was constructed by the City of Lethbridge in 1981 at a total cost of $158,000.00. The City asked the community for input on a proposed name for the facility - overwhelmingly, the community responded with suggestions to name it in honour of Helen Schuler. The official opening was in June 1982 and an active schedule of public interpretive events and group programming began at that time.
Since the beginning the Centre operated year-round, for there is much in nature to appreciate in winter as there is in summer, and the variety of discoveries to be made is unending! Volunteers have always been central to the Centre's operations; they were responsible for the success of many of the early programs and events.
After programming for two years and experiencing the growth and expansion of a new program, several areas were identified that were needed to accommodate growth of the program. These included storage areas, a program theatre, and office space. Construction of the addition was completed in April of 1984. The landscaping, trail upgrading, and new Coulee Climb Self-Guided Trail were completed by the fall of 1984. The total cost of $134,000.00 was funded by the Urban Parks Project.
In 1985, the land across the river from the original Nature Reserve was designated as nature reserve land to protect it. This includes an abandoned Oxbow Pond, and the section of coulees originally known as “the shales”, a previous ATV-use area. This parcel, originally called Oxbow Lake, was renamed Elizabeth Hall Wetlands on June 6, 1987 at the fifth anniversary for the Centre. Alexander Wilderness Park, located west of Hardieville (now Legacy Ridge), was also declared a Nature Reserve Park.
In 1996, a new nature reserve, Cottonwood Park, was purchased on the west side of the river, south of Popson Park.
In 1997 the Coulee Centre received an Education Award from the Alberta Emerald Foundation recognizing our work in developing an environmental ethic among citizens of Lethbridge.
In 2007, as part of the 25th Anniversary celebration for the Centre, the name was officially changed from the Helen Schuler Coulee Centre to the Helen Schuler Nature Centre.
In 2008 the Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce honoured the Nature Centre with the 'Spirit of Lethbridge Award' recognizing our team for being tremendous ambassadors of our city as well as stimulating social and economic growth.
In 2012 a major renovation project was undertaken to overhaul the Centre. For the next two years the Nature Centre operated out of a temporary structure located in Indian Battle Park. Over $4.4 million was invested into the Nature Centre, effectively updating the facility to a LEED-Gold certified standard. The new facility is an excellent community example of leadership in energy and environmental design.
In 2014 the Nature Centre moved into the newly renovated facility. This marked a major transition year in the history of the Nature Centre as the larger building footprint allowed for considerable growth of the exhibition program and expansion of the potential for onsite programming.
In 2015 the Nature Centre facility achieved LEED-Gold certification, making the Centre the top LEED facility in the City of Lethbridge’s portfolio. The Nature Centre was internationally recognized by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities with an excellence award in the Intensive Institutional category. This award distinguishes our accessible prairie roof as an outstanding design project.
Also in 2015 the Nature Centre was recognized by Environment Lethbridge in the organization category as part of the Environmental Superheroes Awards!
In 2016 the Nature Centre launched the River Valley Exhibit, an immersive permanent exhibition that helps visitors to understand the unique qualities of our river valley and what makes this place so special. Designing and planning for the River Valley Exhibits spanned more than 5 years and represents the collective work of more nearly 50 community organizations and environmental groups, individuals and businesses. The end results represents the collective knowledge and support of our community.
Also in 2016, the Nature Centre was featured as one of the top 25 Inspiring Stories from the past 25 years of the Alberta Emerald Awards program.
In 2017 the Nature Centre was awarded Attraction of the Year by Southwest Service and Tourism Awards, recognizing the exceptional work of our team! Also in 2017, the Nature Centre hosted its 100th original exhibition which coincided with our 1,000,000th visitor since opening in 1982.
In 2018 and 2019 the Nature Centre's Natural Leaders Project was a finalist in the Public Education & Outreach category of the Alberta Emerald Awards.
In 2019 the Nature Centre helped the City of Lethbridge become a Designated Clean Shoreline Community – the fifth community in Canada to achieve such a designation.
In 2020 the Nature Centre was honoured by the Allied Arts Council of Lethbridge with an Excellence Award, recognizing the value of our community art gallery in fostering and encouraging creative expression. Also in 2020 the Co-op Community Outdoor Classroom was completed, improving accessibility and opportunity of the outdoor amphitheatre space.
In 2021 the Nature Centre was honoured by Inclusion Lethbridge with The Collaborator Award in celebration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The award recognized our team for fostering an environment of acceptance, equal opportunity, and inclusivity.
The Nature Centre has changed and grown with the community, and now receives more than 58,000 visitors each year!
We thank everyone who has been a part of our history and making the Nature Centre what it is today. We encourage you to be a part of our history by joining us at an upcoming program or special event; or by taking it to the next level and joining our Volunteer Team.