Having spent all but three weird months of my life in Edmonton, a portion of my available fascination is perpetually woven into the snug threads of the city’s storied history. Admittedly, when the frigid fingernails of a late November cold spell are scraping bone through skin I will occasionally entertain a baffled speculation as to the reasoning behind Edmonton’s founders choosing this spot in which to settle. But they did, we’re here, and some magnificently cosmic clattering of fate’s dice landed me at birth within these city limits.
A tremendous Facebook page, operated by a former resident who finds the constant fluctuation of our city’s urban visage to be a matter of fascination and deeply in need of public documentation, is an inescapable vice for me. It was nothing short of a revelation to me that before our cold, brutalist courthouse we had a splenderiffic edifice, complete with Roman pillars and a classic aesthetic. I’m still amazed that we had an incline railway that once covered the same ground as the parkade where I occasionally stash my Toyota during the workday.
My workplace view overlooks our pointy, modernist City Hall and the Chicago-inspired McLeod Building, and I take a moment to soak in a fresh smidgen of our landscape every day. But beneath that landscape is a brief but hurried urban history, one which propelled us from a frontier trading post to a 21st century metropolis with astounding speed. I’d like to learn more, to dig my feet a little deeper into local lore. And where better to start than with the decadent facial hairstylings of our first mayors?
One hundred years before I was legally entitled to fling a ballot into the steampunk apparatus of civic democracy, Matthew McCauley was elected our town’s first mayor. I poked around his legacy for a smattering of dirt, but all I could uncover was an unending procession of awesomeness. Our school system, our first hospital, our Chamber of Commerce… they all are smeared with Mayor Matt’s fingerprints. He was the quintessential first mayor every town needs. Read more…
I will admit to a moderate love/hate relationship with Edmonton, the city where I would hang my hat were I hip enough to own a decent hat. The ‘hate’ stems mostly from the weather, as the recent “warming” trend to near-freezing temperatures mocks me and subtly reminds me we’re only two months in to our six-month dog-fight with winter. I’m also perturbed by the excessive number of jacked-up pickup trucks adorned with decorative metallic testicles, but that’s a kvetch for another day.
But put aside the redneck hickery, tuck in that atrocious neighborhood sprawl and set the perma-calendar to an eternal July and this is one of the finest places a person can plant roots. Like most cities, Edmonton has shifted and adapted with time. When some lucky schmuck discovered oil nearby, our little skyscrapers started poking at the sky. When they built our primary tourist attraction (a giant shopping mall) in the west end, the neighborhoods out that way spread their borders like a vinyl-sided virus.
With some cities, you saw what they were going to be on the side of the box. They were built (or were almost built) with a blueprint. A concept. A pre-ordained destiny. Maybe it’ll be sci-fi and futuristic, the utopian embrace our cold, alienated shoulders have been longing for. Maybe it will inspire a new era, a new reality in urban awareness. Or maybe it’ll just be creepy.
Welcome to Celebration, Florida.
If this quaint little strip of Americana looks too perfect to be real, well in a way it is. Located right around the corner from Walt Disney World near Orlando, Celebration is the brainchild of the Disney Development Company. It was built in the 1990’s with the aim of contradicting the perpetual state of sterility and individual isolation that has been suffocating American suburbs over the past few decades. The theme is neotraditionalism – pedestrian-friendly, intrinsically self-sustaining, and ideally the kind of place where you’ll actually want to meet your neighbors. Read more…
If you’ve been anywhere near the sports pages this week, then you have probably heard all about the weather in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The hometown Packers, the tiny-market, publically-owned NFC North champs are hosting a playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers in wind chills that could smack that wretched point where Fahrenheit and Celsius collide, right around the -40 mark.
Edmonton’s air promises to be just as unforgiving today, and I’m already dreading the sprint from my car to the grocery store; I can’t fathom loping around a sideline for the better part of a 3-hour contest. This is the kind of weather that can scramble cogent thought. Walking through -40 makes one pray for a nearby explosion, just for the heat of the flames. It turns a loogie into a crusty green snotsicle before it hits the pavement.
And so football lovers will turn their pre-game focus to other chilling playoff epics. The mighty Dan Fouts-led San Diego Chargers could have jetted to the Super Bowl in early 1982 were it not for the vicious wind in Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium. The hometown Packers were frozen out by the New York Giants in the 2007 NFC Championship game. But nothing – not even today’s game – will compare to the infamous Ice Bowl.
The 1966 NFL Championship didn’t earn its oft-marked page in the tome of football history for simply being the coldest game ever played. Its significance is spread all over the game like cream cheese on an excessively-dolloped bagel. This was Green Bay’s attempt at an unprecedented third consecutive championship. It would determine who would represent the NFL in the second Super Bowl. And most importantly, it was the last time the NFL championship was considered to be the most important game in the sport of football. The American Football League was still considered a ‘secondary league’ and the Super Bowl between the two league champs was more an afterthought. Until Joe Namath’s league-rattling upset the following year would forever cement the Super Bowl at the top of the charts. Read more…
Whilst wandering the school grounds during recess, pondering the lunacy of those hearty Edmonton settlers who determined that this frozen hellscape would somehow not be a ludicrous place to plop down a new town, I noticed a boy in my grade who was eating snow from his be-mittened hand.
“Enrique,” I queried, as even as a child I possessed the foresight to change the kid’s name to avoid a lawsuit, “what on earth are you doing?”
“It’s like the whole world is a giant Slurpee, just without the flavor!” The kid had enthusiasm and a downright sparkly approach to life, I’d give him that. Dumb as a moss-tucked stump, but he knew how to make the best of a situation.
I’d imagine that most local convenience store owners are counting on somewhat unimpressive sales of their Slurpee-like products today, with temperatures not expected to slither up past 15-below with the wind chill. Though I suspect a handful of parched throats around the city will crumple up logic and reason and internal temperature control and grab themselves a slushy treat anyway.
Some of us will down a cold beer tonight – why not a Slurpee?
Why not both in one beverage?
The Slurpee brand name belongs exclusively to 7-Eleven, though many of us forged our addictions at other stores with Slushes, Chillers, Mr. Mistys, Slusherinos, Squishees, Slush-Puppies, and Half-Frozen Sugar Juice (some stores in my town were very literal). My local corner store had the machine stashed behind the counter, leaving the artistry of crafting the perfect flavor mix in the hands of the same ornery Chinese guy that stacked the pornos at the back of the magazine rack so we kids couldn’t reach them. The world seemed so far beyond our control back then. Read more…
For an old building, the rumor of spectral haunting is a compliment. It’s one thing to have a turn-of-the-20th-century gothic hotel in your town, creeping out passing pedestrians. But if you can pepper the building’s history with the tale of a chambermaid whose head was decapitated by the dumbwaiter door in 1906, with hundreds of tourists swearing they’ve heard her muffled screams through the walls or spotted her headless spectre dusting the ballroom ever since… well, now you’ve got a municipal landmark.
It doesn’t matter if the so-called haunting is real. Like I pointed out in yesterday’s batch of five creepy spots lurking around the continental United States, our collective imagination and willingness to buy into paranormal lore will continue to feed these tales. Those among us who are cynics and skeptics can draw our own conclusions.
But this is not the time for debunking. It’s the time for spelunking, by which I mean we should traipse through the shadowy cave of that which tightens our veins and sets our skin a-crawlin’. There’s something tragically anti-visceral about embarking on a quest to expose the illusions behind the unexplained. In this spirit I’m going to poke and prod around my own Canadian backyard for some quality Halloween-week spookery.
To do this right I’m going to start with a notoriously spirit-heavy spot in Edmonton, just a five minute walk from where I went to high school. Once upon a time it was the Charles Camsell Hospital, but in the 1990’s the crown of urban decay was hoisted on its asbestos-laden frame. Naturally, hundreds of locals have crawled about the wreckage, looking for whatever it is people look for in toxic abandoned building-bones. But some have reported hearing screams from the fourth floor, where the psych ward used to be. Read more…
There was a moment in 1933 when it seemed that technology had finally found a way to bridge all peoples, to unite us under a singular cloak of shared information and otherworldly convenience. It was a glorious rebirth for the human race – and no, I’m not talking about the invention of television, email or online pornography… this is all about the Speaking Clock.
For those too young to remember, there was once a time when you could call a number and have a delightful automated voice tell you the time. No longer would people have to snoop around the walls for a clock or bother some jaunty fellow on the street and ask him to check his pocket watch. Maybe this was the beginning of our collective societal disconnect – the first moment when we could forego an interaction with a stranger by turning to the cold comfort of technology. Ah, but technology, she provides doesn’t she?
The Paris observatory, that same sacred stanchion of science that had used the Eiffel Tower to broadcast radio signals back and forth to the United States, launched the first public speaking clock in ’33. Other technologically capable nations were quick to leap aboard the fad; some even provided a brief weather report.
“At the tone, the weather outside will be snowy and shitty…”
The technology for running a speaking clock was, back in the 30’s, somewhere between antique and steampunk. The system in the UK, introduced on July 24, 1936, utilized a voice recorded optically onto a series of glass discs. Those were then processed by a complex array of motors, photocells and valves, all of which took up an entire room. The unit ran on a continuous cycle so that anyone who called in could be treated to pre-recorded updates of the accurate time every ten seconds. Read more…
Despite my locale in the dark frozen tundra of Canada (whose climate has actually been tolerably pleasant throughout August), the majority of my readership is located south of the border. That’s okay, I’m descended from hearty American stock – my grandfather actually played stickball in the streets of Brooklyn during the Great Depression, so I’m descended from hearty American cliché as well – and I have always cherished the glorious U.S. of A. as my second home.
Canadian culture is, to a large extent, the overflow reservoir for American culture. Our most popular movies and TV, most of our store chains, our meth-like dependence on Starbucks in the morning, and indeed our varied selection of westernized food styles are all derived from American sources. Sure, we’ll scoff at your Dunkin’ Donuts and revere Tim Hortons as the superlative choice, but come on – we’re all still eating donuts and drinking coffee.
But beyond back bacon, maple syrup and poutine, what do our southern (or northern if we are talking Alaska) neighbors know about true Canadian cuisine? I’m curious to see just how hungry you’ll be after you read this.
The Turkish version of the Greek gyro – a frighteningly large slab of meat, skewered, cooked, then sliced into a fattening pita wrap – is known as a döner kebab. In these parts we call either variation a donair, and while it’s greasy, calorie-heavy and occasionally a trigger of regret and self-loathing, there are a few subtle differences that make the Canadian donair truly unique. Read more…