Tag: West Edmonton Mall

Day 995: Little Rivalry On The Prairie

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Newcomers to the city of Edmonton inevitably have questions regarding our perpetual rivals to the south, or what has come to be known as the Battle of Alberta. They don’t ask me – I purposely sport a fanny-pack and 20 pounds of camera gear when I wander about the city so that tourists don’t talk to me – but they’ll ask somebody. The answer they’ll probably get is “hockey”, which is blatantly misleading and 100% wrong.

Edmonton and Calgary have held a semi-snarly relationship for much longer than the history of professional hockey in either city. Far from a rivalry of mere convenience (we are the only two major cities in the province), the Battle of Alberta extends to fundamental belief systems, to political preferential treatment, to bigotry, inclusion, and of course… money.

Which is truly the greater city? As a lifelong resident of Edmonton, my honest answer is that I don’t care. Both cities are gorgeous: they have the Stampede, we have the continent’s most impressive Fringe Theatre Festival. They have proximity to the magnificent mountains, we have an exquisite river valley. They are the economic home-base of the province, we have a gigantic mall.

But enough of the niceness. Let’s see how this got ugly.

BlackfootConfederacy-1

The Battle of Alberta extends for centuries before there was even an Alberta over which to battle. The Blackfoot Confederacy was the political union among the Blackfoot tribes who moseyed about southern Alberta and Montana, killing buffalo and living a northern version of the indigenous lifestyle of the American Indian. Up in the boreal forest that covered the northern half of the as-yet-undesignated province, the Cree and their allies (known as the Iron Confederacy, making the history of this region sound like a bad-ass Native version of Game of Thrones) lived a subarctic lifestyle, which involved trapping and fur-trading. Read more…

Day 802: Edmonton – The Opening Credits

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Last week, while another icy winter blast was gossiping through our beloved city streets, I heard a familiar question discreetly uttered in my office tower elevator. It’s a question that inevitably falls from the cliffs of quivering lips every year when the onset of March is mocked by November-esque climate.

“Why did anyone decide to settle a town in this spot?”

It’s true that, while our swirling stripe of river valley parkland is an emerald jewel among modern urban nature triumphs, and while we perpetually possess a bountiful bevy of artistic talent that vastly supersedes expectations, our winters also display a wicked longevity. And the earliest Edmontonians had half a country of gorgeous parkland to sift through, none of which had an established arts scene. So why here? Why plant one’s flag amid such an unforgiving tundra?

Money, baby. A businessman goes where the customers are, and in 1795 there were scads of Blackfoot and Cree folks in the region, not to mention a raucous cavalcade of settlers headed west. No one knew there was a generous cauldron of bubblin’ crude below our terrestrial waistline (that surprise was 150 years away); back then our town was all about hocking pelts to the locals.

FirstFort

Today, Edmonton’s premier tourist attraction is inevitably our monstrous Mall, which sucks more than 30 million shoppers and gawkers inside its yellow brick shell each year. Ironically, a mall is exactly how Edmonton started out. The North West Company picked out the spot where the North Saskatchewan River shook watery hands with the Sturgeon River (near modern-day Fort Saskatchewan) and opened up a trading post in 1795. The Hudson Bay Company joined them shortly thereafter, giving us two anchor stores. For all your pelt and survivalist needs. Read more…

Day 741: Welcome To The City Of The (Sorta) Future

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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.

Celebration

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…

Day 387: Canada Gets Seven Wonders Too, Eh?

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In 2007, The National – one of Canada’s nation-wide nightly news broadcasts – ran a competition to track down the Seven Wonders of Canada. I’ve written a few articles on the various incarnations of the ‘Seven Wonders’ concept, but this one truly irks me. Canadians voted – I didn’t, but many of my countrymen who actually cared did – then a panel of CBC ‘experts’ voted on which Wonders made the list.

I don’t know why they bothered to poll the nation, only to hand the list over to a trio of talking heads to make the pick. They selected Roberta L. Jamieson, the first woman to receive a law degree in Canada, Roy MacGregor, who covers hockey for the Globe & Mail, a national paper, and the guitar player from Trooper.

Totally not joking. The guys who sang "Raise A Little Hell".

Totally not joking. The guys who sang “Raise A Little Hell”.

Why these people had a greater say than the citizens of this country, I have no idea. But they did, and the end result was that they selected only two of the top seven voted upon by Canadians. Among the other five chosen, three don’t even make sense. The canoe? Prairie skies? The friggin’ igloo? Read more…

Day 371: The End Of Them All (…or, The End Of The Mall)

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The above photo is a news clipping for West Edmonton Mall, published shortly before it opened in September of 1981, giving my unlikely northern city the curious honor of hosting the world’s largest shopping mall. Two years later the mall expanded, adding a McDonald’s and the largest indoor amusement park on the planet, at which point it became Mecca for myself and all other eight-year-olds who needed something indoors to do in a city where winter lasts for half the year.

I’m not entirely certain why those two ladies on the left side of that photo are standing so casually in the middle of oncoming traffic on 170th street; perhaps that was meant to demonstrate just how captivating the shopping palace would be. “A Mall So Glorious, It Might Actually Kill You.”

Alas, West Edmonton Mall has slipped down the charts in the last 30 years, falling to #12 on the list, #13 if you count the amusement park in the middle of the Mall of America in Minneapolis. But at least our mall is thriving. If you want a giant slab of depressing capitalist debris, do a Google search for Dead Mall.

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A dead mall is just what it sounds like. Very few, or sometimes no stores left, not enough foot traffic to fill the bleachers at a little league game, and probably a fantastic resonance for hearing one’s own echo. Read more…

Day 358: …For The Rest Of Us

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I spent the greater part of today wading through gape-mouthed lemmings and waiting semi-patiently in irrationally slow lines to buy a $7 candle that smells more like bug spray than the candy canes depicted on its exterior. I stood there hoping I could remember where amid the blizzard outside I’d parked in the sprawling asphalt maze that surrounds the largest shopping mall in the world (***1985 statistic). I began to think… there has to be a better way.

I was raised a Jew, inasmuch as I was taught how to properly discern a quality blintz from an amateur effort. My mom had converted before I was born, so every December we’d make the voyage to her family’s annual gatherings to celebrate in a semi-traditional (heavy on the gifts, very light on the Jesus stuff) Christmas. Chanukah was great for lighting pretty candles, but as a kid, Christmas was where the action was at.

In terms of fun, Chanukah can't hold a candle to Christmas. Haha! I made a pun!

In terms of fun, Chanukah can’t hold a candle to Christmas. Haha! I made a pun!

Now that I have a family of my own, I make every effort to educate my children in the ways of my own chosen religion (Jediism), while making sure they have the appropriate exposure to both ceremonies of my youth. But these traditional rituals are flawed, and the dominant one, the one that had me dragging shopping bags full of wind-up doodads and sequin-spackled whatsits all over half my area code on the Saturday before the 25th, that one is just too chock full o’ stress.

So what’s left? I can’t celebrate Ramadan because I’m not Muslim, and besides, that holiday keeps slipping further and further away from the winter holiday break. I can’t celebrate Kwanzaa because I have no idea what it’s about, and I have a feeling that trying to celebrate it anyway would be somehow racist. Then, on cue, Ms. Wiki regifted me with the perfect answer:

Festivus. Read more…

Day 325: The New Magnificent Seven

What is the eighth wonder of the world?

For years, people have been slapping that label on all sorts of things, from the Houston Astrodome to the Empire State Building to West Edmonton Mall (up until recently, the Mall contained three McDonaldses! How magnificent!). That’s an argument I’ll shelve for another month, because we’ve never really discussed the original seven.

I have written about the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, as well as the Seven Wonders of Nature in Serbia, but there is a definitive list of New Seven Wonders.

In 2001, a Canadian/Swiss guy named Bernard Weber organized the New7Wonders Foundation to formally select the official Seven. It took six years and a massive poll – the largest poll in history, actually – but after 100 million votes, this is what they came up with.

The Giza Pyramid Complex, the only still-standing monument from the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, is an honorary Wonder. One Egyptian journalist, writing for a state-run paper, claimed this was a conspiracy against Egypt and completely unscientific. As to the second point, well no kidding. As for the former, I highly doubt anyone is putting in the time and effort to manage a poll like this just to stick it to Egypt. Get over yourselves – people will still flock to see the pyramids for Chrissake. Read more…

Day 264: The Seven Ancient Big-Shots

With so many things (Disneyland, West Edmonton Mall, Christina Hendricks) being billed as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’, you’d think the unspoken first seven should be branded on the surface of our collective brain. But the average person would trip over their garbled memory if they tried to list them. This supposed ‘common knowledge’ is far from common – I’d bet I could run into more people today who could list seven previous winners of American Idol before rattling off the Big Seven.

Part of the confusion comes from the diffusion of this list. We now have the Seven Wonders of Wales, the Seven Wonders of Nature, and a smattering of modernized lists to choose from. I may revisit one of these other lists in the future; today I’m sticking to the original seven, or the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

The word ‘wonder’ is, along with this list, just a marketing ploy. After the Greeks ran the table and conquered most of the known world in the 4th century BC, the list became a kind of tourist guide for the masses. The oldest such list comes from a poem by Antipater of Sidon, and it makes use of the word ‘theamata’, which means ‘sights’. I guess this wasn’t drawing in the gift-shop bucks because later lists use ‘thaumata’ instead, which means ‘wonder’. Always go with the sizzle, that’s an Ancient Greek saying.

So what’s on the list? What did the ancients save up their hard-earned travelling budget to soak up? Let’s start with the oldest one.

This is the one most people can remember, possibly because it’s the only one that’ll still make it into guidebooks today. The Great Pyramid of Giza took about ten or twenty years to build, and remained the tallest man-made structure in the world until the central spire at the Lincoln Cathedral in England was raised up in about 1311, more than 3800 years later.

The Great Pyramid was already caked in dust by the time the Greeks put together this list. Its original raison d’être was as a tomb for the Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu, who is known today for only one thing: building the Great Pyramid. Okay, it was a vanity project. Still, pretty impressive.

Around 600BC, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were constructed near what is now Al Hillah in Iraq. Well, maybe. This is the one Ancient Wonder that may or may not have existed. King Nebuchandnezzar II allegedly ordered its construction because his wife was homesick for the plants of her homeland (which may or may not have been the forest moon of Endor). Read more…

Day 97: The THEA Awards Travel Book

Is there a better job for a writer than writing travel articles? I suppose if one hates to fly, or thinks that foreign people are “gross”, then travel writing may not be for them. But for someone like me, who enjoys portioned packages of peanuts and thinks that all people, both domestic and imported are equally gross, travel writing is something I aspire to do.

Today my Wiki-flight was booked for the Themed Entertainment Association. TEA is a non-profit group intended to bring together creators of theme-based entertainment, from amusement parks to museums to weird travelling exhibits. Wikipedia lists the winners from the past three THEA awards (they add the ‘H’ so it doesn’t sound like they’re awarding good tea, I guess). Given that my budget for this site is limited only to my monthly internet payment and the copious amount of alcohol I must imbibe in order to find myself charming, I can’t visit any of these places and report on them first-hand. However, three months of ridiculous deadlines have taught me that I can make shit up with the best of them.

Let’s first jet to Washington DC and to the International Spy Museum, winner of the 2009 Museum Exhibit award for their “Operation Spy” exhibit. In this exhibit, children twelve years and older (and I would certainly qualify) take on the role of a spy. You have about an hour to stop a nuclear trigger from falling into the wrong hands. There are codes and puzzles to conquer, but also an interrogation.

Having seen all eight seasons of 24, I think the interrogation portion might be the highlight of your trip to Washington. For the low admission price of $14.95, I think it’s a great bargain for the opportunity to hook up a car battery to a suspected double-agent’s scrotum. I highly recommend this one. Read more…