What Travel Writers Say

Edmonton's Massive Agora

© By Mike Keenan

  In ancient Greek city-states, an agora was a marketplace and public assembly area, a vital component of the polis from whence derives the term, metropolis. An agora served as an open forum for citizens of the polis. If a distant visitor arrived in a chariot and asked locals where all the action was, he would receive directions to the agora. Albertans, who enjoy all things large and robust, today have access to the largest agora in Canada.
     You don't quite know where to celebrate a honeymoon? Crave escapism, yet prefer something indoors and safe? How about a getaway with the girls for a few days? A birthday? Anniversary? In the West Edmonton Mall, one may become lost in a sea of shopping and entertainment. They actually use phones stationed there designed to help return shoppers from where they started on their gargantuan journeys. I met two Yukon ladies who annually stay over at the Fantasyland Hotel for 10 or more days. They merrily "shop 'til they drop," then merrily return home.
     As a Canadian, besides Wayne Gretzky playing for the Oilers, the other Edmonton attraction I most wanted to see was the WEM. It devours eight by four city blocks on two levels. With 355 rooms, the resident hotel boasts Canada's highest occupancy rate at 95%. It offers 120 themed rooms such as Roman, Polynesian, African, Victorian Coach, Hollywood, Truck, Arabian and Igloo Rooms. Yes, people other than the sturdy Inuit actually want to sleep in an igloo! There are 800 stores comprised of independents and chains, a casino, bingo hall, ministry, water park, spa, 110 eating establishments ranging from food courts with hot dogs to fine dining with chateaubriand, dinner theatre (waiters serving as actors), comedy club, penguins that meander through the mall with their trainer, sea lions, the world's largest indoor amusement park for kids, an ice palace, submarines that really work unlike Ottawa's and for Albertans, an easy winter choice over Florida's Disneyworld. In fact, kids love WEM so much that it's a venue for the Make a Wish Foundation which last year hosted a young Australian girl.
     The financial architects responsible for the mammoth mega-mall are the four Ghermezian brothers, who emigrated from Iran in the 1960's. Formerly promoted as the "Eighth Wonder of the World," West Edmonton Mall, one of Alberta's prime tourist attractions, is now branded "The Greatest Show on Earth."
     Canadian Idol (one thousand auditions) was housed there on the weekend that I visited. Because everything is warmly located indoors, frigid Edmonton weather is not a factor. The day I visited, my hotel boiler had broken down. The shower was freezing as was the hotel as -26 degree Celsius weather encased us like rigid left-over's thrown in a freezer. WEM's World Waterpark with its wave pool and Acapulco-like temperatures looked inviting. In fifteen years, the hotel has sold out every weekend. On a busy Friday, I watched tourists vainly trying to register from off the street. What were they thinking? One needs to book in advance, particularly for that Igloo Room which requires two months notice.
     Remember Tom Hanks in Terminal, a movie about a guy stuck living in an airport? Here, Tom could last easily for a decade. WEM is open 24 hours per day, a self-contained non-stop community. There are aspects that are both tedious and exciting. For example, one job involves changing light bulbs - all year round! On the other hand, Messeret Tessera, Marketing Manager at the Fantasyland Hotel, is often asked to witness weddings conducted by the mall's ministry. You win some; you lose some. It evens out.
     The mall has turned 25, the hotel 20. "When I walk through, 10 to 15 people jump at me, hug me, thank me for what I did and some of them even kiss me. People are happy," says Nader Ghermezian and on this frigid day, I believe him.
     The nice thing about family visits, including those that include grandparents is that there's something here for every age. The 400,000 square-foot amusement park boasts 25 wild and crazy rides including the world's largest indoor triple loop rollercoaster. The gut-wrenching rollercoaster raced and spun by so quickly that I could barely capture a picture as it obscenely rolled, twisted and plunged through space, a perfect high-tech apparatus to train would-be astronauts.
     A replica of Columbus' Santa Maria floats atop the world's largest indoor lake. You learn that at the WEM everything is billed as "world's largest." WEM inspired me to coin a few new descriptors of my own: mall fatigue, mallcontent, petite mall (an oxymoron), malltrocity, mallitus, mallificent, mallefluous, maller, mallamute, malladroit are a few samples, but my favourite is the single mallt scotch.

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun. Click for Edmonton, Alberta Forecast

Photo Credits
Mike Keenan

If you go
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Edmonton Economic Development Corporation:
Edmonton Tourism & Travel Guide: http://www.discoveredmonton.com/
West Edmonton Mall: http://www.westedmall.com/home/default.asp
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmonton
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Edmonton

What's happening, money, distance, time?
Media Guide: http://www.abyznewslinks.com/
Currency conversion: http://www.xe.com/ucc/
Distance calculator: http://www.indo.com/distance/
Time zone converter: http://www.timezoneconverter.com/

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Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/


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