The Loop: Why do we care about West Edmonton Mall so much?

CBC Edmonton’s podcast gets nostalgic about the early days of West Edmonton Mall and asks about the relevance of Canada’s supermall.

CBC Edmonton’s podcast explores nostalgia and relevance of Canada’s supermall

A man stands in front of a pirate ship.
Matthew Dutczak is the mastermind behind Best Edmonton Mall, a website and YouTube series dedicated to the weird and wonderful history of WEM. (CBC News)

This week The Loop explores all things West Edmonton Mall. 

Matthew Dutzak, from the website Best Edmonton Mall, joins us to talk about the history of the shopping centre. Plus host Clare Bonnyman takes a walk through an art show that asks, why is WEM still relevant?

This week The Loop explores all things West Edmonton Mall. Matthew Dutzak of the website 'Best Edmonton Mall' joins us to talk about the history of the shopping centre. Plus, Clare Bonnyman takes a walk through an art show in town that asks, why is WEM still relevant?

Dutczak started his Best Edmonton Mall series in 2016, and now has millions of views on his historical videos of WEM. But what does the future look like for it and other shopping centres in the city? He shared some of his thoughts on the show.

Right, the title "Why Do we care about WEM so much?" On the left, The Loop podcast logo.

The following transcription has been edited for clarity and length.

Min Dhariwal: I mean peoples' habits have changed. A lot of people buy stuff online and things like that, but what do you think the mall means to Edmontonians today?

Matthew Dutzak: I can only speak in my own experience, but as a parent of young children, I love having that as a place to bring the kids in one of our cold winters, you know? 

Min Dhariwal: It's an escape.

Matthew Dutzak: It's an escape and it's full of attractions and if you look at it through the eyes of the '80s and early '90s, it was this spectacle. We're going to be the best. We're the biggest. This is Edmonton. 

This is going to be a world class attraction that we've never done before. I mean it was the world's largest mall until 2004, and that kind of love and almost pride and sense of wonder is maybe petered into a little bit of … people take it for granted.

They don't realize that not all cities have an amusement park and a water park and mini golf and ice skating and bowling and theatres and everything in one place. 

I think a lot of people are experiencing it every day or every week of their life and they're not really attached to it right now.

And then you wait 20 years, you can have someone else sitting in this chair talking about Powered by Hasbro and go-karts and what have you.

It's leaving its mark on the current generation. 

Clare Bonnyman: In our studios right now we're in City Centre mall, which is facing store closures. I took a walk through Bonnie Doon last week which was bleak. Malls are dying. Does WEM have what it takes to withstand the test of time? 

Matthew Dutzak: A lot of people are asking that, because the sentiment these days is malls are dead and retail is dead. What's the point? But destination shopping is not dying.

Destination shopping is actually on the rise, so local malls aren't doing well but you go to a place like Vegas or you go to a place like West Edmonton Mall, you go to places like New York. Those destinations where you go there to shop are actually on the rise which is why — and this is my assessment — you're seeing Gucci and the Saint Laurent and Louis Vuitton showing up. They're growing this luxury wing in the middle of the mall because there's a good market for that, and as long as people keep buying those luxury brands and going on vacations and going to stay in a theme room and then going to the water park… 

West Edmonton Mall for the foreseeable future, is very safe in my eyes. [But] I don't know if Millbourne Market Mall is ever going to make a comeback.