Falen Johnson and Leah-Simone Bowen head to the mall in season five premiere of The Secret Life of Canada
The show about the country you know and the stories you don’t returns for its fifth season
A brand new season of The Secret Life of Canada is here, and in the premiere episode co-hosts Falen Johnson and Leah-Simone Bowen are donning their butterfly clips and acid-washed jeans and heading to the mall.
There's a certain nostalgia for the suburban mall of the past. Shopping today doesn't seem to have the same magic to it — and for the most part, small town malls are considered dead.
In this episode, Johnson and Bowen explore what made malls such a go-to spot to meet people. Entering through an 'anchor store,' such as Zellers or Sears, you could spend hours inside the enclosed space as you made your way through several other stores and reached the centre: where a water fountain full of wishes (i.e. pennies), or perhaps Santa Claus, greeted you as if you were in a town square.
The mall brought the outside world inside, but with the modern convenience of air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter. That particular feature was a hit in Canada's first suburban mall, West Vancouver's Park Royal.
"Researching this one, it was a real walk down memory lane … But really more than anything it made me miss the malls of my youth. When I was younger these spaces often felt so vibrant, so fun, I could spend a whole day there. But now when I find myself in a mall, I just feel kinda sad. I know they have changed," said Johnson.
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That change was a result of young people growing their families, moving out of downtown cities and settling in the suburbs as the popularity of malls rose. At the same time, the corner stores and mom and pop shops that characterized downtown drastically shrank because their customers had left.
Some cities tried to reimagine what their downtown core could look like — and how to re-engage with their communities. But there were other places, like Johnson's hometown of Brantford, Ont., where it remained unclear; the death of her town square was blamed on a curse.
For University of Toronto geography professor Deborah Cowen, Morningside Mall in Scarborough, Ont., is the perfect example of a shuttered mall that was once full of life: a group of men played cards all day in the food court, people walked the halls for exercise and parents spent the day there with their young children. Even the mall's management was supportive of locals using the building as a community space.
But then, Walmart came along.
"Walmart killed that mall by closing their door [to the rest of the mall]," Cowen told The Secret Life of Canada.
This prevented customers from accessing the other stores through an indoor entry. When Walmart left the mall and moved to a new location down the street, Morningside Mall eventually lost business and had to close down.
Is a mall really dead if it's not making enough money? What if it's filled with people dancing, like during the Idle No More movement, or practicing tai chi?
Take a listen to this week's episode to find out more:
- The Terrazzo Jungle - Malcolm Gladwell - The New Yorker
- The strange, surprisingly radical roots of the shopping mall - Steven Johnson - IDEAS.TED.COM
- HBC and the Development of the Shopping Mall in Canada - Hudson's Bay Company History Foundation
- Shopping centres in Canada - Research paper for Statistics Canada
- When Planning Fails - Pierre Filion and Karen Hammond - Canadian Journal of Urban Research
- A Calgary Mall was featured on The Last of Us - Danaye Maier - iHeartRadio
- Zellers, terrazzo and vibes: An ode to the '90s shopping mall - Karon Liu
- Here is where 25 new Zellers stores will open in Canada this year - Megan DeLaire - CTVNews.ca
- Dead Malls: Suburban Activism, Local Spaces, Global Logistics - Vanessa Parlette and Deborah Cowen - International Journal of Urban and Regional Research
- Joshua Levy remembers the heyday of Côte Saint-Luc's Cavendish Mall - Joshua Levy - CBC News