This article is part of the The Great American Reach Around series.


Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

What do people from Edmonton think of Americans? I'm not sure that we do. Most of us seem too busy trying to buy a larger truck.

The northern most major city in North America, Edmonton is like one of those wild prairie roses advertised on our provincial license plates; however instead of petals it has knives, a tremendous amount of oil boom money, and shitty weather that changes widely like Jonathan Winters if he went on a manic coke binge. At least it's a dry heat/freeze/upside down flying hail that is made out of bees and soy.

Is there anywhere that better represents the worst excesses of suburban sprawl, a complete lack of long term planning, and the kind of architectural unity of vision only available in the drawings of a pre-schooler? Maybe, but Edmonton must be a close second. The city is as spread out like an unconscious drunk girl at a creepy frat party. Urban living here simply means that you just have to drive further to find a hardware store. AND DRIVE YOU MUST! Thankfully our glut of automobiles and angry drivers means that we will be well prepared for the inevitable Road-Warrior like future of roving gas banditry.

It is also the capital of the Province of Alberta that is quaintly - and only somewhat incorrectly - referred to as the Texas of Canada by the rest of the country. This is possibly because of its relative oil wealth, comparatively 'right-wing' politics, and perceived deluge of cowboys and cowboy fashion fetishists so plentiful that Heaven's Gate could have been filmed twice. But these misconceptions aren't really accurate for Edmonton.

Edmonton is to the rest of Alberta as Austin is to the rest of Texas…if Austin is a poorly designed, blue-collar town filled with unmet expectations and a good research university. I honestly don't know, as I have never been to Austin. In fact, Edmonton has a long history of being the relatively left-wing member of the "Alberta Bunch". Everyone might blame it on the university if they thought about it …but it doesn't really matter since it doesn't seem to have any effect on the one party state we've enjoyed provincially for the last 40+ years.

It's also an ugly city. Notoriously so. Additionally, the city suffers from a collective gigantism that may be the result of the influence of the local Ukrainian population - whose disproportionate representation led nickname of Edmonchuk. For example, we (and the surrounding Ukrainians hinterlands) have such objects as the world's biggest non-operable when it was supposed to be operable pan flute, the world's biggest pyrogy on a fork (with butter!), world's biggest Ukrainians sausage, world's biggest pysanka (Ukrainian Easter egg), world's biggest boot, world's biggest bat, world's biggest mushrooms, and for a while the world's biggest mall. That last one is better known as West Edmonton Mall: a mall so needlessly big that it has replaced our downtown as the shopping center of the city.

However, it is true that - like the rest of the province - Edmonton is enjoying the high life thanks to high oil prices and the extra investment and spending it brings. This means that the city is again having another one of its poorly thought-out growth spurts, and will undoubtedly look even more like a hobo's asshole when all is said and done. People are inexplicably moving here to grab some of that sweet oil cash and downtown no longer feels like no man's land on a Saturday night. When the inevitable crash comes, we will likely try and subsist by selling giant versions of things and city nicknames.

Once nicknamed the City of Champions during a particularly successful decade for our local sports teams…I think by Edmontonians only…the city is now more commonly referred to as Stabmonton (a relatively new name based on the perceived amount of stabbings) or Deadmonton (due to the perceived number of undead who stalk our streets at night…or maybe it's the feeling that the city is boring as compared to…I dunno…a gay circus clown).

Do I seem down on my hometown? Its part of the love-hate or hate-hate relationship that many Edmontonians - new and old - have with this humble northern berg. In fact, leaving Edmonton, or thinking of leaving Edmonton, or talking about thinking about leaving Edmonton, seems to be as fashionable amongst the young, talented and ambitious of this city the way jaunty hats were back around the turn of the 20th century. It has never quite clear why, but many of us just get an urge to migrate like Salmon. While this effect has been abated for the moment by the current boom, it remains a common theme…a motif, even.

To its credit, Edmonton has supplied a number of other municipal centers with a steady supply of its most creative and ambitious, who run screaming from the clear and present threat of failure/disappointment/unfulfilled potential. The city also has The Edmonton Oilers, a hockey team that was once a proud hockey dynasty that included Wayne Gretzky. Now it gets by on little more than the fan's inability to 'get over it'. Edmonton also has an uncharacteristically beautiful river valley that runs through the middle of the city. Of course, it is the largest (or soon to be expanded in to the largest) contiguous parkland in North America.

Edmonton tries to jam all of its fun into the summer by having a festival or two nearly every week where the sun is regularly expected to raise temperatures above shitty degrees below zero. This leaves the winter a desolate fun-less landscape. It is comparable to the fat kid who eats all his cookies at once rather than spacing them out, and then is left to suffer, cookie-less, for the majority of the time. This is why Edmonton has also been nicknamed the Festival City.

Two of the most well attended are the Edmonton Fringe Theatre festival (the largest Fringe in North America...surprise, surprise.) and Heritage Days. Heritage Days where everyone gets together to celebrate each other's "heritage" by eating each other's traditional meat on a stick while wandering around to see if they accidentally put the Israel tent next to the Arabic tent again…or if the Scottish tent has stopped fighting with other tents enough to be unbanned.

Edmonton also has Whyte Avenue, our designated civil unrest zone. About the liveliest most interesting area of the city when I first started university, it has since become the liveliest center for testosterone and violence, as well as the site of a couple of really kicking 'riots'. We had a big one on Canada in the early 2000s, and a weeklong series of smaller almost-riots and abuse by police following Edmonton's last failed bid for Hockey's prized Stanley Cup. I'm sure someone has some really great riots planned for the future. Maybe we'll riot until someone nicknames us 'riot city'.

When people think of Edmontonians they may think of an ignorant redneck, sitting around, drunkenly eating pyrogies while shirtless. This incorrect. Edmontonians are generally well to moderately educated, and would likely be wearing an Oiler's jersey while enjoying their pyrogies and beer.

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