Life at the West Edmonton Mall

by Habeeb Salloum
Special to mycompass

Edmonton, Alberta "What draws visitors to Edmonton?" I asked a long time resident of the city. He looked at me inquisitively. "Let start naming some of the drawing cards: some travel here just to visit the gigantic West Edmonton Mall; others come to attend or take part in the more than annual 30 colourful festivals. Do you know that Edmonton is known as 'Canada’s Festival City’?"

This proud Edmontonian elaborated further talking about some of the other numerous attributes that lure people to come to this capital of the Canadian Province of Alberta. From among these, the North Saskatchewan River Valley park system is one of the city’s greatest attractions, offering all-season recreation space. The river valley, the largest stretch of urban parkland in Canada, is 22 times the size of New York’s Central Park. It is dotted with a good number of the city's 70 golf courses, 22 major parks, a zoo and miles of well-maintained trails for cross-country skiing, cycling and walking.

Even more enticing to many visitors is the renovated Sir Winston Churchill Square the heart of the Downtown Arts District. Redeveloped into a cultural showplace, it has become a tourist destination par excellence. The square is kept busy hosting a series of yearly festivals that draw flocks of tourists as well as locals.

Edging the square visitors will find the Art Gallery of Alberta, housing more than 5,000 works of art. These include old and modern paintings as well as sculptures by Canadian and foreign artists. The building, a work of art itself, gives metropolitan Edmonton, a city of some 1.2 million, the reputation as a city for the visual arts.

Also edging the square are the Citadel Theatre, Canada’s largest regional theatre and the only classical theatre in western Canada. The unique looking City Hall the main branch of the Edmonton Public Library, and the Francis Winspear Centre for Music, the 1,900-seat concert hall features the largest concert organ in Canada and is the home to the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.

All of these attractions pale beside the crème de la crème of the city's drawing cards, Alberta’s number one tourist attraction: West Edmonton Mall. The mall is North America’s largest shopping and entertainment centre built under one roof. The Mall attracts over 31 million visitors a year. In this gigantic structure tourists and locals alike can take their families to an amusement park, go skating at the rink, play a round of of miniature golf, and shop and eat in the more than 800 stores and restaurants.

Once the largest mall in the world, it still holds more than a few world’s records. It is virtually a city within a city, employing some 23,500 people - a huge world unto itself. Eight city blocks long and three wide, the Mall is the most unique shopping and entertainment experiences in North America. Its magnitude makes it more of an indoor town than just an ordinary plaza. In the words of a bellboy in our hotel, "You know! People say it's the ‘eighth wonder of the world’."

The West Edmonton Mall, which opened its doors in 1981, with additions later on, has an area of about 115 football fields in size. A shopper's dream and a world of excitement, the dazzling complex attracts between 60,000 and 150,000 shoppers daily.

Within its walls are to be found all types of services, including major department stores; 100 eating establishments offering cuisines of the world; an 18 hole miniature golf course; a glass-domed Ice Palace with an NHL-size rink - the second home to the Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club; Ed's Recreation Centre is an entertainment complex consisting of a bowling alley, pool hall, music stage, arcade, and restaurant; the world's largest indoor wave-pool in a five-acre Waterpark, and Galaxy land - a gigantic amusement park; the world's largest indoor man-made lake; movie theatres; a Las Vegas style casino; Sea Life Caverns - an underground aquarium featuring exotic sea creatures; a large share of the city's night life establishments; theme streets such as Europa Boulevard, Bourbon Street and Chinatown; enough parking for 20,000 autos in the world’s largest parking lot; and much, much more.

Inspired by the traditional oriental bazaars, a shopping centre has been turned it into a great tourist destination. The Centre's stores, attractions, shops and services combine to form one of the most comprehensive retail, hospitality and entertainment complexes on Earth.

For visitors walking around, the Mall is a virtual paradise of things to do. While shopping they can stop and admire an immense fountain with 19 computer controlled jets weaving and dancing; sea lions performing in a lagoon; and gaze in wonder at the recreated life-size Santa Maria, Columbus's famous flagship.

If a visitor wants to enjoy the many offerings of the West Edmonton Mall and at the same time explore the attractions offered by the city of Edmonton, the Fantasyland Hotel, a 355-room theme abode located in the Mall, is the place to stay. The hotel is a marvel of luxury with many of rooms featuring imaginative and fantasy motifs.

After touring five of these 120 theme rooms: Arabian, Polynesian, Roman, Hollywood and Igloo coach, I could see what the guide meant when she said, "We want our guests to remember the unique attributes of the West Edmonton Mall and its hotel. It's an enticing complex where people come to shop, play, and stay In Edmonton - the gateway to northern Canada."


photo: Habeeb Salloum

Need to Know:

Fantasyland Hotel the top hotel in which to stay when visiting the West Edmonton Mall. 17700 - 87 Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T5T 4V4. Tel: Toll free - 1-800-737-3783 or (780) 444-3000. Fax: (780) 444-3294.

Alberta Legislature Building - visitors can relax in a beautiful park surrounded by history and grandeur.

Fort Edmonton Park - Canada's largest living history museum with a replica of the fur-trading Fort Edmonton.

Telus World of Science Edmonton - (formerly the Space & Science Centre) - offers breathtaking realistic views of life on earth and voyages throughout the universe.

Royal Alberta Museum - one of Canada's most popular museums tells the history of Alberta, including that of the aboriginal peoples.

Elk Island National Park - an unspoiled oasis of aspen parkland, some one hour drive from Edmonton.

Some of the Festivals Worth Attending

Edmonton's Capital Ex (formerly known as Klondike Days) - an annual 10-day exhibition attracting between 700,000 and 800,000 visitors held near the end of July.

The Edmonton Heritage Festival - the world's largest celebration of multiculturalism on one site, held in August. Canada’s longest-established multicultural celebration Held annually, the festival features the cultures of some 85 ethnic groups.

The Edmonton International Fringe Festival - more than 1,000 theatrical performances attracts 500,000 annual visitors.

The Edmonton International Street Performers Festival - Canada’s first street theatre festival.

For Further Information, Contact:

The West Edmonton Mall 2472, 8882 - 170 Street, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T5T 4M2. Tel: 1-800-661-8890 (toll free in North America)

Edmonton Tourism at 9990 Jasper Avenue NW, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T5J 1P7 Tel: 1-800-463-4667 (toll free in Canada/United States) or (780) 496-8400.

dispatches | q&a | photos | film | fork | news | archives | links | search | store | submit | about | contact | home

All text & photos © 2002-13.