MONTREAL? WRONG. IT’S EDMONTON
IF YOU GOT FOOLED by the picture at the right, you can be sure you’re not alone. Edmonton hasn’t really become another Montreal — not yet, anyway — but it’s trying. And for visitors who could never contemplate the old Edmonton without either wincing or yawning, the new Edmonton is a surprising, exciting and sometimes bewildering place.
The most obvious change has been in the skyline. Less than seven years ago, when the house pictured below was still typical of most of Edmonton, the two tallest buildings in town were seven and eight stories. Then, in a furious five-year building spree, Edmonton acquired 41 new buildings from six to 20 stories tall. And they've all been topped since then by the / continued overleaf
The city is changing so fast even Edmontonians are amazed, and with 70 percent of the people under 40, there’s a lively new exuberance that startles visitors
26-story CN Tower and the lavish, 35-story Chateau Lacombe (both shown prominently on page 13) as well as by the 27-story Avord Arms, one of several downtown apartment buildings catering to the modish needs of a high-rise society that didn’t even exist in Edmonton a few years ago.
Many of the new buildings arc merely outward signs of a profound change in living style that has come about in the city once renowned as the most fuddy-duddy in Canada. Edmonton is still the only provincial capital where a premier regularly utters political pronouncements and evangelical exhortations with equal authority, but the city is no longer dominated by the old-style fundamentalists who founded Social Credit. They arc hugely outnumbered by an active young breed of small-c conservatives, some native-born, some recently arrived, who thrive in the free-enterprise climate of Alberta but who have no time and little taste for the theocratic customs that once typified life in the Bible Belt.
Seventy percent of Edmonton’s 410,000 people are under 40, and their effect on the city is enormous, in fact, Edmonton these days is behaving rather like a youngster who’s just turned 21 after years of remaining painfully proper to satisfy the puritanical terms of some rich aunt’s will. Having attained his legal majority, lie wants to live it up, but he isn’t always quite sure how to go about it, and anyhow he can’t completely forget his upbringing. As a result, life in Edmonton today is a curious mixture of straitlaced laws and traditions, freewheeling exuberance and selfconscious gaucheries.
ITEM: Modified blue laws create mixed-up Sundays. You can hear a symphony or go bowling on Sunday, but you can’t see a movie, attend a rock’n'roll concert or watch a horse race. Yet Edmontonians are the biggest racetrack gamblers in / continued on page 18
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Its new image: street dancing
Edmonton’s Exhibition was just another fuddy-duddy fair — until the city stole the Klondike from the Yukon.
Now the whole town swings through two wild weeks of gold-panning, gaiety and girls
and gold dust
With the old Bible-belt fundamentalism fading, young-thlnklng Edmontonians like those below are drastically changing the character of their city
Canada. At their last annual Derby Day they pushed well over half a million dollars through the parimutuels — and presumably went home broke but happy.
ITEM: Visitors who’ve heard about Alberta’s fundamentalist lawmakers are often surprised to find drinking regulations have been liberalized to the point where they are pretty much like Ontario’s — which are generally regarded as the most liberal in English-speaking Canada. Yet there’s a certain lack of savoir faire. For instance, the most elegant hotel in town, the new Chateau Lacombe, persists in accompanying its fine steak and roast-beef dinners with carafes of hopelessly sweet wine.
ITEM: LOU Hyndman, a 32-year-old lawyer who won the Edmonton West seat for the Progressive Conservatives in the last provincial election, attributes his success partly to the fact that he opened his campaign with four go-go dancers and a rock’n’roll band. Yet
certain issues that were settled years ago in most parts of Canada — such as fluoridation and daylight-saving time — are still hotly debated in Edmonton.
ITEM: In the town where the film Tom Jones was once declared too racy even for adult eyes, Jack Day, appointed chief movie censor just two years ago, has approved (for adult audiences) such controversial films as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which is heavily spiced with four-letter words, and The Family Way, which includes a fetching shot of Hayley Mills’ bare posterior. Day doesn’t object to coarse language, he explains, if it’s appropriate to the story. “And I don’t think there’s anything shocking at all about the female anatomy.” Yet it’s not long since a freelance photographer simply couldn’t believe his ears when an editor of the city’s only daily, the Journal, assigned him to take a bathing-suit cheesecake shot of the sort most newspapers consider routine. “But,” he objected, “the
Journal never publishes pictures like that!” (It never did but it does now.)
ITEM: A small but fully professional theatre, The Citadel, with 277 seats, stages about seven productions each year with substantial local support. Yet big-name stage shows and acts (Camelot, My Fair Lady, Jack Benny) almost consistently bomb at the box office wherever they play in Edmonton. “This is still a beer-and-bingo town,” sighs Benny Benjamin, a booking agent. The only sure-fire attractions? “Country-and-western music. If you brought Barbra Streisand here, it would be doomsville.”
ITEM: When the touring African Ballet pulled its time-tested publicity stunt of announcing that its female dancers would perform bare-breasted, the local consensus was that Edmonton was sophisticated enough to tolerate such a show in the interests of culture. Yet when Benny Benjamin advertised for 20 girls “to train as topless dancers,” he got far
more calls of protest than applications, and he’s convinced that many of the women’s groups who denounced him publicly were made up of matrons who had turned out to see the bare-breasted Africans. “I put the whole town on,” he admits now, “just to see what stuffed shirts my fellow citizens were.”
On the other hand, there’s no sign of stuffy narrow-mindedness among the young marrieds, unmarrieds and soon-to-bc-marrieds who have lately discovered that downtown Edmonton is the only place to live. The epitome of their style of high-rise living can be found in the Avord Arms, a 340-suite building whose conveniences include a top-floor sundeck where boy meets girl (weather permitting) ; a laundry room with portholes affording an underwater view of the lop-floor swimming pool; the pool itself, where late-night revelers don’t always bother with bathing suits; and a sauna bath to help ensure survival during the mourning after. If you manage to get in with
the in-crowd at the Avord, you may find yourself invited to one of their toga parties — bacchanalian bashes at which no guest is allowed to drape himor herself in more than a single yard of cloth.
Such goings-on could eventually give Edmonton the national image of a sort of frostbound St. Tropez, but civic authorities are working hard instead to promote the impression that theirs is a fun city, only faintly naughty and mostly nice. And there are those around City Hall who cheerfully admit they’ll stop at almost nothing to get Edmonton on the nation’s front pages. There was the time last summer, for instance, during Edmonton’s annual Klondike Days, when the industrial co-ordinator, Leo LeClerc, and his cohorts persuaded Mayor Vincent Dantzer to challenge Prime Minister Pearson and Premier Manning to a goldpanning contest. Now LeClerc knew beforehand that Vince Dantzer is about as adept at gold-panning as, say, / continued on page 61
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EDMONTON continued from page 19
What’s Edmonton doing? “Other cities talk—we’re building”
Charlotte Whitton is at pole-vaulting. Yet to the greater glory of Greater Edmonton, Mayor Dantzer emerged the winner. How? “Easy,” LeClerc confides cheerfully. “We salted his pan. There was no way those other two could win.”
But that stunt was minor compared to Edmonton’s coup a few years ear-
lier. in grabbing front-page headlines all over Canada by stealing the Klondike, lock, stock and sourdough. As anybody with any sense of justice knows, the Klondike belongs geographically and historically to the Yukon. Yet in the summer of 1963 Edmonton’s civic leaders and sundry co - conspirators suddenly souped up their staid old Edmonton Exhibition with a week-long, city-wide marathon of gold-panning, beard-growing, costume-wearing, flapjack-eating, streetdancing. saloon-drinking and bottompinching — and highhandedly dubbed the whole thing Klondike Days, on the dubious grounds that Edmonton was the jumping-off point for most of the sourdoughs who traveled the Trail of ’98.
Predictably, the whole nation soon heard whinnies of outrage from Whitehorse and environs. “A grandiose steal, and an underhanded one,” exclaimed Ted Horton in an editorial in his News of the North. “Larcenous!” declared “Yukon Erik” Neilsen, MP.
For a while, Edmonton seemed to be locked in a feud even more bitter than its traditional old vendetta with Calgary.
“We fed that thing for two years,” LeClerc recounts with Machiavellian calm, “and it got us into the eastern papers.”
The decisive confrontation between Edmonton and the Yukon occurred in Montreal about two years ago, with the Yukon protesting Edmonton’s scheme to build Fort Edmonton as an Expo attraction with a Klondike theme. The Yukon lost and, according to some eyewitnesses, one member of the Yukon Territorial Council, George Shaw, was in tears over the decision.
“Funny thing,” says LeClerc, still amazed, “those guys from Whitehorse were serious.”
But such ballyhoo, of course, can change nothing basic about Edmonton. The real innovations are being brought about by bold civic leaders and young for young-thinking) entrepreneurs who evidently share the be-
lief that anything is possible in Edmonton if you put your mind to it. The most spectacular piece of civic enterprise is what Leo LeClerc likes to refer to as “the only formally planned civic centre in the nation.” It's a complex of towers, parks, high-rise apartments, libraries, underground parkades. art galleries, meeting halls
and what-not. all gradually taking shape on a 16-square-block sector of the downtown area at a total cost originally set at $150 million but now creeping toward the quarter-billiondollar mark. “Other cities.” LeClerc points out smugly, “are talking about these things; we’re building them.” Private entrepreneurs seem to have
an equally clear notion of where they want to go and how they want to get there. One notable example is Jim Martin, a real-estate developer who's been responsible for a good share of Edmonton's new offices and apartment towers. Martin is 34 but looks younger—so young, in fact, that his face is a handicap whenever he heads east to raise money around Bay Street. But he usually manages somehow, and his only sense of failure so far dates back to the occasion a couple of years
ago when his accountant totted up his assets for him and broke the news that Martin had become a millionaire. The news depressed Martin. You see, he’d been working since he was 18, and according to the timetable he’d set for himself long ago, he was to be a millionaire by age 30. “I was two years late,” Martin says, not even half kidding, “and it still bugs me.”
And there’s Joe Shoctor, a well-todo lawyer who’s been stagestruck since he was a kid. Three years ago, when he heard that the local Salvation Army building was up for sale, he got a crazy idea. He roped his friend Jim Martin into the deal, and together they paid $100.000 for the building and spent another $150,000 converting it into a theatre, with a restaurant below. Then, and only then, with The Citadel Theatre a physical reality, Shoctor recruited a cross section of community leaders as a board of directors to run the theatre as a nonprofit venture. It may always need some donations and grants to augment its box-office receipts, but The Citadel is already firmly established as a fashionably popular place to be seen, especially during opening nights. (Only “safe” plays draw full houses, though: Neil Simon is big; Eugene Ionesco is out.)
One small-town inhibition that doesn’t seem to plague Edmonton is the notion that no locally nurtured talent can ever really make the grade. Take Tommy Banks, for instance. Now 31, Banks has been a professional musician since he was 12, and he’s so busy around town now that it might be easier to list the things he doesn’t do. But what he does do is play piano, lead a dance combo, write arrangements, co-own and manage a nightclub, compose and record commercial jingles, book acts, manage other talent, and perform frequently on radio and TV. In some towns, that still wouldn’t be enough to win him the most prestigious showbusiness job in town, but in Edmonton, last summer, it did: in 1967 he became the first Canadian ever to produce the Edmonton Exhibition’s grandstand show, and with Paul Anka as the star, the show drew capacity crowds and popular raves.
Or take the case of Max Ward, who gave up bush flying in 1961 to concentrate on running what he now likes to call “the most-scheduled nonscheduled airline in the world.” It’s called Wardair, and it’s that busy because Ward keeps a solitary Boeing 727 almost constantly aloft on jet flights between western Canada and Europe, flying some 119 million passenger miles a year. Friends and competitors all thought he was crazy when he bought that jet; until then, Wardair was a collection of prop-driven aircraft flying mostly into the north. Now Ward admits, “We nearly went bankrupt in 1962.” But today Wardair is healthy enough to be taking delivery of a second jet this spring— a Boeing 707—and Max Ward is eyeing flight routes to the Orient.
In fact, everywhere you turn in Edmonton these days, innovation seems to be the key word, and behind all the exuberance the city is undergoing what you might call a thinkingman’s revolution. Just across the winding North Saskatchewan River
Word from a once-troubled campus: the old grudges are gone
from the city proper, on the University of Alberta campus, you’ll now find Charles Davis, the controversial theologian who became world-famous by giving up his Roman Catholic priesthood and getting married. Davis is lecturing in theology as a visiting professor. Cynics might say the provincial^ controlled institution would welcome any defector from the Roman Catholic priesthood, but it seems likelier to suppose Davis' presence is evidence of new intellectual freedom on the campus.
Even offered anonymity in criticizing anything they might not like about the administration of their university, the professors I talked to assured me that old grudges and complaints, while well justified eight or 10 years ago, are no longer valid. “Manning and his government,” one professor volunteered. “have responded gorgeously to the changing needs of the people. And now the government is trying hard to make this one of the great universities of Canada.”
The most spectacular evidence of this aim, at the moment, is an $88million medical centre now under construction on the campus. So complex and ambitious is it that it will take 10 years to complete, and nobody yet has challenged Health Minister J. D. Ross’s claim that the centre “will provide a range and quality of health services on a scale now unavailable in any medical institution in the world."
That’s the way they’ve begun talking out in Edmonton these days — about a lot of things. And with good reason. What other city in Canada, for instance, has an active scheme for building a $220-million freeway system over the next 15 years? Mind you, it's not all sweetness and light. There have been bitter differences over the locations of new bridges over the
North Saskatchewan River. But the point is, it’s an ambitious scheme — and it’s going ahead. And once you see what’s happening there now, you wonder whether it’s so fantastic after all for Edmonton to consider a Houston-styie domed stadium for sports events, trade shows and conventions. Certainly, it’s characteristic that a
group of Edmontonians started pushing for that long before Mayor Jean Drapeau suggested that Montreal ought to have one.
And such exuberance must be contagious, for you can find yourself not just smiling indulgently but listening carefully when some Edmontonian begins describing the $20,000 trans-
portation study completed there recently. It seems this study showed that the most feasible solution to future commuter problems could be a system of individual electric cars traveling inside a network of plastic tubes, completely controlled by an automated system which . . .
"There’s nothing this town can’t do,” says Andy Snaddon, editor of the Edmonton Journal.
You'd better believe it. Snaddon’s a convert from Calgary. ★