Edmonton is terrible at telling its story — nevermind to people living in other towns, provinces or countries; it’s even bad at telling its story to the people who live here.
I graduated from university in 2004, and all I could think to myself is that I couldn’t wait to leave. “There’s nothing for me here,” I would say to myself. Despite the fact that I’d worked as a student and freelance journalist, and thus got to see a lot of Edmonton’s angles, I wanted out.
I had a rough start to my career here. I worked a few odd jobs, or career jobs that weren’t suited to me. I wound up landing a good writing position at a utility company — and even then, I told myself I was biding my time for a move to Toronto or Vancouver.
But something happened to me around 2006 (I’m totally going to get the dates wrong, so forgive me): I started to become more involved, more vested in this place. Around the same time, Don Iveson — a friend and former colleague from my Gateway days — decided to run for city council. He chose to see the potential in Edmonton, rather than where it was in the present. He decided to do something to help build up and advance the place he’d lived almost all his life. That kind of thinking is infectious, and I started to feel the same too.
Edmonton had a lot going for it then, as it does now. It was moving in the right direction. 104 Street and Jasper was starting to become an interesting spot, not just a wind-swept urban-desert landscape strewn with old newspapers, but a place where people could live and shop and walk and talk. Now we live in a city with organizations like Startup Edmonton (situated 104 Street !), and companies run by entrepreneurs who’ve put their stake in the ground and said, “This is where things are happening, and this is where I’m going to make things happen too.”
So much has changed here in the last five years. The city even feels different. I remember in my early 20s, I was always ragging on the fact that there’s nothing to do here. Now, I dare you to find an evening where there isn’t one or two very interesting things taking place.
And some of us know this — to me, it’s obvious. But we’re just fucking awful at articulating the story of this place in the present, and our forebears (and even contemporary Edmontonians) have a particular fondness for erasing our past. This makes telling Edmonton’s story difficult and confusing — we keep erasing and editing bits without any regard for the overall narrative of this place.
But we need to explain Edmonton, first to ourselves — so that we understand what it meant to live here in the past, what it means to live here in the present, and what the values of this place are (hopefully, not tearing down our history anymore). We need to do this so that we can tell our story to the world, so that the next time someone asks you, “Why do you live in Edmonton?” or says, “Pfffft, that city’s just a big mall and a shitty hockey team,” you can answer them by saying, “No, it’s actually an incredible town! The people here are amazingly friendly and supportive. We’re host to small, medium and large companies here. It’s a growing city with small-town sensibilities in the very best ways you can imagine. Let me show you!”
Our brand is stale, and our story is old — it hasn’t been updated in decades. It’s time for this generation to conclude this chapter in the book of Edmonton and write the next one. Because this place keeps getting better, and we’re still terrible at telling its story.
This post was inspired by Kathleen Smith’s remarks on the renaming of the CapitalEx. Thanks for being my muse today, Kikki!
Photo by Darren Kirby on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.