Ten million to leave Edmonton? No thanks.

A strange story appeared in the newspapers today. The headline: $10 million to live in Edmonton? No thanks.

This has happened before. A multi-millionaire is lured to the city, a hockey player or a researcher or an executive, and it does not work out. The weather is imperfect, or there is something about that previous life, in that other place, they miss too much. Maybe the husband or the wife, who does not work 16-hour days or travel around the world in airplanes, does not want to leave friends and family and attachments behind.

Edmonton is not ‘creamsicle city’

Place is important.

What’s strange about this is how Edmontonians, and Canadians, typically react to it. We are wounded. That new sense of confidence: sucked out of us. We want to be all things to all people, world-class and diverse and sustainable and innovative, and if one person — a rich person — does not agree with the place we make it a news story and put on our municipal hairshirts and wonder why why why? What have we done wrong? It snowed early this year. Thanks for nothing, snow!

While it is important to be welcoming and hospitable, to integrate new Edmontonians into our culture, we can’t be all things to all people — creamsicle city. Some people like ice cream and some people prefer popsicles. If Edmonton is an ice cream city we ought not to punish ourselves for popsicle failures. This isn’t a big, glamourous city. It’s something else.

Maybe you like the idea of building or creating something, from the ground up, and launching it into the world from an open and dynamic city of a million people. Or maybe you’d prefer to live in a beautiful, sophisticated, mature European city you will never change, a city that will not remember you but for the hundreds of great men and women already haunting the halls and walls and cemeteries. It’s true, in Edmonton, you won’t have as many opportunities to wear your tuxedo.

Edmonton is not for everyone. No city is for everyone.

It is better to focus on why Edmonton is for some people, smart and good people, and to place our city-building hopes and strategies there. When we recruit talented people, we ought to be honest. This is not New York City. It is not Toronto. It is not Calgary. It is Edmonton, and if you want to make something extraordinary this is your city.

Place is important.

Jared Smith of Incite Marketing hosted the Startup City launch in Edmonton on Wednesday. He spoke of his great-grandfather, who was passing through Edmonton over one hundred years ago, and had horse trouble. He might have bought a new horse but the Hudson’s Bay Company needed a school. So he stayed and started one. Then he started an insurance business.

“Edmonton is a city where you can get off your horse and start something.” Jared said.

It was true then and it is true now. Some people want to keep on riding, to cities were there’s very little left to start. Some cities are already finished. Good luck to those people, really.


25 thoughts on “Ten million to leave Edmonton? No thanks.

  1. I find myslef humming Talking Heads:
    You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
    You may find yourself in another part of the world
    You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
    You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife
    You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

    • sorry, but your headline confusies me!. It goes from :10 Million to leave Edmonton, to: 10 million to leave Edmonton; very confusing……… Please clarify in your next post,
      Thank you

  2. I disagree vehemently with the covert implications that other cities, European cities, even Nobel Peace Prize winning organized cities, are stagnant waters where young innovative people cannot make a mark for themselves. In fact, EU cities are on the bleeding edge of sustainability/green projects, architecture, and I won’t even start to rattle off the names of famous cultural agents of change. Perhaps the open playing field of Edmonton has precipitated a few business stars but many are happy to get a high paying job in the non-renewable resource sector and call it a day…. Europe an anachronism? Me thinks you protest too much.

  3. I didn’t mean to say you can’t be a change agent or be on the bleeding edge of sustainability. Did I EVER not mean to say that.

    But most of those cities are quite fixed and more closed than a place like Edmonton. There are exceptions, like Berlin. I do think they’re perfectly wonderful places. I’ve lived in them. But the opportunities are very different.

    When people leave Paris or even Oxford, it isn’t on the front page of the local media site. That’s what I’m protesting: the Canadian tendency to whip ourselves to death because we aren’t “world class” in every possible field. It’s sad and pathetic. It’s lovely that you’ve jumped to its defence but I don’t think Oxford has a confidence problem.

    • most of those cities are quite fixed and more closed than a place like Edmonton

      I disagree. I’ve been here for about 4 years and this is not exactly the ‘wide open range’ you make it to be. This city is beholden to quite a few subterranean interests. Quite literally.

  4. My biggest question in seeing the headline this morning is why we are worried about why he left and instead not questioning what he’s missing by leaving. We aren’t for everyone, and that’s ok. I completely agree with your piece Todd (and I’ve lived in Europe too!).

  5. I also would like to disagree vehemently with one of your dirty covert implications, Todd: That a Creamsicle is a catch-all frozen treat that appeals equally well to everyone, or, “all things to all people,” as you put it.
    Indeed, it’s true, “some people like ice cream and some people prefer Popsicles,” but you have left out — discriminated against, really — those among us who may have been born with a Fudgsicle preference.
    I, myself, am truly a Creamsicle man, but some of my best friends love Fudgsicles and I cannot idly stand by as you offer only an orange creamy-treat, to those who so clearly deserve the chocolate option.
    Further, you clearly (and perhaps purposefully) have confused the corners of the inverted flavour triangle.
    The top left vertex represents the Creamsicle corner of the cornerstore frozen treat polygon. The top right vertex represents the fudgier side, and at the bottom, you find all flavours of Pospsicle (including orange and chocolate). Ice cream is not even in this polygon.
    Because of its high price, ice cream clearly belongs in a separate frozen treat paradigm all together.
    You see, the real choice faced by afternoon summer snackers with only pocket change to spend, is between the Creamsicle or the Fudgesicle. It’s the Popsicles that are left in the bottom of the freezer, a rump choice for those who cannot take a stand.
    Ice cream’s for after dinner.

  6. First of all, thank you Todd for your blog and your message. Its wonderful and positive. I appreciate the impetus to try and work through a more negative view… Popsicles and ice cream don´t have to become creamsicles. Personally I like a city with some popsicle over here and some ice cream over there… you know, diversity. Options, dissonance. I am getting tired of a city that tries to seem left wing and ´grassroots´ to me it feels rigidly held in place by established cultural and political norms. Yes. A handful of people here sure can be creative. They can basically do whatever they want. They hang on for dear life to their small piece of the pie and if you are a popsicle; then you can just find yourself another place to live. Or create alone and with no funding until you burn out. Edmonton is not for everyone. Edmonton is not for everyone who is living in Edmonton. It gets tiring trying to live and create in Ice Cream central.

    What actually motivates most people to live here? I think a lot of people live in Edmonton right now because you can make good money here, right now. That´s it. Who cares what it looks like, or where you can wear a tuxedo. Work. Make money. Get out. Or if people love this place and want to stay here for generations to come, I don´t understand, truly, why there aren´t massive protests in the street about the pipelines and the FIPA deals that are inevitably going to move a good portion of these high paying jobs to another place? Its going to affect people in BC and Alberta the most. I see the protests in BC. Whats up with this province?! Why aren´t people who have invested their lives into working in the oil industry concerned about the future of their jobs? The future generations. Its financially selfish to support companies that do not place sustainability before profit. Forget the horrible effects on the land. Lets pretend, as we do everyday, that problem doesn´t even exist. Where is the resistance? Where is the love for this land? I love this city for the people who live here, for the federal healthcare policies I grew up with pre Ralph Klein, the public education system, the lake that I could actually swim in and the freedom and equality that I am still trying to believe exists. Now as an adult I see that there are huge environmental, economic and frankly human rights issues right under our noses and Edmontonians seem to have little to say about it. I am not happy with this city. I am not proud of the way things are. I do not find solace and comfort from living here. People who hate it here should move here and actually change something.

    • Honestly, a lot of the people who should be here and caring, ironically have left precisely because of Ralph Klein and others in the oil circle. It is a decision that forces itself in the face of problems: do I stay and fight? Or turn my own back and leave for greener pastures. Certainly we miss them, just like we would miss others who may be facing the same dilema.

  7. I like your blog Mr Magpie. I boil inside sometimes, not because people reject Edmonton (unless they are from Calgary), but because some Edmontonians feel the need to say “Hey you Famous Big City! I am just like you, I really am!”. The pretentiousness makes me barf. Selling Edmonton is a waste of time. Sell the people and their talents. Sell history, just dont make it out to be something that its not. Be honest. To mangle a phrase that I loathe…we are what we are.

  8. Kudos, Magpie, for your article. I also think the headline was irresponsible and inaccurate. The guy wasn’t given $10M to live in Edmonton, he was given that much to start a world-class diabetes research lab in Edmonton, building on the previous world-class work that’s already gone on there. The big issue isn’t that someone who signed a contract to go to a new city decided he preferred incessant rain to hot summers and cold winters; it’s that the University is now back to square one in its attempt to set up the lab.

  9. Edmonton cannot be all things to all people, I agree but let’s face it – the winters are truly brutal and I don’t blame anyone for taking the easier path. It takes a certain type of person to bear it without complaint. It can be isolating especially as people get older. The weather has underwritten every element of the city from architecture and infrastructure to culture (cram ten or more large scale exciting festivals into a dizzying twelve week period of brief summer). And, quite honestly, he is right: you don’t need to physically “be” in a particular place to run a research programme, teach class (MOOCs) or own a successful business (e-commerce); therefore, Edmonton (and other “new world” cities) have to stop depending on cash incentives (from non-renewable resource based economies) and focus on creating a great quality of life.

    • I love how people in this city operate under this self-defeating delusion that Edmonton is the only city in Canada that gets cold and snowy winters.

      • True, and like most of the non major Canadian cities one might even say its not even a city. More like a parking lot.

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  12. Edmonton isn’t for everyone, but I love it. It’s what I call home, I don’t love the winters but I also like how its not overly hot and sticky with rats and cockroaches luring the streets. Too bad we don’t use the funding Alberta gets for the appropriate places otherwise Edmonton would be blooming. Your home is where your heart is, but if you people are into the “appearance” of a city and the expensive living costs by all means please leave. So ironically everyone does that, leave to BC where its beautiful yet they come back in misery because there are no jobs. Aren’t you lucky Edmonton is a kind enough city to take you back! Cheers!

  13. I hate it when people try and make Edmonton something its not. I lived there for 3 years. I hated the place from the very start and only stayed for my husbands sake and his job. British born and lived in various places during my 20’s, including Australia where we now back and living very happily. Edmonton lives up to its name as Deadmonton. I tried really hard to find and focus on the good things of Edmonton but i struggled everyday. I have never been depressed before and i ended up being very depressed, despite having friends and family around me. I see myself as a very adaptable person but i just couldn’t get my head around how boring and dull the city was. I was forever bored especially in winter. It took me a while to find a job that wasn’t related to heavy industry, oil or the government. The weather didn’t bother me so much but I just could not see any oppotunities for me there or a decent lifestyle.

    • BTW. I dont see edmonton as sustainable city. It lacks green spaces and local corner shops in the newer suburbs. The public transport is a joke for a city of its size and everybody drives everywhere. Its not walkable and the shops are designed for cars not pedestrians. Granted its a cheap place to live, but its cheap because its not in demand. There are truly better places to live in the world and once those residents of Edmonton no longer have work in the oil industry (or related), only then will the wake up and smell the coffee. My son was born there and my husbands family all still live there, so we will have to come back for a visit at some point. Will be great to see everybody, but i am in no rush. The other good thing about coming back is a trip to the mountains for some snowboarding which is 4 hours from Edmontons dirty roads and drive throughs.

      • The newest suburbs, Terwillegar Towne and Griesbach, have exactly what you say they don’t, and the next developments at the ex-City Centre Airport and ex-University Farm will be among the most advanced in sustainability in the world.

        About transit, you have a better point, but you’re ignoring that by 2022, there will be a five spoke rail hub right at Churchill Square.

      • Ha ha, on re-reading I just noticed you said Edmonton lacks green spaces. Whoops! So you’ve never actually been here then.

        Troll much?


    • “Decent lifestyle” is a subjective term, but the “Deadmonton” slur is definitely dated at best.

      I was bored to death in Tokyo for 8 years, and now in Edmonton, go out to live theatre and concerts probably 80 times a year (only because I don’t have enough time for more.) Having been around Western Canada and Northwest USA at least, I can guarantee there is no other city ahead of Edmonton regionally for live events and festivals. Granted there’s still London and New York, but I’m more than content here, and it’s impossible to call it boring.

      The gallery and museum scene is making some pretty good progress as well with DC3 and Common Sense newly opened, AGA, SNAP, Enterprise Square and Muttart Conservatory each wonderfully re-opened and RAM2, UCAMA, MOE, NewLatitude53, and hopefully ICAK coming soon.

      Of course if I had happened to be more interested in beaches (pointless and boring, if I’m being polite), restaurants (nice, but hardly a focal point of lifestyle compared to a good exhibit or performance), or fashion (see restaurants, it’s just not a priority), for example, then Tokyo would probably have prevailed. Regardless, Edmonton undoubtedly has a great deal to offer the right person.


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