Show don’t tell


In 1985, Mordecai Richler called Edmonton a “boiler room” of a city.

He wasn’t speaking to friends outside a tavern. He was writing an article about Wayne Gretzky for the New York Times. I remember hearing this, in the 1990s, before I moved to Richler’s hometown — Montreal. I had never lived or worked in a high-rise and I didn’t know what a boiler room was, precisely. I imagined fire and clockworks and men in sleeveless shirts who were also, curiously, the witches from Macbeth, stirring a pot of potion. There was a dark and magical aspect to the whole image for me.

Why did it bother people so much? Someone had to stir the Canadian potion. Why not Edmonton?

Of course, the great critic never meant it as a compliment. He was not the complimentary kind.

I worked with his son, Daniel Richler, to launch BookTelevision. He was often in Edmonton and published lovely reviews of the city in the national press, even though he happened to be staying in a hotel on Whyte Avenue during the great Canada Day riot of 2001. Edmonton restaurants Tres Carnales and Corso 32 were  recently on a list of the best restaurants in Canada, a list edited by Jacob Richler.

Noah Richler, another fine writer in the family, was recently in Edmonton for LitFest. While he was here, he visited Culina Mill Creek and Duchess Bake Shop. And then he published this in the National Post: Edmonton may just be home to the best patisserie in Canada.

Did they EVER Make Something Edmonton. At Duchess.

I had lunch this week with my friend Trevor Anderson, maker of films. We talked about how Make Something Edmonton can’t be an exercise in talking about itself. If it is a celebration and a way to curate the people who make things in this city, and if it is a call to action for others in business, in culture, in the social realm, all we can do is poke it, push it along, and let it be.

This is Edmonton: some people will inevitably hate it. Others will Make Something Crappy, and it will probably be hilarious. We all know someone who will take a picture of a fresh item in Scruffy’s litter box, and tag it #makesomethingyeg. I can’t believe it hasn’t happened yet.

Over the next few months, Make Something Edmonton will evolve into a real thing. A proper website is coming. Until then, I will concentrate more on the instigating. The doing and the showing. What are you making? We can leave it to the Richlers to do the saying.

Edmonton is ready for them, now.

Niobe Thompson and Trevor Anderson, Edmonton filmmakers, at the mysterious Sit ‘n Chill in Garneau, at the south end of the High Level Bridge.








2 thoughts on “Show don’t tell

  1. Dear Mr. Babiak

    Thank you very much for your conversation about Edmonton on the Q programme last night.

    To me, the lack of specific identity is the best aspect of Edmonton’s identity. It is a city where people come from all over the world and if you say you are from here, then, you are from here. My father is from Liverpool but if people ask him where he is from he says, “Edmonton.”

    Having a father from Liverpool means I have two passports and I have taken advantage of this to live and work in Europe for a number of years. This is a new facet of human immigration. When dad came to Canada on a boat there were no cheap return flights to buy on the internet which didn’t exist because the phone line had a two second delay when speaking and would get clogged by every one trying to phone England at Christmas.

    I have watched Edmonton evolve in strange fits and starts as I move in and out of the city, a city I know I will perpetually return to and leave again.

    My favourite recent discovery, upon returning to the city in 2010, is the cricket pitch in Victoria Park and the underground hip hop scene in the city which goes all the way back to the 70s. The cricket goes back even further. These activities would not normally be associated with Edmonton by the outside world but one of the Canadian one day international squad members is from Edmonton, and by from Edmonton I mean from Jamaica and lives in Edmonton. There is a tremendously good rapper called S.T.U.G.A. who is from Rwanda but raps about Edmonton as being his city. And he raps in French.

    Then there is the comedy scene…

    The gallows humour comes from a city which is not only dark in the winter but sometimes in our institutions. Vancouver is not the only Canadian city with a problem of missing aboriginal women. Several years ago a young woman stopped me on the street on my way to work and told me her sister had just been grabbed by a taxi drive and taken away. I told her she had to call the police straight away and give them as many details as she could remember. She told me she couldn’t go to the police and I said I couldn’t help and ran across the street to catch my bus and go to work.

    I was unaware how the police would likely be as dismissive to her concerns as I was simply because she was a young native woman. It has taken me eight years to consider the possibility that I might have gone with her to speak to the police, to ensure they would listen to her story. Or maybe that would not have helped either. Lamenting the past is as wasteful as fearing the future but we still try and learn from our experiences to build our environment to be in greater harmony with the rhythms and patterns of the natural world so our future might be more sustainable.

    I do think properly reconciling the local bureaucratic and political administrations with the people who have been living in this geographical location on the planet for thousands of years more than any of the newcomers is integral to the future health of the city. The CBC does a lot of work to advance and facilitate this process and I am grateful.

    As always, thank you so much for a thought provoking programme,


    Liam Leroux

    PS. this is virtually the exact same letter I wrote to Mr. Gomeshi. I love copy and paste.

  2. I ride by that bench every day on my way to work and am always surprised it’s still there. At this point I’m starting to think it’s a piece of artwork that has been Ok-ed by the city, but that seems unlikely. If they take it away I’ll miss it. 🙂

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