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.
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.