Edmonton: City of Who the Hell Are We?
Identity crisis. Full on identity crisis. There is no other way to describe the current state of Edmonton, Alberta as it teeters on the edge of heading into the future as a modern, urban, culturally diverse city or slipping back into a past that depicts us as a redneck outpost, decorated in ripped and faded denim with a soundtrack of old Trooper hits to back up our image.
No event in recent history has depicted the identity crisis the City of Edmonton faces more glaringly than the debate over the renaming of Capital Ex, the city’s yearly midway monstrosity of a fair that has seen steadily declining attendance since it’s heyday of the late 70’s and early 80’s.
Originally known as “Klondike Days”, Edmonton’s annual exhibition has suffered greatly over the last 15 years. In an attempt to revitalize the fair and bring attendance back up to what it once was, the fair was renamed “Capital Ex”, supposedly to evoke a more inclusive and forward theme. The name change has failed miserably.
That’s not to say a name change wasn’t required. The truth of the matter is that although many long and lifetime Edmonton residents look back on Klondike Days through nostalgia colored glasses, the fair had nothing to do with the city Edmonton has become in the past two decades. Now more culturally diverse than ever before, and focused on presenting ourselves as a major economic and urban competitor both nationally and internationally, a fair theme based on a falsified history that was never Edmonton’s story is entirely out of place. It was time for a change, an image overhaul. It was time to rid ourselves of the mantle of a cliché of a theme that bore no relevance to who we are today. It was time to move forward.
It was time to retire Klondike Kate in the same manner we retired Miss Canada.
Who could’ve known that moving forward would result in an outcry that came forth from a collective who saw the changing of the annual fair’s name as a personal insult and affront? Who could’ve predicted that changing the title of an exhibition which had seen steadily declining attendance would result in those who weren’t attending the fair on a regular basis crying “foul” at the top of their lungs?
Only in Edmonton is letting go of an irrelevant past cause for so much ripping at one’s frilly Klondike style dress. Only in Edmonton is saying “this isn’t working anymore, the proof is in the numbers, it’s time for change” cause for so many people to take up verbal arms. Klondike Days wasn’t working anymore. The proof of that was in steadily declining numbers and overall interest in the annual event. And renaming the exhibition back to Klondike Days won’t solve the problem with what is now Capital Ex.
In fact, renaming it River City Days, or Get Loaded on the Midway Days, or This Was Once a Great Event Days or Pay Big Money to See A Washed Up 70’s Rock Band Days won’t help it either. It’s not the name that is the problem here. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet and a skunk weed by any other name is still a weed. If it were simply a matter of the name, it would’ve never been changed from Klondike Days to Capital Ex. If it were a matter of branding, Klondike Days would’ve continued to draw in the crowds.
Perhaps it’s time we considered that the issue is with the model of the exhibition itself – an outdated, overpriced, dirty and somewhat irrelevant fair in a city that has far more to offer in the way of festivals and events. Perhaps it’s about whether or not the annual fair is relevant anymore and examining that with the increase in the number of festivals this city is host to every year and the increasing success of those festivals, Capital Ex isn’t the only show in town anymore – which is exactly what Klondike Days was for a good many years: the ONLY show in town. Perhaps it’s about accepting that Capital Ex will never return to its previous glory days regardless of what we call it and we should be okay with that. We really should be. Because it’s a sign that we are more than we once were. It’s indicative of our cultural change and a plethora of other options for people to choose from.
Instead of arguing over yet another name change, wouldn’t it be wiser to accept the fair for what it is now, as opposed to forcing it to be what it was 20 years ago? Wouldn’t it be wiser to focus on marketing the fair to appeal to those who are interested in it as opposed to those who have no interest in the model and likely never will, no matter what less than well thought out name we slap on it? I can squeeze myself into a pair of leopard skin pants, tease my hair and overload on eyeliner – it won’t make me 25 again. It will make me a pathetic creature, attempting to hold on to my imagined glory days as opposed to accepting who I am today. It won’t result in an increased number of young men passing me their phone numbers as I stand in line at Tim Horton’s. It will result in a loss of my dignity and self respect, and attracting the wrong kind of attention. In other words: no matter what facade I put on, my “attendance numbers” are not going to skyrocket. I’ve changed, and for the better, I think. I accept that. And it’s time Edmonton accepts that we’ve changed.
But therein lies the crux. Because if there is one thing Edmonton continues to struggle with, it’s accepting what we are in this moment, and working towards becoming what we want to be in the future. For some reason this city holds on to the past – a past that benefits no one or nothing – with a death grip; screeching like a banshee when it’s finally ripped from our hands.
We are a City of Champions, in the truest sense. We champion great causes. We champion community involvement. We champion local business and downtown revitalization. We champion philanthropy. We champion a changed image from the redneck, backwoods, ultra conservative town we once were perceived to be.
Edmonton, it’s time we championed our own future and let go of the albatross of the past that does not adequately reflect who we are now, who we can be in the future. Because until we decide who and what we are, we cannot begin to tell the rest of the country, the rest of the world. And in our clinging to the relics of our past, the only message we send is that we are the same city we always have been. Is that the image we want to convey? Let’s get over our identity crisis.
Take off the leopard skin pants and the eyeliner, give ourselves a good long once over in the mirror and decide who we are now – not what we were in the past. And go with it.