MORE THAN A MALL

Matthew Dutczak busts myths and ex­plores lo­cal his­tory through his Best Ed­mon­ton Mall video se­ries

StarMetro Edmonton - - FRONT PAGE - MALL NOS­TAL­GIA ON­LINE THES­TAR.COM/ED­MON­TON

Matthew Dutczak has fond child­hood mem­o­ries of West Ed­mon­ton Mall, but peo­ple used to call him a liar when he talked about them.

Some of his favourite mall fea­tures — like the an­i­ma­tronic dragon that breathed lit­eral fire, and the sub­ma­rine that shop­pers could ride un­der­wa­ter — are long gone and could sound far­fetched to any­one who wasn’t there.

“Some peo­ple were like, ‘They never had any of that, you’re full of crap,’” Dutczak said.

He started dig­ging for in­for­ma­tion on­line, and de­cided there was a need for a cen­tral data­base to ed­u­cate young mall-go­ers and feed the nos­tal­gia in those who re­mem­ber its early days.

Dutczak, 34, set up the Best Ed­mon­ton Mall web­site about two years ago with a com­pre­hen­sive his­tory of the build­ing, a gallery of archived pho­tos, and de­tails about cur­rent and past at­trac­tions. But it re­ally picked up when he started mak­ing videos.

Al­most 8,000 peo­ple now sub­scribe to Dutczak’s Best Ed­mon­ton Mall YouTube chan­nel, which fea­tures dozens of five- to 10-minute clips telling sto­ries about the mall’s his­tory and of­fer­ing his takes on its many changes over the years.

“I was do­ing it more so as a hobby for my­self,” he said. “When it took off, I re­al­ized there was a lot of peo­ple who seem to look back fondly on the mall as I do.”

The videos use a mix of anec­do­tal sto­ries, news ar­ti­cles, in­ter­net re­search, and old pro­mo­tional videos, spliced with clips from pop­u­lar movies and TV shows and wrapped in a kitschy 1980s es­thetic.

In one episode, Dutczak ex­plores

a Mar­vel comic Al­pha Flight is­sue in which a team of Cana­dian su­per­heroes de­feats an evil ro­bot and saves the mall.

Some of his deep dives in­clude, “What hap­pened to the Bronze Whale” and “What Hap­pened to the Dragon at Sil­ver City Theatre.” Spoiler: after Fa­mous Play­ers sold the theatre to Cine­plex Odeon, the new own­ers de­cided main­te­nance costs and soft­ware com­pli­ca­tions made the dragon too hard to main­tain, so it be­came a sta­tion­ary dec­o­ra­tive piece. But it got so gross col­lect­ing dirt and grime that they had to take it down.

Dutczak said the dragon couldn’t be re­assem­bled, but he’s heard ru­mours that some­one pur­chased one of its claws.

“It’s kind of ridicu­lous to think about be­ing such a big fan of a mall. But for me, it’s not re­ally a mall,” Dutczak said.

“To­day, shop­ping isn’t re­ally a big draw as much as it used to be with every­thing on­line. But when it opened, it re­ally was this thing that peo­ple would travel to come to see. It was a tourist at­trac­tion.”

When the mall was built in 1981, it was the big­gest in the world. Ad­di­tions like the in­door wa­ter­park that opened in 1986 bol­stered its sta­tus as an in­ter­na­tional at­trac­tion.

West Ed­mon­ton Mall gen­eral man­ager Danielle Woo is well

aware of the strong ap­petite for mall nos­tal­gia.

Woo said in an email that when­ever the mall makes a re­quest for guests to share their favourite “WEMories,” the re­sponse is over­whelm­ing.

“West Ed­mon­ton Mall re­ally en­joys the work done by Best Ed­mon­ton Mall and we love his pas­sion for all things WEM,” Woo said.

“There was a whole gen­er­a­tion that grew up com­ing to the mall and now their chil­dren are fol­low­ing in their foot­steps.”

Dutczak said peo­ple of­ten think he works for the mall, which is not the case.

Some of his videos are crit­i­cal of its changes.

“SOME PEO­PLE WERE LIKE, ‘THEY NEVER HAD ANY OF THAT.’” Matthew Dutczak

CODIE MCLACH­LAN/STARMETRO ED­MON­TON

STARMETRO ED­MON­TON

Matthew Dutczak, who runs the web­site and YouTube chan­nel Best Ed­mon­ton Mall, poses with the bronze whale statue in West Ed­mon­ton Mall Thurs­day.

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