MORE THAN A MALL
Matthew Dutczak busts myths and explores local history through his Best Edmonton Mall video series
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
Matthew Dutczak, who runs the website and YouTube channel Best Edmonton Mall, poses with the bronze whale statue in West Edmonton Mall Thursday.