Vivek Shraya

If These Malls Could Talk

On the release of The Magnificent Malls of Edmonton • 15 May 2015

We hate our malls. In fact, many of the people I approached for this zine responded with a similar statement. Maybe for good reason.

Malls in general are ugly and monstrous representations of capitalism. And perhaps Edmontonians have a particular disdain for our malls because we are mostly known for a particular mall.

And yet, no matter how we resist, our malls not only shape and section our city, they also shape us. Edmonton malls are where we seek refuge from our winters—when we leave our homes. Edmonton malls are sites for laughter, heartbreak and reflection. They are sites for community—this is where we hang out with our friends, this is where we bond with our families on Saturday afternoons.

Bonnie Doon Mall is where I got my ears pierced and where I worked at the dental clinic during the summer I fell in love with my lesbian best friend. I also worked in the public library at Southgate Mall, where my coworkers and I got in trouble for making too much noise. My family and I would go to Capilano Mall when my parents couldn’t find what they were looking for at Millbourne Mall or Mill Woods Town Centre. Mill Woods Town Centre is where I performed in my first talent show, pre-American Idol, singing an Annie Lennox song my grandmother loved. When I made it to the next level of the competition, I sang Alanis’s Mary Jane in one of the three West Edmonton Mall food courts, turning my back to the audience when I sang the line “Well it’s full speed baby, in the wrong direction.” I sauntered the narrow path of Hub Mall as my personal runway, with my eyes glazed, lips slightly pouted and shoulders back, craving to be seen as a new queer on campus.

You see, these malls aren’t magnificent because they hold our most precious memories. They are magnificent because, despite how we begrudge them or dismiss them, they hold our quiet, unassuming, everyday, ordinary memories—the ones we almost forgot. We grow up in, around and through these malls and don’t even notice.

Working through this project, our malls have felt like a broader metaphor for Edmonton itself. Or rather our complicated feelings about our malls seem to mirror our complicated feelings about our city. I hated growing up in Edmonton, largely due to my experiences of homophobia and genderphobia. Edmonton was never home and I was always going to leave it. But in doing so, I find myself falling in love with the city in ways I couldn’t have imagined before. Edmonton showed me the importance of kindness and how to build intimacy. Edmonton taught me what love and friendship is.

Although I have lived in Toronto for the last twelve years, many of my close friends are from Edmonton. Strangely, I didn’t know most of these friends when I lived there. We have found each other here. Similarly, on sad days, days when I miss home, I find myself drawn to Toronto’s Eaton Centre or Dufferin Mall. Perhaps it’s true: you can take a boy out of a mall but you can’t take the mall (or Edmonton) out of the boy.

This zine is a small gesture of gratitude to honour Edmonton, a magnificent city—and its magnificent malls.

A brown-skinned person with a baseball cap and beard in a brightly-coloured windbreaker and shorts sitting on the Kingsway Mall sign in Edmonton.
Photo by Zachary Ayotte.