Monday, February 6, 2012

West Edmonton Mall

by Anita Mae Draper

Last weekend, the family and I left our farm at 4 am and drove west on the TransCanada Hwy#1 471 miles (758 km) to Calgary, Alberta. Near Swift Current, we encountered slippery roads - emphasized when a pickup pulling a trailer spun off the highway in front of us. As you can see in this photo, the median between the divided highway is quite wide and shallow, so the driver didn't flip or roll.

We arrived in Calgary by mid-afternoon and went straight to Rocky Mountain Bible College to watch our daughter practice her 2 hr choir session. By 7 pm, we were back on the road - our daughter, Jessie included - and headed another 183 miles (295 km) north to Edmonton, the capital of Alberta. Again, halfway there we encountered roads slippery with slush while sleet slowed the heavy traffic, and finally arrived at 10 pm. Even with the 2 bouts of icky weather, we'd been blessed to arrive safely. It was the end of Jan on the prairies, after all.

Friday morning saw the Nelson and Nick head out to the BreakForth Praise and Music Conference which was a short 15 min walk from our hotel, along the park with a view of the river valley.

360 deg photo taken with iPhone. Our hotel is tallest bldg in middle left.

I wanted to visit the History Museum, but Jessie and JJ wanted to check out West Edmonton Mall (WEM). Since this was Jessie's only day to sightsee, I gave in and drove the two teens to North America's largest shopping mall. I mean really, what teen wants to see a stuffy history museum when they can shop in the 5th largest mall in the world. I've been calling it the world's largest mall without realizing it lost that distinction in 2004.

To give you an idea of the size, here's the Wikipedia entry:  West Edmonton Mall covers a gross area of about 570,000 m2 (well over 6 million sq ft). There are over 800 stores and services and parking for more than 20,000 vehicles. More than 23,000 people are employed at the property. The mall receives 28.2 million visitors per year; it also attracts between 60,000 and 150,000 shoppers daily, depending on the day and season. The mall was valued at C$926 million in January 2007.

And then this from the CBC 1985 archives: With eight major department stores, seven amusement parks, a chapel, a bingo hall and a NHL-sized hockey rink, occasionally used by the Edmonton Oilers, the West Edmonton Mall covers the equivalent of 104 football fields.

Mark Messier & Wayne Gretzy celebrate 1 of 4 Stanley Cup Oiler wins

Suffice to say, although I was looking forward to the exercise, I was not looking forward to sharing the experience with 59,999 other shoppers. I needn't have worried. The mall is so spread out, I didn't feel pressed in by people at all. Well, not until 4 pm when school ended and suddenly the mall teemed with kids! But I'm getting ahead of myself...

I hadn't been back to WEM since the early 80's when a young Wayne Gretzky played for the Edmonton Oilers and was rumored to be one of the backers for the ambitious project. Back then, WEM ran 7 submarines and for a fee - $8 a person if I remember - you could go down into a sub for a ride around the lagoon and see all the sea creatures - everything from blue fish to nurse sharks. It was quite exciting. I was also looking forward to seeing the Aviary.

The 8 person sub looks small beside the full-size Santa Maria.
 Things changed since my last visit 25 yrs ago. The aviary has been turned into a huge oval kiosk. And only 2 subs remain, neither open to the public. When I look at that little sub now, I can't imagine 8 people used to fit in them. But it sure was fun.

One of the new attractions JJ was quite taken with was RopeQuest. While Jessie went shopping, JJ was challenged by 4 levels of rope rigging. He enjoyed it so much, he wanted to return each day. We didn't as we had other places to see.

JJ walking across the lower level of challenges at RopeQuest at WEM
 We peeked into the 5-football field-size waterpark to see the huge wave simulating the ocean, but it wasn't on the agenda for this trip. Neither was the mini-putt although it was very tempting.

Putt 'n' Glow Mini-putt course
  As mentioned before, we loved the salt-water lagoon and spent most of our time there.

Behind the full-size Santa Maria

This place is huge and rises the full 3 floors of the mall.

Looking toward the Santa Maria. Jessie and JJ are on the bridge.

The sea lion show was great fun. I have some video I'll add if there's interest.

Because we paid to watch the show at Sea Lion's Rock, we were able to go down into the Sea Life Caverns where they had small pools where you could touch skates (rays) and sea anemones.

Jessie allowing a starfish to investigate her palm with sea anemones on the bottom.

Back in the '80s, Glaxayland consisted of a dozen neat rides like the old-fashioned swings that spun you horizontal when it got going, a carousel, and a swinging galleon. My favourite was the balloon ride.

One of the original Galaxyland (Fantasyland) rides.
Everything wasn't so 'puffy' and bright back then, either. And behind/beside the balloon ride was the roller coaster. Now, a new area almost 4 times the size of this old one has been added on and the roller coasters from over there zip over the people on this side...

Tracks from rollercoasters zip from new to old side at Galaxyland.

Instead of 1 rollercoaster, there are now 5 - at least. I was amazed at the engineering expertise that went into fitting so many rides into this area.

I'll close with a sight that awed me from the first moment I saw it 25 yrs ago. I had the same reaction when I saw it again last week... a full size skating rink in the middle of one arm of the mall. This is where Gretzy and the Oilers used to practice and it always grew huge crowds. Today it's used by different organizations, but there's still public skating on the schedule and skates are available for rent.

JJ seeing the Ice Palace for the first time.

So, have you ever been to West Edmonton Mall? What about another mall the same Canadian owners have built... the Mall of America in Minnesota?


Anita Mae Draper is retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan, Canada with her hubby of 30 plus years and 2 of their 4 kids. She writes stories set on the prairies of Saskatchewan, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. Anita Mae has semi-finaled in the Historical Romance category of the ACFW's 2011 Genesis contest and finaled in the Inspirational category of the 2011 Daphne du Maurier, the 2011 Fool for Love, the 2011 Duel on the Delta and 2009 Linda Howard Award of Excellence contests. You can find her at


  1. I can see the draw! Especially in a cold winter, it's nice to just be able to do a lot of walking and sightseeing. I think I can 'smell' the mall. With indoor fountains in most of them, haven you noticed they all share that same aroma?

    I would definitely visit if I was in town but I wouldn't make a point of going out of my way... Anita, I would have gone to the history museum with you, but you were a thoughtful mama and I enjoyed the tour!

    Loved your highway shot!

    I recall the attraction as a teen when we finally got a real 'mall' in Rochester, NY in the 70s. Now they've quadrupled the size of it.
    But my interest in mall shopping is long gone! I would have enjoyed the sightseeing experience and good old mall food!

  2. Wow, that looks pretty incredible. I have been to the Mall of America once. And, thought I'd mention, we have an ever-evolving ropes course for the kids in our back yard.

  3. I've been to WEM several times although it has been at least six or more years since my last visit. After the novelty wore off, I tended to go to other malls on visits to Edmonton. It is quite the experience though to see all the non-shopping things within that mall! Although I haven't tried it, I do think it would be fun to skate on that rink!

  4. Yes, Deb, and the waterpark has palm trees. That's quite a sight for a prairie girl. :D

    Thanks for liking my highway shot. Beautiful, but deadly, eh.

    And speaking of NY... the owners of WEM and MOM have recently purchased a mall in New Jersey with full intentions to turn it into the 3rd largest in NA now that they have it. It sounds like the purchase was more of a price-too-good-too-miss deal than a vision, though. I guess with all the other attractions in the area, this will have to be spectacular, eh.

    As opposed to the prairies where the biggest attraction is the Rocky Mountains.

  5. Dina, JJ sure loved RopeQuest. It's just another reason for me to visit you some day. With all our land, we could make our own adventure. The closest the guys have come to that idea is a paintball course - and yes, that's at WEM as well.

    Although, I made a 6-hole mini-putt course here a few years ago and the church families came over for a picnic and tournament. That was fun. :)

  6. We have a struggling mall in the Syracuse NY area that has been in proposal to be one of those 'biggest malls...' too.

    Palm trees would be quite a treat to see this time of year,even if it meant a long cold walk across a massive parking lot. But I'm sure I'd hate to travel those prairie highways to get there.

  7. Dina, I've been to the Mall of America once, too. At the time, we were living on the air base east of Edmonton for our 2nd tour in the early '90s and 4 yo Jessie kept seeing commercials for the Discovery channel's stores. There was one part where someone takes this spere and pops it open into a giant ball. Jessie's #1 goal in life was to go to a Discovery store. But there weren't any in Alberta. Or Saskatchewan.

    I did some checking and all the stores were located in the US. Since we were heading to Thunder Bay, Ontario which is about 8 hrs due north of the Mall of America, we decided to swing by and check it out. It added 4 hrs to our trip - well 4 down and 4 to get back on track so that's 8.

    And the Discovery store was fascinating, but small compared to what we'd perceived on tv. We did find the sphere and I convinced Jessie not to get it because all it did was open and close and while neat, it cost about $30 and looked like it could break easy. Instead, we bought an assortment of things - like geodes. Yes, they're rocks. With neat centres. Maybe. You don't know until you split them open. I still have them, too and nope, haven't opened them yet. Don't want to ruin my surprise.

    I have this sudden yearning to visit the Souris rock pit. LOL

    Mall of America was great, but so much was the same as WEM, we said, meh. And if I understand correctly, the Discovery stores closed in all the malls back in 2007. Their stuff is now sold through regular retail venues.

  8. LOL Elaine, I guess you were really going for the shopping, eh. :)

    Jessie bought 2 things while we were there - one a necessary and then an adorable sweater at 40% off.

    I rushed both her and JJ past the Victoria Secrets store.

    I wanted to visit ChinaTown - a new attraction - but Jessie had a BreakForth concert to attend, so we settled for sushi in the food court.

    As for shopping, I only bought stuff we needed for the hotel room - like mayo - because we were in a kitchenette suite. Oh, and batteries for my hungry Lumina camera.

    That was the extent of my shopping. I'd rather look at the Santa Maria and dream. :)

  9. Deb, the parking lot is massive, but it completely surrounds the mall so you're always close to an entrance.

    We arrived around 10:30 am and parked less than 300 yds from an entrance. That was ground level and covered parking, too.

    We just had to remember that we were in row #48 at entrance #46. Easy peasy. :) (Or was that entrance #42?)

    The weather this year was such a blessing. I'm not sure if Nelson has plans for the next BreakForth - he registered the day it opened in Nov and still missed out on some 1st choice workshops - but I'm sure if the Lord wants us to go, He'll get us there.

  10. I love the inner theme park you have better than the MOA in Minnesota, USA. Your activities look like more fun! But we do have fantastic shopping and an undersea world below, as well as a Nickelodeon theme.

    Come visit us sometime! (No, I don't work for the MOA.

  11. You're absolutely right, Linda. And I noticed 2 things while reading your comment...

    1. I wote MOM vice MOA. sheesh.

    2. It sounded like I was putting down MOA. I'm sorry. That wasn't my intent. It's just that at the time, it was a lot of extra driving with our gas-guzzler motorhome and if SeaWorld was part of it, we either weren't aware or didn't have time to take it in.

    Although I don't know all the stores at MOA, I have seen that SeaWorld covers so much more space and has more on the go than the WEM's piddly 3 seal show. And for that alone, it's worth it since it's the closest thing prairie kids will see of a real sea environment. :)

    You have an interesting book review site at One Desert Rose. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. :)

    Anita Mae.

  12. you're right in that my trips to Edmonton were about the shopping! :)

  13. Elaine, that's too funny and here's why...

    You're saying yay shopping and I'm saying yay attractions... Yet this summer I'm going to Anaheim with Suzie and she's saying, yay attractions (Disneyland) while I'm saying yay stuffy museums. LOL

  14. A. Maze. Ing.

    I vote we add this to the secret underground Inky list of places to hold a retreat.

    What absolute fun! I don't like shopping, and don't like crowds, but I've developed an unnatural desire to ride those crazy roller coasters. And the subs and seals and sea creatures all look so awesome.

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Anita. Can't wait for Anaheim and - yay! - the attractions! But I will be happy to go to a stuffy museum with you if you have one on the list. I like those, too. ;-)

  15. Suzie, I'm beginning to think I need to stay an extra week in California. One day just isn't enough to see everything!

    Our pastor's daughter went to Anaheim last year and is giving me all the pamphlets she collected down there - when she remembers. At the moment, I'm leaning toward the railroad museum - or at least I was until your crack about being dragged to another boring museum a couple days ago. Yikes!


  16. Anita, I'll be happy to stay longer if you really want to. And fwiw, I love trains. A train museum is not the same as a train show. Believe me. If we did stay longer, I'm thinking a trip to my favorite CA beach would be in order. Think pink sand, pink rocks, pink cliffs, huge waves and pelicans.

  17. What an astonishing mall! Wow. I don't blame the kids for wanting to hang out there.

    Of course, I had dangerous thoughts about how much $$$ I could easily drop there. :)

    I've never been to a mall like this. Thanks for sharing your pictures!

  18. Suzie - standing on a California beach with my toes in the Pacific Ocean is on my bucket list. :) What a smashing idea.

    Can we bring Margaret Daley? She loves pink - although she'll probably beat us to it since she does her sight-seeing before the conference.


  19. Wow, Susie, coming from where you live, that's a great recommendation. :)

    And yes, with 800 stores there's something for everyone. Even me. I hurried past the ones that caught my eye, however, or we would've missed so much. As it was, we did miss a lot, but got to see what we really wanted.

    And although the history museum was closed on Sunday and the mall was open, Jessie was at Breakforth so her only day for WEM was the day we went. I can always go back for the museum. :)


  20. Waaah. Our local malls are postage stamps compared to yours!!!

  21. LOL Niki - That's a special mall! It's so special that I only get to go once every 25 yrs!

    But hopefully, the family will go back to BreakForth next year and we'll get to see it again.

    Seriously, I'd like to do some research at Fort Edmonton, and then check out plus Fort MacLeod and Fort Whoop near Calgary. That's close to Fort Benton, MT. Are you within a day's drive of there? Isn't it almost due North of you? Maybe. Nothing says you can't visit. I'll even meet you there. :)



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