Who are you, River City?

I was chatting with my favourite eldest son, the Boy Without a Truck, the other day about
River City sports teams. How our keynote pro teams had monikers linked to the city’s heritage and its relationship to black gold. We cited the usual: Edmonton Oilers, the original Edmonton Oil Kings and – let’s do it again: the Oil Kings of modern era with their gaudy awful busy uniforms. Professional soccer’s Edmonton Drillers.

If it isn’t a squishy warm feeling about oil then we tend to reach a little deeper for team names that tie it to our city and our collective identity. Think of the Edmonton Eskimos. Visions of brutal arctic cold, isolation and seal blubber. Nice. But we have dug even deeper that that. When the Pacific Coast League of Triple A baseball was alive and well in River City years ago, Ron Kittle was routinely smashing round-baggers out of TELUS Field as a member of the Edmonton Trappers. No oil ties there but the logo featured a good old Fort Edmonton-era trapper guy. In snowshoes. How cutely Canadian, eh? How nice.

An aside: did you know River City has a pro basketball team called the Edmonton Energy? I had no idea. Apparently the NRG (yes, I’m afraid they use that – acronyms are still tres chic) play in the International Basketball League. Never heard of the IBL either but with teams in who-knows-where places like Yamhill and Edmonton, I’m guessing it ain’t quite the NBA.

But my chat with the Boy Without a Truck moved from identifying River City’s sports teams to trying to identify Edmonton’s identity. Who are we as a city? What defines us? What are we all about? Canadian writer Mordecai Richler once wrote that if Canada was a house, Edmonton was a lock as the boiler room. Oh Monsieur Richler, that is a little harsh, n’est ce pas?

The truth is though, me and the BWAT couldn’t put our fingers on a strong identity. We thought of our city’s green emerald, the river valley that runs through it. It and the psyche it shares with Canada’s national parks: Don’t touch us and don’t enjoy us – just look and be awed! But we thought, if that’s our identity, what would we call our sports team? The Edmonton River Valleys? The Rivermen? The River City North Saskers? Nuthin’ really rolled off our tongues although we thought logos of big, burly hairy-chested sailors might has some broad appeal.

We settled next on our city’s strong history of volunteers. Edmonton has a proud heritage of hosting big events with amazing volunteerism: the Commonwealth Games, Universiade, the NHL’s first-ever outdoor game in the modern era, the Canadian Women’s Open, the World’s Men’s Curling Championships, FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada, and a host of other international events. Aha! We are the Edmonton Volunteers, hear us roar! Um, well…that’s kind of lame, we agreed.

But wait, BWAT says, wagging an index finger in the air like an old friend of mine used to do: we have West Edmonton Mall. And then we share the typical non-tourist reaction to anything WEM-ish: a long, pronounced groan. What then our next big sports team? The River City Mallers? More groans.

Edmonton’s famous for summer festivals. Perhaps a natural sports team name might be the River City Festivals. Kind of falls short, doesn’t it? We thought maybe if we were a francophone community, we could be the River City Festivales, complete with french pronunciation. Don’t you think our friend Mord would approve?

So, grasping now at straws, we talked about names and identities completely fictional – names that mean little but sound cool. Hey, if the Northern Alberta Institute for Technology (NAIT) hockey team can call itself the Ookpiks, or Ooks for short, why couldn’t a pro team do similar? The Edmonton Niskus certainly has a ring to it. Or maybe, with a nod to our roadway heritage, the River City Roundabouts.

No?

Well then, who in the world are we? Are we nothing more than a cold northern Canadian city with past and current ties mostly to the black stuff in the ground? Tough to say.

What might be telling is the open contest Edmonton Northlands is running. (Sheesh, “northlands”; there’s that hinterland outpost reference again.) The Name Your Fair Contest. Seems its former name, Capital Ex, was deemed a little weak. Maybe River City denizens will be able to come up with a fair name that links it with who we are as a community. A name that says: this is us!

BWAT and I fell short. And Boiler Room, grit n’ all, is still a little harsh.

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