As you walk through Edmonton's pedway you feel it, and by 'it' I mean that downtown Edmonton intimacy, like seeing someone you know well but don't necessarily love. It's an unexcited familiarity. With few windows allowing us to catch our bearings using landmarks outside, the nondescript corners, quirky shops and strange, old signs within the halls of Edmonton's pedway have become our waypoints over the decades. They guide us through the maze. We turn left at that indoor coffee shop with a vibe that's stuck in 1991. We take a right at that hair salon where the owner stands at the front scanning the passers-by with a judgey gaze. We walk up to the street by that former bar with wood panelling that's now closed.
In this intimacy, like a hallway display of so many failed or fading dreams from Edmonton's history, things pop out as often as they blend in. We walk past something daily and then, one day, stop to ponder it. It's a feeling that suddenly demands answers to questions. What is this? Why is it here? How long has it been here? Has whoever put this here forgotten about it?
For the past four years that I've lived in Edmonton, I've routinely asked this list of questions of the strangest, most intimate corner of Edmonton's pedway. It's a section of the pedway halls that form the path that, once a few more connections are opened, will siphon thousands of winter-weather avoiding hockey fans from parkades being built in City Centre Mall to Rogers Place, a few blocks away.
Yes, I'm talking about that bizarre photo gallery.
The pictures are in the Sutton Place hotel, one a wallpapered wall down a 30-foot or so long hall with yellow-tinged lighting. The hall connects to a windowed pedway linking the building to City Centre Mall. On either side of this hall is normal. Within it is not.
The photos are presented as if they represent a family's life achievement, ornately framed, lit by soft lighting in the way they might be at a grandparent's house. But as you scan them you see that none of these people are related. There is no sign explaining what these photos are doing here. It's as if you've walked out of a hotel and, to continue into the city's downtown mall, you need to first walk through someone's house.
While in this space you almost feel you should apologize for intruding.
Like many things about the arena, I don't think the City of Edmonton has really thought this one through. Or, more bluntly, I'm not convinced the city's staff have walked the various routes people might take from parkades to our arena with a critical eye, considering it the way a walker might to make sure the experience is easy to navigate and doesn't leave you baffled. We continue building pedways in Edmonton but to figure out how to make them work is not acceptable.
But, on some other hand, I kind of love this bizarre photo gallery and hope it stays. I'd love to know who these people are, though, and whether they're still in Edmonton, and how they feel about their photos being so prominent to thousands of people walking from an Oilers game to their car.