West Edmonton Mall
West Edmonton Mall

The West Edmonton Mall is the Largest Mall in North America

West Edmonton Mall
West Edmonton Mall

Ever walk through your local mall and think to yourself, "Wow, this place is huge"? Unless you live in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, then you have no idea. The West Edmonton Mall is the biggest shopping center in North America, and formerly the biggest mall in the world (until 2004). Aside from having more than 800 stores, two luxury hotels with individual country-themed room styles, and 100 restaurants, the WEM has an indoor amusement park called Galaxyland, an indoor lake and sea-life park that includes a life-size replica of Christopher Columbus’ Santa Maria (it's used for birthday parties), an 18-hole mini-golf course, and a regulation-size recreational ice rink that also functions as a practice space for the Edmonton Oilers hockey team. In other words—with a size equivalent to 48 city blocks or 104 football fields—it’s massive.

Plans for the mall were initially hatched in the late 1970s by four Jewish Iranian brothers—Eskander, Nader, Raphael, and Bahman Ghermezian—who moved to Canada with their father in the 1960s to escape Islamic fundamentalism in their home country. They quickly built a real-estate empire—called the Triple Five Group—out of their family’s prosperous Persian rug business. As a way of honoring traditional urban bazaars in Persian cultures, the brothers envisioned a kind of Disneyworld of shopping malls, where people could shop and be entertained all at the same time.

The mall itself was constructed in planned phases, and even continues to grow today. The first phase of the mall, featuring only shops and services, opened in September 1981. Phase II was completed in September 1983, and added more shops, the ice rink, and the amusement park (originally called Fantasyland until Disney sued them in 1993 over naming rights).  Phase III was completed in September 1985, adding both the waterparks and more, ballooning the mall's size to a whopping 5.2 million square feet of conspicuous consumption, and a total land mass of 120 acres. The current incarnation of the mall was completed with 1999’s Phase IV, which saw the construction of a separate hotel across the street called the West Edmonton Mall Inn, which was built solely to accommodate the 30.8 million yearly visitors and tourists. So far, the cost of building the mall is an estimated $1.2 billion.

In 2002, the city of Edmonton approved plans to expand the already gargantuan mall even further by adding more than 300,000 square feet of retail space and adding a convention center, a 12-story office building, and a 600-unit apartment building, however none of these projects has yet to begin construction. As it stands now, attempting to visit everything in the mall at least once would take an estimated three 24-hour days of constant shopping—a feat that would surely cause the most hardened platinum card-wielding consumer to literally shop till they drop.

Sources: West Edmonton Mall; The Canadian Encyclopedia

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15 Products You Can (Usually) Only Buy in Canada
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Canada is widely known for its hockey, maple syrup, and brutally cold winters. But you can bet your back bacon that Canadians also enjoy some special products only available in the Great White North, many of which are completely unknown to its neighbors to the south, at least outside of specialist importers. Here’s a salute to some of the items that are usually only available on Canadian soil.

1. CANADIAN MILK CHOCOLATE

Crispy Crunch, Smarties (the Canadian kind), Aero, Wunderbar, Caramilk—while the names and textures of these candy bars may differ, they all contain the same unique “Canadian” chocolate taste. Apparently, there is a Canadian preference for a sweeter, creamier milk chocolate, as opposed to the gritty, bitter taste of American chocolate. In 2013, The Hershey Company changed its formula to develop a milkier, creamier chocolate “that is unique to Canadian chocolate.” Even Canadian versions of popular American chocolate bars, such as Kit Kat and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, taste completely different, as documented in a 2009 Food Network survey.

2. KRAFT DINNER (NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH KRAFT MACARONI AND CHEESE)


Kraft Dinner, or “KD” as it’s affectionately (and now formally) known in Canada, is the country’s unofficial official food. It been reported that Canadians consume 1.7 million boxes of the neon-colored pasta tubes a week, out of the 7 million sold globally. Yes, you can get similar pasta-and-powdered cheese concoctions in the United States, but you can’t find the “KD” packaging anywhere in the U.S., and there tend to be more varieties of the pasta in Canada as well.

3. BUTTER TARTS

These yummy desserts—pastry tart shells filled with maple or corn syrup, sugar, butter, and raisins—are a distinctly Canadian treat. Some articles have traced their origins to pioneer cookbooks published in the early 1900s. However, a 2007 Toronto Star article suggests they date back to the mid-1600s and the arrival of the filles de marier, or imported brides, from France. Regardless, these desserts are a seasonal staple at the Canadian Christmas snack table. And while some small American bakeries might offer butter tarts, in Canada processed, pre-packaged versions are found at most convenience stores around the country.

4. MILK BY THE BAG


Kevin Qiu, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Yes, that’s really a thing. You may think milk in a bag defies the laws of physics come pouring time, but the bags are smartly placed in a pitcher container and the corner is snipped off at an angle for easy pouring. Bags of milk are still popular in Ontario, Quebec, and Eastern Canada, but have been phased out in other parts of the country. Some American states have flirted with the idea of bringing bagged milk to the masses, but the practice doesn’t look like it’s catching on.

5. MOUNTAIN EQUIPMENT CO-OP


m01229, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Similar to the U.S.-based REI, Mountain Equipment Co-op was founded in 1971 by four mountaineering friends who wanted to offer Canadians a low-cost way to purchase outdoor equipment without having to go to the States. Today, MEC still runs as a co-op, offering memberships for $5 (you need one to purchase anything at the store). It’s found in 18 cities across the country and boasts 4.5 million members from Canada and around the world.

6. HICKORY STICKS

Picture julienned, thick-cut potato chips with a tangy, smoky flavoring and you have Hickory Sticks. They're also one of the few remaining products under the Hostess name in Canada, as Hostess was bought out by Lays in the 1990s (the Canadian potato chip brand is completely unrelated to the Twinkie hawker). These products have survived the test of time … as has the decidedly unglamorous brown packaging.

7. SWISS CHALET

Mention the words “Quarter Chicken Dinner” to any Canuck and the words “Swiss Chalet” will immediately come to mind. The restaurant is known for chicken, ribs, and one-of-a-kind dipping sauce. Bonus point for anyone who remembers the cheesy Swiss Chalet TV commercials of the 1980s with iconic images of those juicy succulent chickens rotating on skewers.

8. CAESARS

Americans may have their Bloody Marys, but the Canadian hangover cure (and cause) has always been found in a Caesar. Similar to a Bloody Mary, the recipe typically calls for 1-2 ounces of vodka, two dashes of hot sauce (Tabasco is commonly used), four dashes of Worcestershire sauce, and 4 to 6 ounces of Clamato juice. Don’t forget the celery salt and pepper on the rim! The crowning glory are the stalks of celery, olives, limes, and other greenery that may accompany it. Serve over ice and enjoy.

9. RED RIVER CEREAL

Who would have thought that a blend of wheat, rye, and flaxseed mixed with boiling water would be such a hit? Named after the iconic Red River that flows north into Winnipeg from the U.S., the hot cereal has been a staple in many homes since 1924. Red River Cereal was once imported into the U.S. by Smuckers foods of Canada, but it appears to have been discontinued.

10. MCCAIN DEEP N’ DELICIOUS CAKE

McCain Deep n’ Delicious cakes are a fixture in Canadian freezers around the country. The moist cake is available in vanilla, marble, chocolate, and other flavors, topped with a sweet icing. The treat comes in a metallic aluminum foil tray with a resealable plastic dome lid that is often superfluous, as the cake is usually eaten entirely in one sitting. Pass the fork, please!

11. PRESIDENT’S CHOICE PRODUCTS 


What started out as a desire to make top-quality generic-brand products in the 1980s has since grown into a best-selling national empire. The President’s Choice line was spearheaded by the late Dave Nichol for the Loblaw chain of stores in 1984 as way to bring a “higher end” generic brand of products to consumers. Some of the first items included PC Beer and The Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookie, which hit the shelves in 1988 and is still one of its top-selling products today. While the company did expand to selling some of its products in select grocery stores around the U.S., the PC brand has largely been phased out of the United States, save for a few stores in the Chicago area.

12. LAURA SECORD CHOCOLATES

Take the name of a Canadian war hero and mix in some cocoa, sugar, and butter, and you have a recipe for national chocolate-making success. Laura Secord was an American-born pioneer woman in what was then Upper Canada (the forerunner of Ontario), who successfully warned the Canadian and British forces of an impending Yankee attack during the War of 1812. To the delight of many sweet-toothed Canadians, her legacy did not stop there. In 1913, Frank P. O’Connor opened the first Laura Secord candy shop on Toronto’s Yonge Street. Today, over 100 stores are found across Canada—boasting more than 400 products, including the marshmallow Santa Claus, a seasonal favorite stocking-stuffer. The chain does deliver to the U.S., but there are no locations south of the border.

13. DUNK-A-ROOS 

The Betty Crocker kangaroo-shaped cinnamon-flavored graham cookies dunked in sweet, sweet icing are still sold in grocery stories in Canada despite being discontinued in the United States. Americans will either need to cross the border to pick them up, pay at least five times the retail price for the product on sites like Amazon, or come up with their own homemade remedy for their sugar craving.

14. HAWKINS CHEEZIES

The original Canadian Cheezie was actually created in Chicago after the Second World War by James Marker and W.T. Hawkins. According to the product’s website, the duo perfected their recipe by extracting cornmeal into finger-like shapes, frying them in shortening, and then dusting them with aged cheddar cheese. The plant moved to Ontario, Canada, in the 1950s and the product has remained north of the 49th parallel ever since. Some have said the snack is similar to a Cheetos Crunchy, but others claim there is only one Cheezies.

15. LE CHÂTEAU

Long before U.S. chains such as H&M and Forever 21 graced the storefronts of Canadian malls, Le Château was the go-to store for affordable, Euro-chic clothing and accessories. The Canadian clothier first got its start in 1959 as a family-run store in downtown Montréal. Today there are more than 200 retail locations across Canada. In the late ‘80s, Le Château opened more than 20 stores in the U.S., but closed them about a decade later after reporting significant losses in those markets. The company boasts a small international presence in countries such as Dubai and Saudi Arabia, but the name recognition of Le Château in Canada is as Canadian as poutine. (Le Château founder Herschel Segal is also co-founder of another Canadian business, David’s Tea, but that one is now widely found in certain parts of the U.S.)

This article originally ran in 2016.

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Happy Canada Day! What Exactly Is Canada Day?
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Happy Canada Day! On July 1, 1867, the nation was officially born when the Constitution Act joined three provinces into one country: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Canada province, which then split into Ontario and Quebec. However, Canada was not completely independent of England until 1982. The holiday called Dominion Day was officially established in 1879, but it wasn't observed by many Canadians, who considered themselves to be British citizens. Dominion Day started to catch on when the 50th anniversary of the confederation rolled around in 1917. In 1946, a bill was put forth to rename Dominion Day, but arguments in the House of Commons over what to call the holiday stalled the bill.

The 100th anniversary in 1967 saw the growth of the spirit of Canadian patriotism and Dominion Day celebrations really began to take off. Although quite a few Canadians already called the holiday Canada Day (Fête du Canada), the new name wasn't formally adopted until October of 1982.

HOW TO CELEBRATE?

There are many ways to celebrate Canada Day. First: What's a patriotic celebration without a parade? There will be parades held in cities, towns, and villages all over Canada today. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have an established group called the RCMP Musical Ride. These 32 officers, who are rotated after three years' service, perform equestrian drills for the public throughout Canada.

Other Canada Day traditions that are gaining footholds are picnics, festivals, sporting events, and fireworks.

Many Canada Day events are planned all over the country, including Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, and Victoria.

The lyrics to "O Canada" can be found here. Hear the French version as well.

Portions of this article originally appeared in 2010.

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