WEST EDMONTON MALL 
87 Avenue, NW and 170 Street, NW
Edmonton, Alberta


Noteworthy as the world's first multi-mega mall, this goliath retail complex also held the distinction of the planet's largest shopping centre between the years 1985 and 2004.

Our W E M story begins in the mid-1970s. Planning got underway for a 500,000 square foot shopping complex, which was to be built in the western environs of Alberta's capital city. A 62 acre site, located 5.2 miles southwest of Edmonton's Central Business District, was acquired by the Edmonton-based Triple Five Corporation.

Triple Five was headed by the Ghermezian Brothers -Bahman, Eskander, Nadar and Raphael- whose family had migrated from Iran to North America in the late 1940s. A successful chain of Persian rug stores, based in Montreal, had been established by 1964.

The Ghermezian's rugs to riches story continued in Edmonton, where 2 of the brothers migrated in 1967. The remaining relatives relocated there and worked in the family's new real estate endeavor. A land sale in the late 1970s netted enough profit to finance the Ghermezian's dream...the WEST EDMONTON MALL.

Ground was broken June 9, 1980 for the Phase I structure; a standard shopping facility designed by Calgary's Maurice Sunderland Architecture, Incorporated and Abugov & Associates. Its size had been increased, during final planning stages, to 1,140,500 leasable square feet.

A dedication was held September 15, 1981. 
Officiating were executives from Simpsons-Sears, The Bay and Eaton's. Entertainment was provided by Kenuppet and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. Prizes awarded as part of the festivities included an all-expenses-paid Fiji Islands vacation and 45 inch Panasonic Cinema Vision television.

The 200 million dollar, double-decked mall had opened as Canada's largest fully-enclosed retail centre. It was anchored by a 2-level (142,600 square foot) Sears, 2-level (169,000 square foot) The Bay and 2-level (170,600 square foot) Eaton's. 

Among its 220 stores and services were Tip Top Tailors, Reitman's ladies' wear, Fairweather Ladies' Fashions, the Cineplex Odeon West Mall 6 Cinemas, a (45,000 square foot) Safeway supermarket and 21-bay Gourmet World culinary complex. Mallways featured bird aviaries, a Siberian Tiger cage and various aquariums and fountains.

Acreage on the west side of the mall was secured, expanding the site to 120 acres. Construction on a Phase II expansion got underway September 29, 1982. During this project, the format of the mall began to evolve from the typical suburban shopping hub into that of a combination retail and entertainment venue...conceived on the grandest scale imaginable.

The 250 million dollar Phase II addition increased the GLA of the complex to 2,170,300 square feet. New stores, services and venues included the Ice Palace (a scaled down NHL regulation-sized ice rink), Famous Players West Mall 5 multiplex, 2-level (84,000 square foot) Zellers discount department store and (55,000 square foot) Fantasyland, an indoor amusement park.

Phase II opened for business August 15, 1983. WEST EDMONTON MALL now featured the world's largest toy store, the world's largest indoor theme park and the world's largest indoor McDonald's restaurant. It encompassed 460 stores and services.

Still, it could not claim to be the world's largest shopping mall. This distinction was held by DEL AMO FASHION CENTER, in Torrance, California, which encompassed 2,372,000 leasable square feet.

Not to be outdone, the Ghermezians envisaged a Phase III expansion, with construction commencing July 1, 1984. This project would add 307 stores, services and entertainment venues to the mega mall's directory.

Included in the Phase III expansion were the following;

*World Waterpark. A 6-acre -75 million dollar- glass-enclosed aquatic recreation facility, with man made beach, wave pool, waterslides, bungee tower and children's play parks.

*Deep Sea Adventure. This included 4, 28-seat, computer-controlled submarines, a simulated barrier reef, dolphin shows and a replica of Christopher Columbus' Santa Maria ship.

*Europa Boulevard. A 2-level, Parisienne-style concourse. Some of its toney tenants were Gucci, Polo Ralph Lauren, Courreges, La Papillon, Saint Laurent, Parachute, Number Eleven, Henry Singer and Cartier.

*Bourbon Street. Which emulated that famous boulevard in New Orleans. This area featured 13 nightclubs and eateries, stores and attractions. Tenants included Cafe Orleans, Pacific Fish Company and Zambelli's.

*Cineplex Odeon West Mall 8 Cinemas. The mall's third multiplex movie house.

*Fantasyland Hotel. A 350-room lodging facility, featuring suites with Roman, Polynesian, Hollywood, Pick-up Truck and Victorian Railroad Coach motifs.

*Woodward's. A branch of the Vancouver-based department store chain, which comprised 2-levels and 150,000 square feet.

*Ikea. A 1-level (72,000 square foot) outlet of the Swedish-based chain, which carried home furnishings and other Euro-made products.

*Canadian Tire. This 1-level (75,000 square foot) store sold automotive, sports, hardware, camping and lawn & garden needs.

*Gourmet Court. The mall's second culinary complex, which housed 35 food vendors.

Moreover, the existing Fantasyland indoor theme park was enlarged into a 400,000 square foot facility, complete with the Minbender, which was (and still is) the world's longest indoor, triple loop roller coaster.

The main sections of Phase III opened for business September 11, 1985. World Waterpark was dedicated May 15, 1986, with the Fantasyland Hotel hosting its first guests in December 1986.

The 1.2 billion dollar WEST EDMONTON MALL now encompassed an astounding 5 million square feet and contained 827 stores, services, restaurants and attractions under its vast roof. DEL AMO FASHION CENTER {in California} was now demoted to second-place standing. And how!

Other commercial centres in the vicinity of WEST EDMONTON MALL where all within the corporate limits of Edmonton. These included WESTMOUNT CENTRE (1955) {3.5 miles northeast}, BONNIE DOON CENTRE (1960) {6.5 miles east}, NORTHGATE CENTRE (1965) {7.3 miles northeast}, SOUTHGATE CENTRE (1970) {4.8 miles southeast}, LONDONDERRY MALL (1972) {8.8 miles northeast} and (eventually) MILL WOODS TOWN CENTRE (1988) {8.8 miles southeast}.

As one might imagine, the opening of such a monstrous mall could have had calamitous consequences for smaller shopping centres in its vicinity. However, these small malls persevered. WEST EDMONTON MALL was, and is, patronized predominantly by tourists. Locals continued to shop at the city's less glitzy -and crowded- retail hubs.

Anchor changes at WEST EDMONTON MALL got underway when the Woodward's chain was acquired by the Hudson's Bay Company (The Bay) in 1993. Late in the year, the west anchor store was rebannered as The Bay Phase Three, with the original east anchor store becoming The Bay Phase One.
 

A lawsuit filed by the Walt Disney Company, originators of the Fantasyland moniker, resulted in the name of the indoor amusement park at WEST EDMONTON MALL being changed to Galaxyland on July 1, 1995.

Ikea's lease expired in 1995 and was not renewed. The bulk of its space was taken by Reds, an entertainment venue with bowling alley, pool hall, restaurant and music stage. 


Canadian Tire pulled out of the mall in 1999. Its space would sit vacant for 3 years. Eaton's at WEST EDMONTON MALL closed in 1999, as well. Its space was taken by Zellers, who relocated from their smaller -circa 1983- store in the year 2000.

A Phase IV expansion followed the shuttering of the mall's The Bay Phase Three store, in 1997. Construction work began on March 31, 1998. The old Woodward's / The Bay was sectioned into 2-levels of inline stores. Tenants included HMV (His Master's Voice), a Brit-based music and entertainment store, PJ's Pet Centres, Chapters Books, Eddie Bauer and the Playdium entertainment complex.

The Famous Players SilverCity West Edmonton Mall cinema was built on top of the Woodward's / The Bay building. It housed 12 stadium seating auditoriums and an IMAX 3-D theatre. The first features were shown on May 3, 1999. 


There were now 4 individual movie multiplexes in operation in the mall. The West Mall 5 venue became the first to be shuttered, in 1999. Its space was reconfigured as a relocated Jubilations Dinner Theatre

Canadian Tire's vacant space was retenanted by a T & T Supermarket, specializing in Chinese cuisine, in 2002. This was accompanied by the creation of an adjacent Chinatown mall concourse. 


The 2 remaining 1980s-vintage multiplex theatres were in operation until the early 2000s. Cinemas 6 shut down in 2004. It was divided into inline spaces, with the largest being West 49 & Skateboard Park. The West Mall 8 closed in 2008, with Urban Behavior assuming its spot.

A Phase V expansion, proposed in 2002, was to add 322,900 square feet to WEST EDMONTON MALL and include a sports & trade show facility, 12-storey office tower and 600-unit residential complex. However, this project never came to fruition.


In January 2012, an 18-month face lift renovation of the mall's Phase I, II and III sections began. Costing upwards of 100 million dollars, the project included new ceilings, flooring, column treatments, water features, soft-seating areas and bathrooms. Mall entrances were also rebuilt.

At the same time, several luxury retailers opened WEST EDMONTON MALL stores. These included Burberry, Tory Burch, Kate Spade and Williams-Sonoma. Quebec's toney La Maison Simons dedicated their store October 31, 2012.

The Hudson's Bay Company announced a department store name change in March 2013. All "The Bay" locations would be known, henceforth, as Hudson's Bay (Francophone stores would officially become La Baie D'Hudson). New corporate logos were also introduced.

The WEST EDMONTON MALL Zellers was shuttered in the summer of 2012. The building was substantially renovated and opened -as a Target- May 7, 2013. Target's expansion into Canada was unsuccessful. The W E M store was shuttered April 2, 2015. Sears, a 1981 charter tenant, closed for good in January 2018, taking with it the entire Sears Canada operation. 

Sources:

The New York Times
The Star-News (Wilmington, North Carolina)
St. Petersburg (Florida) Times
Eugene (Oregon) Register Guard 

http://thecanadianencyclopedia.com 
www.squido.com 
www.fundinguniverse.com 
www.pcl.com (PCL Construction) 
www.wem.ca (West Edmonton Mall official website)
http://triplefive.com (Triple Five Corporation)
"West Edmonton Mall" article on Wikipedia