The present-day logo of Alberta's number one tourist destination.
Graphic from
http://www.wem.ca/# (Official West Edmonton Mall website)



During 2011 and 2012, the three original sections of the retail hub were given a 100 million dollar facelift. Amenities such as a "stunning choreographed musical dancing fountain" and soft-seating areas were installed.
Drawings from http://www.wem.ca/# (Official West Edmonton Mall website)



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


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

Gigantic is one of the expletives that can be applied to today's 6,135,400 square foot (3,800,000 leasable square foot), eight hundred store, complex. However, as unbelievable as it may seem, WEST EDMONTON MALL had more humble beginnings.

Serious planning was underway by 1979 for a 1,140,500 square foot shopopolis...which would open as Canada's largest fully-enclosed retail centre. A 121 acre site, located 5.2 miles southwest of Edmonton's Central Business District, was chosen 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 two of the brothers migrated in 1967. The remaining relatives relocated there and worked in the family's new real estate endeavor. A sale of land 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 rather standard shopping mall which had been designed by Maurice Sunderland Architecture, Incorporated and Abugov and Associates.

The official dedication was held September 15, 1981. The two hundred million dollar, double-decked mall 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 two hundred and twenty stores and services were Tip Top Tailors, Reitmans, Fairweather, the West Mall 6 Cinemas, a Safeway supermarket and 20-bay Gourmet Court culinary complex. Mallways featured exotic bird aviaries, a Siberian Tiger cage and various aquariums and fountains.

A Phase II expansion got underway September 29, 1982. During this project, the format of the mall began to evolve away from the typical suburban shopping hub into that of a combination retail and entertainment venue...conceived on the grandest scale imaginable.

The two hundred and fifty million dollar addition, comprising 1,129,800 square feet, would include the Ice Palace (a scaled down NHL regulation-sized ice rink), West Mall 5 multiplex, 2-level (84,000 square foot) Zellers discount department store and 55,000 square foot, indoor amusement park known as Fantasyland.

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 four hundred and sixty stores and services and enveloped a whopping 2,270,300 leasable square feet.

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 at this point, the Ghermezians conceived a Phase III expansion, with construction commencing July 1, 1984. This was to add a total of 4,930,600 square feet to the existing Phase I and Phase II structure, with three hundred and sixty-seven stores, services and entertainment venues joining the 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 four, 28-seat, computer-controlled submarines, a simulated barrier reef, dolphin shows and a replica of Christopher Columbus' Santa Maria ship.

*Europa Boulevard. A Parisienne-style concourse complete with Gucci and Cartier stores.

*Bourbon Street. Which emulated that famous boulevard in New Orleans. This area featured thirteen nightclubs and other Cajun-style eateries, stores and attractions.

*Famous Players West Mall 5 Cinemas. The mall's third multiplex movie house.

*Fantasyland Hotel. A three hundred and fifty room accommodation, 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 outlet of the Swedish-based chain, which carried home furnishings and other Euro-made products.

*Canadian Tire. Another 1-level store which sold automotive, sports, hardware, camping and lawn and garden needs.

*Gourmet Court. The mall's second culinary complex, which encompassed 25 bays.

Moreover, the existing Fantasyland indoor theme park was enlarged into a 400,000 square foot facility, complete with the new Minbender roller coaster (which was, and still is, the world's longest indoor, triple loop 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. As an adjunct, the Safeway supermarket, a charter tenant, closed in October 1986.

The 1.2 billion dollar WEST EDMONTON MALL now encompassed an astounding 6,060,400 square feet and eight hundred and twenty-seven stores, services, restaurants and attractions. DEL AMO FASHION CENTER was now demoted to second place standing. An how!

Other commercial centres in the vicinity of WEST EDMONTON MALL where all within the corporate limits of The City 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 could imagine, the advent of such a monstrous mall may have had calamitous consequences for other much smaller shopping centres in Edmonton's environs. Actually, these centres persevered, as 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 Woodward's nameplate, on the west anchor store, was replaced by one for the mall's second The Bay location, which operated, in conjunction with the original store at the east end of the complex, until 1997.

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

Ikea's lease also expired in 1995 and was not renewed. 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 was to 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 of the mall followed the shuttering of the second The Bay operation, with work commencing March 31, 1998. The old Woodward's / The Bay was sectioned into 2-levels of inline store space. 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 75,000 square foot Silver City West Edmonton Mall Cinema was built on top of the Woodward's / The Bay building. It housed twelve stadium seating auditoriums, an IMAX 3-D theatre, and opened for business May 3, 1999. This resulted in the closing of one of the three other cinematic venues at the mall, the West Mall 5, which soon re-opened as a relocated 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 two original multiplex theatres in the mall, Cinema 6 and the West Mall 8, closed in 2004 and 2008, respectively. Space previously taken by the latter became the West 49 Skatepark.

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


In January 2012, an eighteen month facelift 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 locations. 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.

As a result of the American Target chain's acquisition of Zellers stores in January 2011, 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. However, Target's foray north of the US border proved unsuccessful. The WEM store was shuttered April 2, 2015.

Sources:

"West Edmonton Mall" article on Wikipedia
The Star News
St. Petersburg Times
Eugene Register Guard
http://thecanadianencyclopedia.com www.squido.com www.fundinguniverse.com www.pcl.com (PCL Construction) 
 www.wem.ca (West Edmonton Mall official website)
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