Recognizing Champions Takes More Than Signs

I was so sick I couldn’t go to school the next day. How could Steve Smith have done that? How did Fuhr not see it in time to lift his pad? I laid home in my bed. I was 14 years old. I was devastated. I played the goal over and over in my head. It was a terrible day for me and for the city I so badly wanted to live in.

I grew up in Drayton Valley, a smallish oilfield town, with my eyes and my future aimed squarely at Edmonton. My first glimpse of love for the city was as a fan of their football team. I still remember the great CBC montages of the five Eskimo Grey Cups spanning the late 70’s and early 80’s, with Waddell Smith, the great wide receiver, running away from the defense waving behind him as Kenny Loggins’ emotionally charged song Key Largo played over the images of dominance.

It was that time when Gretzky and gang came to town and as a young wannabe athlete growing up in a family without the means for me to play organized sports, I found a lot of peace in the Oilers and the Eskimos. In fact, my first dream as a kid was to be the play by play announcer for either team. I would call games I made up in my head into my cassette recorder. When I wasn’t at school I was either playing football with my two brothers, (I was Warren Moon, one brother was Tommy Scott, and one was Jim Germany) or I was in my room alone writing out games and broadcasting them to myself. I had a gift for gab, a nice loud, deep voice, and I loved Edmonton’s sports teams, Trappers included.

I wanted to get to Edmonton as soon as possible. I had made a few trips with friends during high school. We came to West Edmonton Mall, we came to Klondike days and we came to Jasper and Whyte Ave. I loved it all. This city was for me.

I finally came to stay in 1991. I was in Edmonton for good. I was home. And for the past 26 years, I’ve built a life here.

I didn’t become a sports broadcaster but rather a Community Organizer spending many years working at the Bissell Centre mired in the early fight to end homelessness, then working for local foundations to lead revitalization efforts along 118th Avenue and the surrounding neighbourhoods. I also spent many years working across the Edmonton region and the province with my own public engagement and public policy consulting practice. I worked with 1000’s of citizens from all walks of life on all kinds of issues and projects- all aimed at building power for local people to have a say over government policy decisions that were about to affect their lives. Through all of this, I became a leader in our city and I am very proud and grateful to be one of the 13 people tasked today to guide our city as a Councillor.

I write all of this today to tell you a bit of my Edmonton story. There are so many great Edmonton stories. There are so many people who make this city great.

I also write this today because yesterday I voted- for the second time this term- not to display the City of Champions signs at the base of the Welcome to Edmonton entrance signs.

It might be considered ironic that I love Edmonton for all of the same reasons the people who support these signs love the City of Champions phrase/slogan/tagline. I love the historic and future success of our sports teams and I am proud to know and know of so many great people who have done inspiring things to make our city a better place for all of us. I too can point to great events like our response to the 1987 tornado, or the recent Fort McMurray fires, our community-wide commitment to end homelessness, the money raised by the business community for critically important institutions like the Stollery Children’s Hospital, and the CASA House as events worth recognizing. There is no doubt that this city is filled with champions- some famous, some not yet famous and some who never will be famous.

And this is the main reason I have twice voted against displaying the City of Champions signs on our entrance signs. The idea of the City of Champions to me is to celebrate our local success and particularly the people behind these successes. The signs alone do nothing to tell the stories of our great people, causes, or events- historical or contemporary. The signs by themselves are benign and unoriginal and are not connected to any strategy I’ve ever seen or heard of that actually celebrates the champions we believe the signs celebrate.

A resident of or visitor to Edmonton would never know anything more other than that we proclaim ourselves the City of Champions. They would never know the many reasons why. If the signs had been left there- that would be all there was. Just some signs. And while the effort to put them back mused about some further explanation about the why, I wasn’t convinced anything would happen beyond replacement.

So while I am a big supporter of our Make Something Edmonton image, reputation and branding strategy, I won’t say much about it here other than why don’t we make something out of the City of Champions spirit which we know is important to its supporters?

Why don’t we create an active space and strategy that, like the Salutes to Excellence Awards does, recognizes and tells the stories of the extraordinary things extraordinary citizens have done or are doing. This kind of ritualistic recognition can serve as community-wide inspiration for all of us to do more for our city. We can grow more champions.

Why not expand the scope, reach and recognition of the Salutes to Excellence Awards or create a City of Champions annual award? Or, let’s talk about activating a public space, park, or something else that people can visit and learn about the great things Edmontonians are doing in Edmonton and for Edmonton? Let’s do something that unites our citizens around the history and stories that underpin the spirit of the City of Champions.

Since the motion to bring the signs back was re-introduced I received 11 emails about the subject with about a 6-5 split for and against. And with all due respect not one of the great citizens behind the COC grassroots advocacy campaign reached out to talk to me about the issue.

This does not suggest many people are engaged let alone unified by the "signs" debate.

We can think bigger.



P.S. I do regret making a joke about Councillor Anderson's amendment yesterday during the debate. I was frustrated by an attempt to rewrite a slogan on the fly when I didn't feel we should have even been debating a slogan. No disrespect intended toward proponents of the signs. We are all entitled to raise any issue we want and Councillor's Caterina motion was in order.