On the evening of November 22, 2012, the Myer Horowitz theatre on the University of Alberta Campus in Edmonton was filled to the rafters with people who payed money to see the taping of a radio show. For the first time in its decade of broadcasting, the show with the mysterious name “Q” was visiting Edmonton after multiple visits to every other major city in Canada. For those of you who live outside of Canada and the many parts of the United States which receive Q, Q is two hour morning radio show which is broadcast on CBC Radio One every weekday. Oddly, it is also a TV show once a week. And a YouTube channel.
The host of Q is one Jian Ghomeshi, a UK born Iranian-Canadian former drummer in a rock band, former TV host, best-selling author — in other words, a fairly representative Canadian, if there ever were such a thing.
Q, like its host, is a fairly unclassifiable thing: in-depth interviews with writers, musicians, film makers, actors, politicians and panel discussions about politics, national and international and live music — Q is a cultural omnibus and, in fact, a national treasure. The show generally is produced in Toronto, but regularly has journeyed around the country to various cities for live-to-tape episodes. But in the six years or so of the shows run, as I mentioned, Q had never come to Edmonton.
On the morning of November 23, Q from Edmonton was broadcast and I sat listening carefully and happilly. Jian had as his guests (or perhaps was the guest of) singer/songwriter Colleen Brown, band Shout Out Out Out Out, sketch comedy troop The Irrelevant Show, Novelist Todd Babiak, filmmaker Trevor Anderson and an all-Edmonton media panel. It was, of course, exciting to hear these locals on National/International radio, but I couldn’t help feeling some of the same chippiness the guests seemed to be feeling as Jian kept trying to probe into Edmonton’s “identity”, which really seemed to be about finding an Edmonton “Brand”.
There was talk of Calgary vs. Edmonton. I can’t help think of the tired old Canadian Identity question and the stupid insulting facile answer “not American”. Sure, there’s a rivalry with Calgary on various issues from sports, which was touched on, to politics, which was touched on more lightly, but I don’t have any sort of impression that Edmontonians define themselves as “not Calgarians”. Todd Babiak’s term “Magpie City” was mentioned, as was the well known “Dirt City” nickname, but those names by no means indicate that we are a city of dirt or dirty birds. Variations on “Do it” came up a few times, and I think that suggestion may reflect a little of Edmonton.
But for me, Edmonton was all summed up in the winning entry of the “Win a Trip to Edmonton” contest, and the audience’s response to that entry. Listeners from outside Edmonton were invited to submit a six word reason they should win a trip to Magpie City. Many submissions praised Edmonton either highly or faintly, but the winner was an entry from Sudbury, Ontario: “Poor student. Sad Life. Need Adventure.”
The audience responded to this submission with huge, roaring, friendly and unanimous applause, in effect repeating inarticulately and earsplittingly warmly the words on the old plaque on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor . . .” But we’re not an American-style melting pot — we’re a fermentation vessel. As Babiak mentioned, Edmontonians (when they’re not politicians) kind of sneer at phrases like “world class”. We are more interested in getting together, working, playing, building, creating, writing, singing, painting, sculpting, acting, talking, helping — living, than we are in self-promotion. Edmontonians are the people who are born here, who come here, who stay here, who leave here and who come back. We’re uncomfortable telling people we’re the best because we’re absolutely certain that Edmonton isn’t perfect. But we are equally dedicated to the crazy thought that we can and will help each other to make it better.
Sort of like Canadians.
Many years ago I coined a phrase in a very different context, but I think it applies here: When you own the street, you don’t have to piss on the fire hydrants. We own a pretty damn fine street full of fascinating and varied people. We know what we have, what we want and we’re going to make it. We’re not wasting our time bragging about it being world class. That’d just be pissing on fire hydrants.
Decades ago I came here from Sudbury (by way of Windsor) and I have never imagined leaving to live anywhere else. To the winner from Sudbury, who’s name I won’t try to transcribe from what I heard on the radio, Enjoy your adventure in Edmonton. I bet you’ll be back.
And, Jian, great show. Thanks for coming.
I bet you’ll be back.