Alberta: We’re Big in Japan! | By Antony Ta

Imagine this scene: terror grips you as take the wrong right turn and you’re greeted by the world’s largest dinosaur. Yes, it is the world’s LARGEST dinosaur. Terrible T-Rex stares down with murderous intent as you pull into the angle parking. You’re safe for now; you remember that dinosaurs have been extinct for over 65 million years. It now becomes clear that you turned too early and you are NOT at the Travelodge in Drumheller. You’re not the first to experience this Cretaceous terror, and you won’t be the last.

The obvious solution (to what issue, you may ask?): Edmonton needs to construct a giant robot. But not just any giant robot – specifically, a giant Gundam robot.

It is a well-documented Western Canadian custom, a big-time Alberta cultural quirk, to build large replicas. Saskatchewan and Manitoba also have quite a few of their own, Ontario tries to get in on the fun, but no other province has as many as Alberta. Often, they are the world’s largest. What started as a Ukrainian Canadian propensity to create large cultural artifacts as roadside attractions soon became an undeniably Albertan tradition. The Ukrainian Canadian band The Kubasonics once wrote a song about the phenomenon, called Giants of the Prairies. Needless to say, it wouldn’t be possible to let Ukrainian Canadians have all the fun.

Ukrainian Canadians certainly kicked off this tradition, with notable contributions including a giant Pysanka (Easter Egg) in Vegreville, giant Kielbasa (sausage) in Mundare, and giant Varennyk (pyrogy) in Glendon, and these soon paved the way for other mega replications. Some are grassroots Albertan with references to local culture, such as the large mushrooms of Vilna, the humongous T-Rex of Drumheller, or the big beaver of Beaverlodge. Others have their origins in pop culture, including the Space Centre and Starship of Vulcan, and the UFO landing pad of St. Paul. Some are downright perplexing without context, such as the Cowboy Boot and Baseball Bat of Edmonton and Bull Rider of Brownvale.

Icelandic Canadians have also made their contribution, with a giant Cream Can in Markerville. British Canadians need not worry, as this corner of the Commonwealth is represented well by the giant Crown of Coronation. Aboriginal Canadians, representing their varied ancestry, have a giant Teepee in Calgary. The Francophones seem to have declined to participate.

Canada, being a multicultural nation, draws upon many traditions to weave the fabric of “Canadianess.” As illustrated by many cultural groups in Canada, it appears that when in doubt, you have to erect a large replica. It’s utterly Canadian.

Recently, visitors from Japan, having had their lives enriched by their visit to Edmonton, Alberta, brought those memories home in vivid fashion. But posting on Instagram or capturing on Fujifilm Instax doesn’t do our prairie city justice. Some decided to go the extra mile.  As part of a time-honoured Japanese show of admiration, they have decided to wreck our city in a television series. As weird as this many seem, think back to all the other world-class cities that have been destroyed in pop culture. Godzilla has wrecked havoc upon New York and Tokyo countless times. Transformers have been known to terrorize the innocents of Chicago. Now, in Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, Sunrise Studios saw fit to destroy Edmonton. King Kong, we’re ready for you!

Now, there could be other ways to honour our new connection to our Pacific compadres.  Erecting giant chopsticks would actually be a great start, as the Asian Canadian community, including Chinese Canadians, Korean Canadians, among others, could definitely opt to hop on that bandwagon. However, given the failed experiment of large survey markers of Lloydminster, it’s probably best to move on from that idea.

A humongous bowl of noodle soup might work, but the raging debate about what kind of noodles should be chosen would become a monster unto itself, given the many different kinds of noodle soup. How does one choose between udon, pho, or ramen? If we build a giant bowl of ramen, Vietnamese Canadians might feel cheated that a giant bowl of pho was not batched. If we build a giant bowl of pork bone soup…you get the idea. It’s clear that noodles are not the direction to go.

And what about other groups that require representation?  We could probably easily drum up public support to build a giant replica of a half-ton pickup, but the debate between Ford, Dodge, Chevy, or GM, would rage on tirelessly. A similar debate would ensue for which retired sports figures of the Glory Years to commemorate.  We already have Gretzky immortalized in his Stanley Cup embrace, giving carbonite Han Solo a run for his money.

No, that simply won’t do. The obvious solution is that Edmonton needs to erect a giant Gundam robot statue.

It would be an honour to have people know that Japanese studio executives, upon visiting Jasper Avenue, were impressed enough to dedicate time and effort to destroying our clean and tidy streets in animated high definition.  That’s just the start. This would be one way to cement our status as “destruction worthy” for current and future generations, paving the way for future newcomers to Edmonton to build their own giant replicas in true Alberta fashion. Maybe we can do something truly heroic and put the robot opposite the Talus Dome (read: giant metal balls) on the Whitemud to keep their shiny chrome sheen from blinding drivers on the highway. Or maybe, instead of wielding a laser gun, perhaps the Gundam would carry a giant donair or bowl of butter chicken instead, which would be quite the way to spice up Heritage Days or Taste of Edmonton.

To summarize, replicas are big in Alberta. Apparently, Alberta is “Big in Japan.” Let’s build that Gundam.

Banner illustration courtesy of Wanderer Online Visual Editor Antony Ta.

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