Mind-bending knowledge of Edmonton’s most premier attraction

by | Mar 1, 2023 | Arts & Life

The ins and outs of West Ed, as told by “Best Edmonton Mall” creator, Matthew Dutczak.

Many Edmontonians tend to become complacent with West Edmonton Mall’s presence. With over 800 shops and various sources of entertainment, it’s difficult to go too long without making a trip there for something. For some residents, especially those living on the West End, the mall is essentially annexed into their community. Still, despite its familiarity, there are Edmontonians who love everything WEM has to offer.

These sentiments hold true for NAIT graduate Matthew Dutczak, a West End-born Edmontonian whose extensive memory and research of everything WEM has translated into a successful YouTube channel. With nearly 25,000 subscribers, Best Edmonton Mall provides viewers with news and history about the world-famous mall. One hint the Nugget was offered in an off-the-record question: Dutczak’s NAIT studies are what’s helped him create the eye-catching thumbnail graphics seen on his YouTube uploads.

The hot-button WEM topic of recent times, of course, was the sudden end to the life of the iconic Mindbender roller coaster at Galaxyland on Jan. 30, 2023. The rollercoaster existed for 37 years inside the mall’s indoor theme park and was a staple of WEM promotion—it was even included in world record books.

Photo via JZ85 on Wikipedia

So, what could possibly replace the long-standing Mindbender? Naturally, Edmonton’s best-known WEM historian has some insight.

“The mall’s been very tight lipped, so we don’t know what’s coming,” Dutczak explained. “The only hints we received from the mall was ‘out of this world experience’ and ‘family thrills.’ So that might lead you to think that it might be scaled back a bit and I would almost buy that, though I can’t imagine that removing the Mindbender is going to be cheap.”

Dutczak speculated that it would be an “expensive endeavor” to bring in a roller coaster comparable to the 145 foot tall Mindbender, which cost six million dollars to build in 1985. Given the massive footprint of the Mindbender’s space within Galaxyland, Dutczak is unsure an attraction with the same size and scope is possible.

“I think they have a lot of flexibility in that space, and then they could easily fit in some more, I guess for lack of a better term, ‘off-the-shelf’ ride options … there’s some pretty extreme rides out there that would fit the bill, so they have a lot of flexibility. I’m not sure what to expect, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for something the same size as the Mindbender to come back,” he said.

It’s worth noting that the Mindbender wasn’t the only pre-millennium ride still hanging around in Galaxyland. Other older coasters, such as the Autosled, still exist⁠—the opportunity would be right there for WEM to replace multiple rollercoasters in one go.

“They also have the Galaxy Orbiter coaster as well,” said Dutczak. “It might be easier to expand the tracks of both of those coasters [instead of building] a whole new coaster.” 

According to Dutczak, the Autosled already has a new theme. The mid-sized rollercoaster, which also opened in 1985, will be re-released as the Cootie Coaster, inspired by a Hasbro board game that features bug-like creatures called Cooties.

The Autosled will be re-released as the Cootie Coaster, said Dutczak. Photo via West Edmonton Mall

“Yeah, so the Autosled doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and I don’t think the Galaxy Orbiter will either. But that’s, you know, something to think about; they could just as easily expand one coaster, and fill that space.”

It was interesting that toy brands were mentioned. Since December 2021, WEM had a Toys-R-Us store on the first floor. That, too, closed early into 2023. Describing the short-lived Toys-R-Us location on his channel as something that “felt like a pop-up store,” Dutczak had some clues as to what could fill that void.

“I’ve heard rumors about some new private attraction going in there,” he said. “[Not quite retail], but rather you know, something similar to what we saw with Virtual Land, and we’ve seen in the past with [Reboot Racing] … I’m not sure if that’s true, so I’ll put the caveat out there, but it’s just a rumor that’s flying right now.”

A new attraction sounds refreshing, but the void where Toys-R-Us existed has a legacy to fulfill. The two-story space is remembered by a whole generation of mall-goers as the former home of HMV, which closed in 2017.  “Everyone, every time there’s a change in that space, the words HMV come out so… funny, I’m one of those people, I echo those same sentiments, though,” said Dutczak.

With Dutczak’s Best Edmonton Mall channel covering everything WEM, it wouldn’t have been appropriate to just keep it at what has left recently.

On more NAIT-related fronts, Dutczak gave the Nugget his thoughts on the recent Splash ‘N’ Bash event at World Waterpark. Splash ‘N’ Bash, along with the ongoing Soundwave concert series, both prove to be popular party events for students.

Rock ‘n’ Ride was a teen dance party hosted at Galaxyland. Photo via Matthew Dutczak, Best Edmonton Mall Guy

“These aren’t new either, I mean, back in the 90s [and] 2000s, they had Rock ‘n’ Ride at Galaxyland, where it was for young adults and teens to go and dance to music all night from, I think it was from 6 p.m. to midnight or something along those lines. And yeah, you used to have dance parties. I think there was a Canadian boy band called VIP that [had their] 15 minutes of fame in the 90s or in the 2000s, and I saw them live there. So yeah, I mean, it’s definitely a lot of fun. Those events, they’re really popular, so they keep [hosting] them.”

Another popular WEM event is the Edmonton Oilers appearances at the Ice Palace, which have returned as an annual occurrence since the Oilers’ 40th anniversary season in 2018-2019.

“Back when the Ice Palace first opened, [the mall] had a long, more involved, or I guess more integrated deal with the Edmonton Oilers,” said Dutczak. The Ice Palace was known as the “second home” of the Oilers, who had regular practices there.

“They were scheduled; I’m not sure if there was a contract or an agreement or something, but it was quite often. And now, they’re definitely more of a pop-up thing once in a while. It’s cool to see it happen again. It went for quite a few years without [happening].”

Could the Ooks skate alongside the Oilers in West Edmonton Mall’s Ice Palace someday?

“I’m sure anything’s possible,” said Dutczak.

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