Bringing back the name (sort of) won’t bring back the Klondike Days feel.

So, K-Days is back!  That should settle all the problems that have beset the ex-Capital Ex.

Well, not quite.

The public has spoken, and K-Days is back as the name for the Edmonton exhibition. Personally, I think it is one of the least inspired name changes ever, since the K doesn’t represent anything in particular. It’s not Klondike, it’s just a K. This should make for an interesting marketing challenge for Edmonton boosters.

I think it’s a stupid name, to be honest. But there are apparently enough old people with access to computers that K-Days was the runaway winner.

But the name really isn’t relevant. Whether it’s Capital Ex or the Edmonton Summer Exhibition for K-Days or the Watch Your Wallet Festival, it makes no difference.

Capital Ex or K-Days, it’s still an event without a reason for being. Back in the day that Edmonton oldsters remember with nostalgic haze, Klondike Days was the Big Show. And it wasn’t just the Big Show, it was the Only Show. The parade, the promenade (downtown streets closed off for a very modest party), the bathtub races downtown, marching bands, the Sourdough raft race, and the ‘ex’ itself. It was a party, and it was unsophisticated family fun.

Once K-Days was over, that was it. There was no Heritage Festival, no Folk Fest, no Fringe, no Jazz Fest, no Taste of Edmonton, nothing. There was no space and science centre, no West Edmonton Mall. No video games, no computers. K-Days thrived not just because it was the only game in town, but that was a big part of it.

The exhibition, which used to have a city-wide presence, is now just the events at Northlands, and it is really nothing more than a huge moneymaker. And that’s fine; it is what it is. I have zero interest in going to the ex under any name, but then I’m hardly its intended audience. (When I was a kid, I loved rides. Now that I get vertigo if I go up a stepladder, rides have no appeal to me.) Northlands should be pleased at whatever their attendance figures were. With so much else to do in a very active summer city, and with the weather being wildly erratic during the fair, they should be happy.

Call it K-Days or whatever, but it’s never going to be what it was. Times change, the ex doesn’t.


Northlands is right to fight.

If Edmonton Northlands had a Facebook page, I’d be tempted to click on that ‘like’ button.

I haven’t always been a fan of the not-for-profit ‘agricultural society’.  It has always been an old boys’ club, and far too cozy with the PC elite. Over the years, Northlands has received hundreds of millions of dollars of government largess, which could have been more wisely spent elsewhere. Say, to me.

But in the current fight over the new arena, Northlands is coming off as the scrappy underdog, putting up the good fight against a murderers row of an empire-building city council with stars in its eyes, a reclusive billionaire, and the Edmonton Journal.

I’m not going to delve into the whole ‘do we need a new arena?’ question again. That’s been done to death, and besides, it’s a done deal. Despite the fact the finances are extremely shaky (something about $100 million that the city hopes will appear, magically, like a Christmas present under a tree), and the cost is sure to exceed the $450 million price tag, it’s going to happen. Mayor Mandel wants it, council mostly wants it, the city’s movers and shakers want it, and the media wants it. It will get done, regardless of how it gets paid for.

Northlands, which has done a very successful job of running the supposedly decrepit and unglamorous arena (that was, when it was first built, our dazzling, state of the art hockey palace) has understandably got its back up over the new arena. Northlands has been shut out of all conversations regarding the new arena. Richard Anderson, the American hired gun with loads of arena-running experience, stood his ground in front of council last week, refusing to disclose Northlands’ financial statements. This caused the easily horrified Coun. Jane Batty to say she was “horrified” to hear Anderson’s refusal.

Frankly, I think Anderson is on pretty shaky ground in giving council the figurative finger. He is right to say Northlands is “not a city arm or a part of the city”, but he acknowledged that they are partners, and partners have the right to see the books. But until the Katz Group comes through with financial information that they have been keeping secret, then Northlands has every right to keep its information secret, too.

Also, I question why council wanted to look at the Northlands books. Mandel professed to be concerned about its future viability of Northlands without the Oilers. It’s true that the city has a lot of money tied up in Northlands, and if Northlands goes under, the city with be stuck with the tab for things like the $56 million it loaned Northlands for the Expo Centre. But since nobody on council knows the first thing about how to run something as large and complex as Northlands, they would bring absolutely nothing to the table. Council is no friend of Northlands these days, and they are so cozy with Katz now that if I were Northlands, I wouldn’t want my financial information going to a potential rival, either.

Anderson is pretty ballsy, I must say. He is quite happy to go up against the new, Katz-run arena and compete for attractions.

“If it ever happened,” said Anderson of a head-to-head battle between Rexall Place and Rexall Place II, “I like our chances.”

There has been talk that the Katz Group wants Northlands to sign a non-compete deal. Again, if I were Anderson, I’d tell Katz and the Kouncil Kronies to take their non-compete clause and shove it.  (When Katz opens a new Rexall drug store, does he force the other drug stores in town to sign non-compete contracts? I don’t think so.) Even though I don’t see any room in Edmonton for two, 18,000-plus seat buildings, I could see one downtown, and a pared down, 8,000-seat Northlands as a more intimate venue.

Rexall Place is a vital piece of Northlands’ economic pie. They have every right to fight for it, tooth and nail. And if Darrel Katz doesn’t like having Northlands around, then maybe he should put up the whole $450 million for the new arena and go toe-to-toe with Northlands. As Anderson puts it, I like their chances.

A (cheap) day at the races.

This past weekend, I did something I haven’t done in a long time.

No, it wasn’t changing my socks and/or underwear. Although, in my current state of employment (which would be ‘un’), the daily ritual of clean socks/briefs seems less and less important. No, I went to the horse races at Northlands.

I went because I couldn’t resist the lure of $10 in free wagering. As part of their continuing efforts to lure gamblers away from the slots and poker tables and back to the track, Northlands distributed a brochure that included a $10 coupon for betting. So, I rustled up enough coupons to take my sons to the track for a free afternoon of — ahem — ‘horsing around’.  (Sorry about that.)

Horse racing is having a tough go of it lately. In the olden days (and by that, I mean the 1960s and 1970s), horse racing was fabulously popular in Edmonton. As I recall, Edmonton was one of the top horse racing locations in North America. That’s because for many years, gambling was considered a vice, and illegal in all forms. Until the government discovered how much money they could make from lotteries, the only lottery tickets you could buy in Alberta were for something called the Irish Sweepstakes. (Despite its name, I believe you won money, and not Irishmen.) Horseracing was the exception. If you had gambling fever, the only (legal) cure was the ponies. Race results were a big enough deal that I remember radio stations announcing race results, although who that appealed to, I do not know.

Once a year, during Klondike Days, Northlands was allowed to run a casino, which my mom would attend almost without fail, leaving in the AM and coming home in the late PM, sometimes with more money than she left with, more often than not with less. Over time, gambling restrictions loosened when governments realized that the moral questions regarding gambling were getting in the way of easy profits. Thanks to the glut of slots, so easy to play that a reasonably skilled monkey could literally win as much as a human being, the ‘sport of kings’ was dethroned.

The gaming glut almost killed horse racing, and if it were not for a generous infusion of gaming cash from the horse-friendly provincial government, it might not even exist today. Horse racing is in a fight for its life, quite a change from its golden era when it was the only game in town.

Northlands has done a really nice job of making the horse racing experience a pleasant one. Parking is free (a shocker for those accustomed to paying for parking at Oiler games), and there is no admission charge. The facility is modern and clean, not the least bit skuzzy, with non-threatening clientele who seem to be enjoying themselves, with a nice restaurant and plenty of food and drink options (if you want to spend $5 on a burger, which I most definitely do not).  Basically, betting on a horse is easy. Pick a favourite, decide if you think it will finish first (win), second (place) or third (show), put down as little as a toonie, and you’re set for a minute and a bit of excitement.

But … horse racing can become insanely complex, if you want it to be. Buy a program, and you will find every conceivable fact about every horse — the trainer and meet stats with in-the-money percentage; the horse’s color, gender, age and bloodlines; state or country where it was bred; its current and previous race records; frequency and texture of bowel movements; etc. All the information is contained in a bewildering chart of numbers and words and symbols that require a degree in Egyptology is decipher. The good thing is, though, that you really don’t need to know any of this information. You can go the scientific route and study the chart, or bet on the horse with the prettiest color, or a name that speaks to you. I would have been a fool not to bet on a horse named, say, Maurice’s Winner, or Seriously, Tougas, You’ve Gotta Bet on Me. By the same token, a horse named Glue Factory, or Hasn’t Won Yet, may not be the best idea.

Overall, it was a pleasant way to spend a Saturday afternoon. We actually won one bet we made, profiting to the tune of $8.75. Our other choices were so bad, I think some of them are still on the track. But it was fun, and quite benign compared to other forms of gambling. I’ll go back, particularly if the fine folks at Northlands feel inclined towards handing out $10 gambling vouchers again.