Matthew Dutczak’s fascination with the West Edmonton Mall began at an early age.
He still has very fond memories of his visits as a child to the massive shopping centre.
That fascination sparked the establishment of the Best Edmonton Mall, a website and YouTube video project highlighting and celebrating the gigantic shopping centre.
His mini documentary From Fantasy to Galaxy recently won the Best Web Series Award from the Edmonton Short Film Festival.
Dutczak, 37, who has spent his life between Edmonton and Calgary, began the Best Edmonton Mall initiative about five years ago.
“I didn’t really seek out to make it a thing or to make it into a full-fledged project,” he said. “There were just a couple of things I wanted to talk about and thought it would be interesting to put out there. It just grew from there. I never thought it would become as big of a thing as it is and I’ve become the Best Edmonton Mall Guy and I have a community of followers in Edmonton, Alberta, and Western Canada, who are really enthusiastic about it.
“I didn’t think there would be this many people out there who cared but I guess there are.”
A few years ago, Dutczak saw some videos on YouTube talking about Disneyland and some old attractions. He thought it was a really neat way to talk about the destination and preserve some of the history.
“I made a video about the submarines (at West Edmonton Mall) and then about the Dragon and it just took off. It’s mainly YouTube based. I do have a website and social media account but 95 per cent of the energy goes to the YouTube videos.”
And that has created quite an audience.
His subscriber count on YouTube is almost 19,000.
The video that has the most views is actually one of another mall in the province – the New Horizon Mall in Balzac, just outside of Calgary. It has more than 700,000 views. That mall is unique in that the concept is one where retailers buy space in the mall like buying condo units. When it first opened, it was a ghost town.
“That one took off and became pretty viral.”
For his West Edmonton Mall videos, he’s got about 300,000 views on his submarine video and several other ones that have more than 100,000 and 200,000 views.
“In the grand scheme of things, they’re not the biggest videos in the world but for a niche mall-based channel, that’s pretty big,” he said.
Dutczak said his connection to West Edmonton Mall is definitely a personal one.
“It’s my life. I grew up in Edmonton and in Alberta and some of my earliest memories are going to the mall with my family. Going to the mall with my dad who took me to the Lazer Maze. It’s one of my earliest memories overall. I remember my dad saying the words ‘they’ve got this thing called the Lazer Maze and we have to go check it out’,” he said.
“I would go there all the time growing up. As a child, I’d go there with my dad, my brother, my mom. We’d go there as a family and go to the waterpark and the amusement park and as I grew older I became kind of a teenage mall rat and I spent so much time there as a teenager going to the arcades, a lot of times seeing movies.
“As I grew older I reflected on it nostalgically and now I take my kids there. We go there as a family all the time. It’s kind of just that place that’s always been there and the memories have always been really good.”
His YouTube video From Fantasy to Galaxy is a four-part series. It was something he had wanted to do for a while – document how Fantasyland came to be when it first opened in 1983 and how it maintained its popularity for so many years.
“When it first opened (West Edmonton Mall) it was a spectacle. It was one of a kind. You’d never seen anything like it before and now some people avoid going there because it’s too busy,” said Dutczak.
“But it’s also there for the people who haven’t seen it before. Every once in a while you see tourists coming in, you see people who are friends of family coming in, and you hear ‘what the hell is this, my God’. They exclaim loud and to them the wow factor is certainly still there. It’s funny to see from an Edmontonian view because it’s like really I see this every week. But the novelty is still there. We’re just so used to it.
“You walk in and there’s store after store. And you’ve got these huge advertising lit signs. You’ve got this water park, indoor lake, oversized pirate ship, themed golf course. There’s just so much. It does have that Las Vegas feel to it.”
Dutczak said he didn’t think this Best Edmonton Mall project would have gone as long as it has.
“It seems like every quarter in the last three years I’ve thought well I’m running out of material. I better stop soon. I better move on. But I just find something else to talk about. I have no plans to stop as long as I keep having stuff to talk about. I do worry what those topics will be but it seems to be going alright so far.”