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The Edmonton Journal

Capitol Ex Parade Marches to no drummer

Themeless procession has a cloke of failure about it and many spectators were just plain bored

Sunday, July 22 2007

Todd Babiak


The Shriners motorcycle team was one of the few hits at Thursday's parade. John Lucas, the Journal
Not everyone loves a parade. Crowds, seared pork and white-flour buns, cigarette smoke and exhaust, advertisements masquerading as entertainment, and the enforced jollity of men in motorhomes screaming, "Let's make some noise!" are not everyone's idea of a pleasant morning in the city. "Parades should be classed as a nuisance," wrote Will Rogers, "and participants should be subject to a term in prison."

This is excessively uncharitable. It's frightening to imagine a bunch of lovely Shriners ripped from their tiny motorbikes and garden tractors, Tasered, and thrown in the back of a white police van. Think of the children!

Most people love a parade. It is one of the last genuinely charming events in a big city with small-town roots, and even a generation of kids with short attention spans and expectations of digital monsters seem happy to wave at an unidentified stranger riding in a vintage convertible. Amazingly, parades drip with goodwill. They don't have to be stunning or even memorable. But somehow, even kids sense when an event lacks sincerity, creativity and genuine effort.

Many of the children standing on the corner of 101st Street and 102nd Avenue on Thursday morning, for the kickoff to Capital Ex, watched the stock ticker in the Toronto-Dominion Tower as much as the action on the street. Despite the glorious weather, one of the only positive comments I heard from an adult was, "At least it's better than being at work." The Boy Scout float was a hit, as were the aforementioned Shriners, and Crime Stoppers were on to something, walking around in Darth Vader, Zorro, Matrix and warrior princess costumes. Yet all in all, the parade had a cloak of failure and gloom about it, as though it had anticipated the headline of Friday's Journal -- "City needs image makeover." It wasn't artful or surprising or strange or even annoying. Edmonton's parade was a parade for the sake of a parade.

Most of the world's parades have themes or at least concepts attached to them. A guiding philosophy makes for a consistent atmosphere and flavour, for marketing purposes, but also allows for creative interpretation. Capital Ex has decided to become a themeless, catch-all city festival, and that is fine. But a little bit of everything comes very close to being nothing.

The best sitcom in the history of television was a show about nothing. A festival about nothing, with a brilliant sense of humour and the right somethings attached to it, could work wonderfully.

For example, Capital Ex could expand on the curious success of the Crime Stoppers costumes and brand the parade as an alter-ego event.

Parade participants and audience members could dress up as the real or imagined figure they would most like to be, if they could be anyone: the Lone Ranger, maybe, or Howie Meeker or Charlotte Bronte.

Employers could get involved. For the 10 days of Capital Ex, everyone in the city could dress up as their alter-egos.

Who's that making photocopies? Is it a bird, a plane, or is it ... you get the idea.

Instead of holding the parade on a Thursday morning, Edmonton could steal an idea from the Main Street Electrical Parade at Disneyland and hold the event at night.

Floats and marching bands and even the Shriners could be covered in lights.

Yes, the kids would have to stay up late, but there are worse things. The current parade, for instance.

The word "float," removed from the parade connotation, suggests water. That's because long ago, parade floats first appeared in canals, as decorated barges. Since Capital Ex literally has nothing to lose, why not marry the declining Sourdough Festival with the declining parade, and initiate the first river parade in Canada?

The floats could actually float, and families could gather at riverfront parks to watch them.

Of course, that would take a lot of work. But who ever said parades are easy? That's how we got into this mess in the first place, by not trying hard.

Nothing of consequence has ever been easy, not even the great nothingness of Seinfeld. There are a number of problems in Edmonton of a spiritual nature, the inferiority complex and the national image among them. It won't be easy to undo these problems, which are -- we must admit -- a genuine part of the civic soul.

But we might as well have some fun in the process.


Further Reading:

The Royal Order of Jesters - The Shriners Secret Society Secret Society - 'Mirth is King'

The Shriners - The 'Krafty' Klowns