This morning I was on CBC Edmonton AM to discuss their morning talking point - the decision to move the Gretzky Statue from it's current location outside Rexall Place to a new downtown arena. When I first heard the news I honestly didn't care either way, it seemed like a non story to me. Had the decision be up to me I would have just left the statue where it is because that's where Gretzky played, but like everything else with the new arena I just assumed that the opposite would actually occur, I certainly wasn't going to lose any sleep over it. But then I started to think about what the statue represents and now I'm not so sure that just relocating it to Rogers Place is the right thing to do.
The crux of the argument for moving the statue is that Wayne Gretzky played for the Oilers and since the Oilers will call Rogers Place their new home starting in 2016, that is where the statue should be located. If the banners are being moved why wouldn't the statue be treated the same? A fair point and I guess it depends entirely on how you view the statue. The banners celebrate the successes of the franchise, if the franchise moves it makes sense to commemorate those successes in the team's new home, I don't see the statue in the same light though.
For my money, Gretzky is the greatest hockey player of all time. His career numbers, and especially those from his time in Edmonton, are hard for me to fathom, and I suspect always will be. All told he spent ten seasons in Edmonton playing for the Oilers and was obviously a key piece in the most successful era of Oilers hockey that fans in this city will ever experience. And as such he is a very important part of Edmonton's hockey history, and that, to me at least, is what the statue represents. Not so much his connection to the Oilers, but his connection to the city and hockey history in Edmonton. That history happened on the north side of 118 Avenue not 104 Avenue, it should be remembered where it happened.
Admittedly I have a soft spot for Rexall Place, and for good reason. For 42 years Northlands Coliseum/Edmonton Coliseum/Skyreach Centre/Rexall Place will have served as the home of the Oilers. For a lot of hockey fans in Edmonton the very best games we've been in attendance for were played in Rexall Place. I'm sure that Rogers Place will be a wonderful venue but but no matter how shiny it is, it won't change the fact that a huge chunk of Oilers history took place in an entirely different location. Why not celebrate that history? Rexall Place will still be standing when Rogers Place opens, the statue doesn't need to move. And someday down the road when Rexall is brought down maybe the redevelopment of the site can incorporate a community scale rink, and still the statue can stay put to remind people of what used to be there.
As I said before I'd leave the statue exactly where it is, but it's been decided that the statue will be moving so how do we put a positive spin on this? Actually that's easy, make it part of something bigger.
The Oilers draw a lot of attention in Edmonton but they are not the entirety of hockey in this city, something that too often gets overlooked. Hockey wasn't something that was simply dropped on the City of Edmonton in the fall of 1979 when the Oilers joined the NHL, so why not relocate the statue of Gretzky to the walkway over 104 Avenue and make that entry into arena essentially a walk through Edmonton's hockey history. Just off the top of my head you could add statues of Clare Drake and Bill Hunter. There could be something erected to commemorate the Edmonton Mercurys too. And I know I'm missing other options.
We're supposedly selling Edmonton to the world with the new arena, I say we give them the complete picture. So by all means move the Gretzky statue, just don't stop there.