Thursday, 29 March 2012

10 Possible New Names for Edmonton International Airport

What's in a name? Plenty, if you're an airport. In today's era of aeronautical interconnectedness, airports are typically people's point of entry into a city and the first glimpse and taste of a place that people get. It is hardly surprising, then, that cities around the world, in an effort to put their best foot out first, are keen to make their air terminals becoming of their idealized selves. And often this includes naming their airport after a distinguished citizen or iconic figure.

Today's Edmonton Sun featured an article on airports named after hometown legends. While it covers many of the most colourful, like Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans, John Lennon International Airport in Liverpool and Galeão-Antônio Carlos Jobim International Airport in Rio de Janeiro, it also missed some great ones such as Fryderyk Chopin International in Warsaw, Nënë (Mother) Teresa International in Tirana, Albania, W.A. Mozart Airport in Salzburg, Austria and, my personal favourite, Chinggis Khaan International Airport in the Mongolian capital Ulan Baatar.

Naming airports after famous people can be a thorny business, however. Airports are typically named after dead politicians (as well as, occasionally, still living ones), and dead politicians have a way of postumously falling out of favour or falling on the wrong side of history. Johannesburg's international airport long bore the name of Afrikaner statesman Jan Smuts, but in the post-Apartheid era he found himself replaced by the late ANC organizer Oliver Tambo.

Now-deceased dictators Chiang Kai-shek and Saddam Hussein once had major air hubs named after them, in Taipei and Baghdad respectively. Neither of these airports has yet to find a replacement. And when Montreal's Dorval International Airport adopted the name Pierre Elliott Trudeau, there was a predictable outcry from Quebec sovereigntists, although with the city's main east-west thoroughfare named after Trudeau's arch-nemesis René Lévesque, separatists and federalists in the city can rightfully claim to being even.

But what about Edmonton? Unlike eastern Canada, which has Trudeau, Pearson (Toronto), Lesage (Quebec City) and Stanfield (Halifax) Airports, the western provinces have yet to jump on the airport-naming bandwagon, with only Saskatoon (John Diefenbaker) and Winnipeg (named after aviation pioneer James Armstrong Richardson) opting to do so. But Edmonton has a beguiling lineup of distinguished civic luminaries whose names could lend themselves very nicely to our newly renovated and expanded international terminus. Here, for what it's worth, are my top ten suggestions:

1. Nellie McClung International Airport

My personal top choice. Canada's most famous female suffragist and first-wave feminist was born in Ontario and raised in Manitoba, but she spent her busiest years in Edmonton. The name also has a very nice ring to it, in my opinion.

2. Marshall McLuhan International Airport

As a communications professional, this one would make me pretty happy as well. The late Edmonton-born literary critic and communication theorist who coined the now-famous phrases "global village" and "the medium is the message" might be a fitting choice given the role of air travel in the creation of said village.

3. Harold Cardinal International Airport

While not as widely known as the above two, Cree lawyer, writer and Aboriginal rights activist Harold Cardinal is deserving of much wider recognition given his central role in the Aboriginal renaissance in western Canada in the 1960s and 1970s. Naming an airport after him would certainly do the trick.

4. Emily Murphy International Airport

While not as well known as Nellie McClung, women's rights activist, member of the 'The Famous Five' and Canada's first female magistrate is certainly just as worthy. She was also a lifelong Edmontonian. However, her espousal of eugenics now makes her a controversial figure.

5. Big Bear International Airport

Another Aboriginal candidate, the legendary Plains Cree leader's name was actually Mistahi-muskwa, which, while it has the requisite coolness, probably wouldn't have enough international currency to be considered for this role. Still, Big Bear, whose band wintered on the North Saskatchewan, hearkens to pre-colonial times, which makes him an appealing candidate.

6. Albert Lacombe International Airport

The Catholic clergy of yesteryear has a certain PR problem in western Canada thanks to the Indian Residential School System. Nevertheless, Father Lacombe, who was deeply respected by both the Cree and Blackfoot, whose peace treaty he helped broker, remains a highly regarded figure.

7. Wilfrid "Wop" May International Airport

A First World War flying ace and a pioneering bush pilot in the Canadian west, Wop May is a beloved figure among Canadian aviation buffs. And aviation buffs seem to have outsized sway when it comes to naming airports. Probably because they care.

8. Max Ward International Airport

Another one for the flying enthusiast crowd, Max Ward is another aviation pioneer who started out as a bush pilot and ended up founding the once-popular charter airline Wardair. However, last time I checked Max Ward was still alive, which probably rules him out.

9. Robert Goulet International Airport

The late Broadway icon and star of Camelot and The Man from La Mancha spent his formative years here in Edmonton and graduated from Victoria Composite High School. He also played alongside fellow Edmontonian Leslie Nielsen in The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear, which ups his YEG-cred.

10. Leslie Nielsen International Airport

Last but certainly not least, the ironic choice. Not only was he raised in Edmonton (and also a Vic Comp graduate), Nielsen is also uniquely well suited to this 'role' for having starred in the legendary air disaster comedy Airplane! (as well as the sequel). EIA could even add the tagline "We are serious - and don't call us Shirley" to its marketing material. Just a thought.

Any other suggestions? Which ones would you go for? Over to you, reader.

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