As much as we Edmontonians like to try and find our fortunes here at home, sometimes we are unavoidably called away to various corners of the world. But we always find our way back around the festive season, as evidenced by these prominent former city residents. And when we do return, there are always traditions to uphold and favourite places to visit.
Soccer player (Hong Kong)
Matt Lam spends most of the year on a soccer pitch in Hong Kong, where he’s a midfielder for Kitchee SC, the defending Hong Kong Premier League champions. He has also played with Kitchee in a friendly against Manchester United. But he still maintains an Edmonton residence.
“I do get home at least once in the year,” Lam wrote via email from Hong Kong. “During our off-season in June and the beginning of July, I spend the majority of my time back in Edmonton. Occasionally, if we get lucky with the scheduling, I may be able to squeeze in a few days at Christmas, but that is always a toss-up.
“I definitely miss my family and friends most of all. What I miss most about the city is where I live and all it has to offer around there. My fiance and I live on 104th Street and Jasper [Avenue]. Having the farmers’ market just outside your door on Saturdays, walking to the number of new restaurants and lounges, the numerous events going on at Churchill Square and being a short walk away from the river valley are all things I really miss about home. To be honest, I miss the winter as well, but maybe not all six months of it.
“I like to keep in contact with everyone back home as much as possible. With technology and social media, it’s fairly easy. I enjoy getting updates from friends and family on what is going in Edmonton. I also try to stay connected as much as possible through Avenue, the Edmonton Journal and the Downtown Edmonton Community League.” –Steven Sandor
“Until about two years ago, I had no family left in Edmonton since the late ’80s, so I hadn’t been back except for a movie, Ordeal in the Arctic , and my dance company’s [Marr-Mac Dance and Theatre Arts] reunion. My brother, Alan Nursall, lives there now and is the president and CEO of the Telus World of Science. I’m hoping to use him as an excuse to get up there more often.” –S.S.
Hockey player (Toronto)
Dion Phaneuf may have played his junior hockey in Red Deer, started his National Hockey League career in Calgary and become the captain of one of hockey’s most storied franchises, the Toronto Maple Leafs, but, for him, Edmonton will always be home.
No matter where his career has taken him, Phaneuf says he always makes time to come back to Edmonton to see family and friends – during the summer, in the fall before training camp starts and, of course, during the Christmas season.
“We spend Christmas Eve at my uncle’s house with all of our family – my cousins, aunt and uncle and parents,” he wrote in an email. “On Christmas Day, the tradition has been to host dinner at our house. I enjoy it – I get to go back, even if it’s for two days. It’s something that I’ve done and always will do.”
Of course, Phaneuf also gets to come back a couple of times a year on business, when his Leafs play the Oilers.
“NHL games in Edmonton are always special to me – I circle them on the calendar. As a player, you get to go home and play in a building you grew up in, watching the team you idolized as a kid. With all your family and friends in the building, it’s pretty special,” he said.
Phaneuf also mentioned that he’s a member at Blackhawk Golf Course, and he always tries to get a round in when he’s in town with his brother or his friends. –Glenn Cook
Though he was raised in the tiny town of Boyle, Alta., about 160 kilometres north of the city, Bryan Mudryk pretty much considers Edmonton home now. He went to school at NAIT; his career in sportscasting really got going at CTV Edmonton; and his father, brother and two young nephews live in the greater metropolitan area.
But when he travels back from Toronto to Edmonton for the Christmas holidays, the TSN anchor can’t resist a special trip back to Boyle for a little family tradition.
“I was lucky enough to grow up on a lake called Skeleton Lake,” said Mudryk, perhaps best known for his work covering curling on TSN. “[My nephews] are big hockey players, and my 83-year-old grandpa still makes the ice on the lake and we play hockey out there.”
In Edmonton proper, though, Mudryk has a long list of restaurants that he likes to visit, at the top of which is The Red Piano in West Edmonton Mall. He’s good friends with the owner and general manager there.
“It’s a lot of fun. A fellow Edmontonian and NAIT grad, Natasha Staniszewski [featured on the cover of the December 2013 edition of Avenue], came out with me there for the first time this year,” he said. “We’re good buddies. We go way back.”
The Red Piano also hosts a kickoff party every year for Mudryk’s charity golf tournament benefitting the Cross Cancer Institute, where he underwent treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma twice, once at just 17 years old and once at 19.
Mudryk used to live downtown, near the Shaw Conference Centre, and when he comes back, he said it’s amazing to see how much it has changed.
“I still enjoy walking downtown. It was cool to see the new Oilers arena [Rogers Place] going up.” –G.C.
Actor/Musician (Los Angeles)
You can take Jill Hennessy out of Edmonton, but you can’t take Edmonton out of Jill Hennessy.
The Law & Order and Crossing Jordan star was born in Edmonton, but moved away before she was a year old. Still, her family would return often to visit her Ukrainian grandmother.
That was the same grandmother for whom Hennessy was inspired to write a song when she was invited to play at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival in 2010. Obviously, the city has had quite an impact on her.
“To hear the crowd singing the chorus to my song ‘Edmonton’ is a moment I will never forget,” she wrote in an email. “While we were there that summer, I fantasized about sledding at Gallagher Park during the holidays and eating my grandmother’s homemade perogies.”
The song about her grandmother was included on Hennessy’s second album, I Do, which was released this past October.
Hennessy returned later that year for the Canadian Country Music Awards, which were held at Rexall Place. She says performing in the same arena where Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers built their dynasty in the ’80s was “an amazing experience,” and one she hopes to share with those close to her one day.
“I dream about returning to Edmonton during the holidays and taking my two sons, along with my aunt and uncle, to see a hockey game,” she said. “Before the game, we would go to one of my favourite restaurants, Uncle Ed’s. The Ukrainian food reminds me of my grandmother’s – they make delicious perogies!” –G.C.
Screenwriter (Los Angeles)
Lewaa Nasserdeen may spend most of his time in a city known for its green juices and healthy living, but there’s one particular junk food he can’t resist when he returns to his hometown.
“I have to eat a donair from Richards Donair on the north side, 137th Avenue. It’s my absolute favourite food in the world,” wrote Nasserdeen, best known for his work on the ABC sitcom The Goldbergs, in an email.
In Los Angeles, he enjoys hiking as a way to unwind, and in Edmonton, he also finds himself rambling outdoors – however, not, as you might assume, in the North Saskatchewan River valley. “I usually go for a walk around Lake Beaumaris with my mom – at least a couple times a week.” And, of course, the Hollywood screenwriter always finds time to take in a film or two – the north side Cineplex Odeon is his theatre of choice.
While there are a few haunts on Whyte Avenue that he misses when he’s in Los Angeles, the main reason he returns to his northern hometown is more personal. “The thing that draws me most to Edmonton is my family and the long-lasting friendships. I started my career in Edmonton and have emotional touchstones that will always anchor me to the city – the biggest anchors being family, friends and donairs.”