Category Archives: Ontario

13 Jun

Return to Tiger Town

For the second year in a row, I made the trek to Hamilton for the open house at the Tiger-Cats’ new stadium.

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As soon as I boarded the Barton bus after getting off the GO, I knew I wasn’t going to be alone as it was filled with fans, young and old, decked out in Ticats gear. CFL football may not have that strong of a following in this part of the world, but those who do follow the league are mighty passionate about it.

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Outside, there was a table where they were clearing out some of last year’s merchandise at heavily discounted prices. Evidently, Hamiltonians like their bargains as much as Winnipeggers do, as there was a mad rush to get in line for first crack at the goodies. Having a strong aversion to crowds, as they say in Texas, El Paso.

As was the case last year, there was no charge to get in, but this time around, they forced attendees to register and show their ticket at the gate. The lines moved agonizingly slow, and I’ve made it through the pat-down security at NFL games in Minneapolis faster than it took me to get through the gate on Sunday. I don’t know what the hold-up was, but I hope they clear up the problems if they do this again.

Once I was eventually let in, I took some shots around the south end before going up to the club level.

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The “Champions Club” is an impressive restaurant/bar where VIPs can sit and watch the game while enjoying their food and drink.

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Outside, I spotted the flags representing the Ticats’ two retired numbers. At left is Bernie Faloney’s #10 and at right is Angelo Mosca’s #68. After a Google search, I learned that Mosca lives right here in St. Catharines.

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I was also pleased to see more recognition of their proud past with the names of those on the Wall of Honor displayed inside the Champions Club.

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Nearby was a dedicated “No Alcohol” section, and I would later spot another such section at the opposite corner of the stadium. Having been treated to some horrid experiences at Winnipeg Stadium back in the 1980s, I would be curious to see if there was the same rowdy, out-of-control atmosphere here as there was in Winnipeg. Maybe one of these days, I’ll actually go to a game and find out.

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I spotted this guy on the west side concourse. You think he’s a fan?

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Later, once we were allowed on the field, he went to see quarterback Zach Collaros.

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On the east side is the steam whistle they blow before every game.

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There’s undoubtedly some history behind it that I’ll have to look into one of these days.

At noon, they let us on the field and we were free to roam at will for the next hour.

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I wasn’t aware Brantford was in line for a CFL franchise.

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Many players were stationed along the sidelines and fans could line up for the chance to meet them. Not surprisingly, the line to see Collaros was the longest.

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I continued on over towards the alumni table. I would have been quite interested in meeting some of the greats of years past were I a long-tenured fan of the franchise. But I’m not.

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Jeremiah Masoli, who eventually became the starting quarterback after the midseason injury to Collaros.

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Chad Owens, who came over from C.U. during the off-season. “Argos Suck” was a familiar line I saw and heard during the day.

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One of the mascots.

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Luke Tasker, the son of Buffalo Bills’ great Steve Tasker.

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Mike Filer, the team’s starting center, takes the stage for an interview.

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Having covered the field several times, it was time to return home. I’m not sure I’ll go if they have an open house next year, but it was nice of the team to offer us the opportunity to look around and I was glad I made the trip.

18 May

Voyage Under the Center of the Universe

Yesterday, I made another trip to Toronto, spending the bulk of the day in the universe’s center.

I left the house bright and early and walked to Fairview Mall to catch the #12 GO bus. Waiting nearby at the bus stop was a scruffy character madly gorging himself on a large box of Sugar Crisp as if someone was about to take it away from him.


Just can’t get enough of that Sugar Crisp!

Just after St. Catharines’ answer to the Sugar Bear got to the bottom of the box, the bus pulled up and I joined about 15-20 others in getting on board.

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Traffic was moving slowly as we got past Burlington Street in Hamilton, but we eventually made it to the Burlington GO station, where I joined most of the others in heading to the platform to wait for the train.

While waiting, I spotted someone standing close by who had her eyes closed and was gently nodding her head up and down. No, she was not wearing headphones.

Watching her reminded me of a scene in Slap Shot, when “Killer” Carlson was recanting “One with the universe,” a line from the recordings of the Swami Baha, while his teammates were getting the tar beat out of them by Tim “Dr. Hook” McCracken’s Syracuse Bulldogs. If you recall, McCracken was the head coach and chief punk on that Syracuse team, known for his ability to carve out a man’s eye with the flick of a wrist. But I digress.

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The train came shortly enough and we soon began making our way east toward Union Station. As the seats began filling up, I noticed what looked to be a small, semi-permanent gathering place for the homeless right by the tracks. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw three of them seated on plastic chairs tapping away on their cell phones. I’ve heard about texting and driving, but texting and homeless? And again, I’m supposed to feel sorry for them. I’ve worked hard to pay my own way through life and I’ve never had a cell phone.

Closer to Union Station, I spotted a billboard for Krave Gourmet Jerky. How anyone could categorize ground-up testicles and hooves as “gourmet” is beyond me.

Just before pulling into the station, we got another introduction from our “customer service ambassador.” GO runs a fantastic service, but these self-serving introductions that are now coming a rate of twice per trip are growing increasingly annoying.

Following a bathroom break, I then followed the signs for the subway for what would be my first underground rail experience. Having just paid for my GO train ride, I kept my Presto card at hand and used it at the subway entrance to get through the turnstile. TTC is in the process of rolling out Presto throughout their system and not every station is Presto-enabled as yet, but luckily, Union is one of them.

As I would discover later, for those paying cash, you can either purchase a magnetic-striped ticket at the counter or put $3.25 into a machine and get a token smaller than a penny. To get through the non-Presto turnstiles, you swipe your ticket or deposit the pin-size token, assuming you didn’t drop it on your way from the vending machine.

When I got through the turnstile, I was glad I prepared ahead, since the #1 line serving Union Station runs northbound, but in two different directions. You need to know if you’re going north via University Avenue or Yonge Street, but I knew I was going via Yonge, so I quickly hopped aboard the waiting train headed that way. Even if I had missed it, however, they run about every three to four minutes.

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Seconds after I sat down, the doors closed and we began heading north underneath Yonge Street. Once again, just like on the GO train and buses, the subway cars were clean and the vomit, graffiti, condom wrappers and beer bottles frequently found aboard Winnipeg Transit buses were conspicuously absent.

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A handy feature was the subway system map above the doors where it not only shows the routes, but an amber light flashes at the next stop, while stops already covered are in green and those to come are in red. When approaching a connecting line, the entire line flashes on the map and a special announcement is made to that effect.

As you would expect, verbal announcements are also made at each stop, telling passengers not only the name of the station, but whether the doors will open on the left or right.

Near every seat is a yellow strip to press in the event of an emergency, and according to the posted signs, misusing it is a $500 fine. I can’t imagine the fun the hoodlums and bums would have it if they put such a thing aboard Winnipeg Transit buses. There, it would be more fitting to put in a yellow strip to press if there wasn’t an emergency.

When passing the College station, I couldn’t help but notice the mural depicting Montreal Canadiens players. Maybe one of these days, Toronto will get its own NHL team.

I got off at the Sheppard-Yonge station, where I had to go up an escalator to transfer to the eastbound #4 line. It was then I realized there are two levels of this underground rail system. All this, while Winnipeg is still farting around with Rapid Transit. But again, I digress.

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My subway ride came to an end at the Don Mills station, where I followed the crowd up to street level right by, oddly enough, Fairview Mall. I then proceeded east on Sheppard, stopping for pictures of 404, before turning south on Victoria Park Avenue.

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This is a shot I couldn’t resist. NBCUniversal just had to have a presence in the Center of the Universe.

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Crossing the 401, the world’s busiest highway, I continued south to Lawrence, west across the DVP to Don Mills Road, then south to Eglinton, where I again proceeded west.

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There are a lot of people in Toronto, but also a lot of raccoons, giving rise to new entrepreneurial opportunities.

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On Eglinton, there were times when I was getting farther on foot than the cars were on account of the multiple lane closures as GO puts in the Eglinton Crosstown line. More superior transit service, while, again, Winnipeg still farts around with Rapid Transit at great expense with nothing but ridicule to show for it.

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Farther down Eglinton, I ran into our esteemed premier’s constituency office.

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Across the street, not by coincidence, is a nice, big “in your face” billboard from The Rebel aimed squarely at Canada’s most unpopular premier. Of course, that distinction used to belong to Greasy Greg Selinger until he and his gang were unceremoniously thrown out of office. I posted this picture on Twitter today and it is quickly making the rounds in Twitterverse.

I was hoping to cover more ground, but growing tired and weary after putting on so many miles on foot, I decided instead to continue west to the Eglinton-Yonge subway station and return to Union. Oddly, one of the more popular stations on the route was not well-signed on street level, but I eventually found it and went below to catch a train.

Sadly, this was not a Presto-enabled station, so I had fork over the cash for a token. It also cost me a little extra, since the fare when paying with Presto is 40 cents cheaper. For those who are not aware, not only is paying with Presto more convenient, but cheaper. Each round trip to Toronto saves approximately $3.00, the TTC and OC Transpo fares are also cheaper with Presto, and the Hamilton Street Railway fare is only 50 cents when transferring from the GO bus. The card itself costs $6.00, but it more than pays for itself, even in the short term.

On board, the southbound train was packed, and I was lucky to get a seat after someone got off at the next stop. As in the northbound direction, the train moved swiftly, and I was soon back at Union.

Before getting on a Lakeshore West train, I wanted to make one last stop at the gift shop of the nearby NHL Hall of Political Correctness, known to most of you as the so-called Hockey Hall of Fame. Just for the heck of it, I wanted to browse around and to see if they had any small trinkets from the late Atlanta Thrashers, and I shouldn’t have been surprised when I didn’t find anything. On my way in, however, I could have sworn that I spotted Craig Ramsay, the last coach of the Thrashers, talking on his cell phone. Now that would have been an interesting encounter.

Following that diversionary trip, I returned to Union, where a Lakeshore West train was minutes from departing, so I went right up to the platform and found an empty seat. The train soon took off and I watched the familiar sights go by while recovering from a long day.

Everything seemed to be going normally until we got to the Oakville station. There, passengers who were disembarking got off, then the rest of us waited for the train to continue on.

But it didn’t.

Minutes later, our customer service ambassador, who again needlessly introduced himself as we were leaving Union, got on the intercom and told us this train was no longer in service because of “an emergency farther west.” He then instructed us to disembark and proceed to the bus loop, where buses would be waiting to take us farther west.

Great. GO suddenly turns into Rapid Transit.

I followed the rest of the crowd to the one waiting bus and was lucky to get on board. With no more room left, the bus took off, leaving countless numbers left to wait for another bus. We then proceeded through stop-and-go rush-hour traffic from station to station along the QEW. It was only on board that I heard from other passengers that there was a fire near the tracks, which forced the temporary closure of the Lakeshore West line.

When we got to Appleby, rather than take us one more stop to the Burlington station, we were told to get off the bus and wait for the next westbound train. No signs were posted as to which track it would be on or when it would be coming, so I just followed the crowd and asked a few people who I recognized from the bus.

Seemingly almost by accident, I ended up in the right place and ended up as part of an interesting conversation with three 20-somethings named Abby, Maria and Constantine.

Though soft-spoken, Maria was by far the most talkative of the three, and we listened as she espoused her theories on government conspiracies. According to her, the government wants to legalize marijuana to keep the people from thinking for themselves, briefly touching on how smoking weed opens up some part of the brain that normally doesn’t get used. I didn’t quite follow her thought process, but then she went on to talk about how the government might have started the fires in Fort McMurray because of the oil.

As Maria was treating us to her pseudoscientific thoughts, Abby grabbed onto the guard rail behind us and started doing some stretching exercises. I was again reminded of a former colleague who used to get up during meetings and go through all sorts of weird gyrations and contorting himself into varied and unimaginable positions. One loyal reader and former colleague will remember and no doubt laugh heartily at this reference.

After claiming to be able to read people’s minds and proudly stating “I am everything,” Maria then started talking about how to save money by peeing in the shower. I listened patiently as she and Abby exchanged their thoughts on this riveting topic. I just know I can use this stuff somewhere in a future writing project and conveniently left the fact that I was a writer with an off-beat sense of humor out of the conversation.

With so much writing fodder in the air, I was almost disappointed when the train showed up. We all got on and, minutes later, we pulled up to the Burlington station. After saying our goodbyes, I got in line for the #12 bus to St. Catharines and an hour later, I was back at Fairview Mall, again having squeezed full value from my travel dollars.

It ended up as a much different kind of adventure than I had planned, but no less interesting and one I won’t soon forget.

12 May

IceDogs Last Stand

This week, I attended Games 3 and 4 of the OHL finals between the IceDogs and the visiting London Knights, as I managed to get a seat for both games during the mad rush for tickets.

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For Monday night’s Game 3, I made sure to leave early to take in the Dog Run, the portion of St. Paul Street between the two pedestrian bridges closed to traffic for a street party in honor of the Eastern Conference champions.

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Maybe I just got there too early, but the atmosphere was oddly subdued. Meridian had a tent where they were giving out free popcorn, CKTB had a tent where they had just finished an interview with the Burkes, and they had some games for kids, but there wasn’t a whole lot else going on.

The bars and restaurants, however, were packed, and on Wednesday night, there was a line outside waiting to get into one of the bars. No doubt, those bar and restaurant owners are the most passionate supporters the IceDogs have.

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Chalk was available for kids to draw on the street. Here, some wrote names of their favorite players.

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Naturally, the best mascot on the continent was making the rounds, stopping for photos with adoring fans. The last shot is taken with Julia D’Amico, arguably the most passionate fan of them all. Judging from her getup alone, it is not difficult to see why she was named the ultimate fan of the game on Wednesday night. As she so proudly belted on the microphone on Wednesday night, “This is our house, our team, our time.”

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Here, Bones takes a seat under the CKTB tent. Having their mascot decked out in black despite the “Make Them See Red” playoff promotion in which the players were covered from head to toe in red was a major faux pas.

Before the stands began filling up, I went into the seating area to get some shots of the ice with the “OHL Championship Series” logo at each end, but not before nearly being chased down the aisle by yet another pushy usher who was evidently put out by the fact that I neither asked for nor wanted his services.

As I posted in a tweet, I am convinced there is a secret clause in the terms on the back of the tickets requiring all fans to accept the services of an usher. I keep hearing fans boast about how friendly the ushers are, yet I keep running into the ones who must have been recruited off used car lots.

Being badgered by these ushers, however, does provide me with plenty of writing fodder. I’m probably going to have enough for a full chapter on them by the time I’m ready to pen a book on my fan experiences with the IceDogs.

Speaking of the ushers, each of them were carrying buckets, collecting donations for the Canadian Red Cross as part of the Fort McMurray relief efforts. Fans contributed a total of $3,162.45 on Monday night.

As game time grew closer, I was expecting more of a raucous atmosphere, and instead, it felt more like a regular-season game than the third game of the league championship series.

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I couldn’t help but notice that the IceDogs couldn’t even spell Nick Pastorious’ name correctly. I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on them. After all, he’s just one of the players.

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After the IceDogs were greeted with about three-quarters of a standing ovation, the two teams received their customary introductions. To my surprise, former NHL enforcer Basil McRae was London’s general manager. The last time I saw his name was 16 years ago when I spotted something from his company’s letterhead in Ken Wregget’s locker during a tour of the Fighting Moose dressing room. Oh, how times have changed.

As expected, given what had taken place during the first two games of the series, Matthew Tkachuk, a.k.a Captain Weasel, Jr., got the loudest chorus of boos from the crowd.

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Following the introductions, the IceDogs brought out a number of players from their 2012 Eastern Conference championship team for the ceremonial faceoff. That team, which also lost to London in the finals, actually got a bigger ovation than the 2016 team received.

Captain Weasel, Jr. opened the scoring in the first minute, but the IceDogs came right back with a quick marker of their own and controlled the first half of the game. They took a 5-2 lead in the second period and with Alex Nedeljkovic on top of his game once again, it looked as though the IceDogs were well on their way to picking up their first win of the series.

Or so it seemed.

Despite being down by three goals, London never lost their composure and eventually turned the game around completely, eventually tying the score in the third period. They had the IceDogs on the ropes and Nedeljkovic’s stellar goaltending was the only reason the game even went to overtime.

Even “Ned” couldn’t save the IceDogs, however, and the shellshocked crowd was anything but surprised when London scored three minutes into the extra period to all but extinguish the IceDogs’ title hopes.

As Dandy Don Meredith used to sing on Monday Night Football, “Turn out the lights. The party’s over.”

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Two nights later, some fans had clearly not lost their spirit, but few others had any realistic hopes that the IceDogs could extend the series to a fifth game. There was almost an expectation of pending defeat in the air that I would also sense inside the Meridian Center, both before and during the game.

On the bright side, I was able to sneak into the seating area without being badgered by an usher. There apparently is an art form to this and I think I’m getting the hang of it. Having not been to a game in a while before Monday night, I was caught off-guard.

Sadly, there was another band that filled the air with gratuitous noise that I could have lived without. Thankfully, even their enthusiasm waned as the game wore on.

The IceDogs got only a half-hearted standing ovation as they came out to start the game as Julia waved her sign, which stated “We Believe.” Judging by the lack of energy in the stands, the crowd believed the series was already over.

London silenced what little buzz there was in the stands with a late first-period goal and the 1-0 score held up. Nedeljkovic was easily the IceDogs’ best player and the game’s first star was the only reason his team was able to stay within a goal. Many others noted that the officiating was pro-London and they were probably right, but London won because they were a much better team.

The best chance the IceDogs had came with 7:50 left in the third when the prime minister was robbed at point-blank range. It was then I knew, once and for all, that the jig was up.

While the London players celebrated after the game, I turned my attention towards the disconsolate IceDogs, most of whom were playing their last game of junior hockey. I felt so badly for the kids who had given it their all. After coming so far, it would have been nice to see them win at least one game.

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The two teams shaking hands.

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The IceDogs salute the remaining fans.

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Bill Burke was there at ice level to hug the players on their way off the ice, most of whom were probably going through an emotional roller-coaster.

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OHL Commissioner David Branch then came out to present both the Wayne Gretzky “99” Award to the playoff MVP as well as the J. Ross Robertson Cup, the OHL’s championship trophy. Oddly, Branch was booed when introduced to the crowd. There might be some history there that I’m not aware of.

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Mitchell Marner accepts the Gretzky Award.

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Finally, the London players gathered around as their co-captains accepted the Robertson Cup. I never thought I would live to see the day that someone wearing a #7 Tkachuk jersey would hoist a championship trophy.

The IceDogs had a nice run and defied all the odds in advancing this far. Next year, with so many players leaving, it will be a brand new, younger team that will likely struggle just to make the playoffs. London, meanwhile, advances to the Memorial Cup once again and I wish them well in Red Deer.

07 May

Rallying Your Pep for the IceDogs

On Friday, still sleep-deprived after getting home so late the previous night, I was one of a crowd estimated by the sub-Standard at around 500 in a pep rally at Montebello Park in downtown St. Catharines in support of the IceDogs’ improbable playoff run. The event was organized, not by the team, but by Alex Digenis, owner of Henley Honda in St. Catharines.

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For once, I was far from the first on the scene of the noon-hour event.

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As the population of Montebello Park began to swell, an honor guard from Ridley College lined the route to the stage where the players and coaches would be introduced.

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The first order of business, besides the region’s biggest self-promoter introducing himself for the umpteenth time, was to tape a knight, a symbolic representative of the IceDogs’ opponents, the London Knights, to a tree.

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As someone said, he was being fed to the dogs.

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First, the coaches were introduced, led by head coach and general manager Marty Williamson. Later, while up on stage, Williamson would sing the praises of his charges who might very well have saved his job with this playoff run following an uninspiring regular season.

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Vince Dunn.

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The prime minister.

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Josh Ho-Sang, St. Catharines’ answer to Bengt Lundholm who has done his best to shake that label of late. When he gets to the next level, we’ll see if a leopard really can change his stripes.

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Last, and most importantly, goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic. I don’t think too many in the crowd miss his predecessor, Brent Moran. One fan in particular comes to mind.

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The team assembled inside the bandstand.

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Williamson addresses the gathering.

Team captain Anthony DiFruscia then spoke, followed by Alex Digenis, who joined many others of late in proudly proclaiming the IceDogs as “Niagara’s” team. Such proclamations are not without merit, but I don’t see any rush from any of the other municipalities throughout the region who have been raising the IceDogs flag to contribute to the repayment of the debt on the Meridian Center. Put your money where your mouth is before calling it “your team.” But again, I digress.

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After the formal part of the proceedings ended, fans dispersed to mingle with the players or get in line for the free hot dogs. Having enough of crowds for a while and with no desire for a hot dog at any price, I did neither and returned home, having been part of an important community event with many fellow fans.

07 May

London Calling

On Thursday evening, I was one of a busload of fans who went to see the IceDogs take on the Knights in London in the opening game of the OHL’s championship series. It would mark the first time I had been at a championship series of any league in person since the Jets were in the WHA. Yes, it’s been a long time.

As those of you who know me would expect, I was one of the first to arrive at the Jack, where I spotted this woman passed out on the front steps of the IceDogs’ former home rink.

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From the looks of her, she was probably homeless, and someone who our mayor, Walter L. Sendzik (the “L” stands for Liberal), would no doubt like the city to reach out to as part of his “compassionate city model.”

Though apparently lacking the wherewithal to put a roof over her head, she did, however, have the resources to care and feed for the animal in the pink cage. She also dug out a cigarette and lit up before leaving to make way for the gathering crowd.

And I’m supposed to feel sorry for her. Those who are big believers in the social determinants of health obviously conveniently overlook cases like this.

But I digress.

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Before the bus came, I chatted briefly with the other early birds who were waiting. One couple had been on every single road trip since the team moved to St. Catharines in 2007 and a couple of others told stories about how they had been treated in other cities. By and large, it seemed to be an older crowd and it would prove to be a significantly less rowdy bunch than the group who went to Brown’s Town, undoubtedly due to the fact that it was a weekday. I strongly suspect that Saturday’s road trip for Game 2 will be much different and it was probably a blessing in disguise that it was sold out before I could get my name on the list.

Once the bus pulled up to the curb, we all piled on and once again, many brought their coolers full of beer. Since getting highway pictures is more important to me than the game, I undoubtedly get chastised for my ulterior motives when going on these road trips, but the many who gorge themselves on beer have no room to talk. For them, IceDogs hockey is but one of many convenient excuses to get drunk.

One of the more than 50 passengers on board was the owner of Pete’s Pizza, a local chain with many locations in St. Catharines and Niagara Falls. He brought five boxes of pizza on board for the group and on the way, someone walked up and down the aisle offering free pizza. As I was busy taking pictures during the two-hour ride to London, I declined, but it was a nice gesture and worthy of a free plug.

With everyone present and accounted for, we took off just after 3:30 into the thick of rush-hour traffic.

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It was stop and go on the Red Hill Valley Parkway and the Linc, but once we got onto the 403 and left the Hamilton area, traffic moved pretty smoothly.

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Of the many highway pictures I got en route to London, this one in Brantford stood out. As a five-year Winnipeg Jets season ticket holder who saw the Jets roll over so often for Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers, I somehow resisted the urge to blurt out, “Gretzky Sucks!” Old grudges die hard.

Moving on, when we got to Woodstock and merged onto the 401, perhaps the biggest surprise of the ride for me was seeing how much busier the 401 was in this area as compared to the stretch between C.U. and Kingston when we went to Ottawa last year.

Upon reaching London, we exited the 401 at Highbury Avenue and proceeded north for a long tour of the city of over 360,000.

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I spotted these signs along Hamilton Road. Details of this tree trunk tour are left as an exercise to the reader, as I didn’t care enough to check as to what this was all about.

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Making our way through downtown, we pulled up to the Budweiser Gardens and walked across the street as Nick Williams of the IceDogs went to get our tickets.

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Outside Budweiser Gardens.

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Nick was nice enough to give me a seat on the aisle and when they opened the doors, I made a little tour of the rink.

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In the stands. I noted with considerable interest that in a facility named for a popular brand of beer, they had an alcohol-free section, one that I would be a regular in if I lived in London.

To my astonishment, the glass behind the goaltender was even in worse shape that it is at the Meridian Center. I didn’t think that was possible. Then again, the Budweiser Gardens has been around a lot longer than the Meridian Center has.

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Though I had snuck in some food of my own, I paid attention to the offerings and prices at the concessions, as I am always fascinated by the exorbitant prices people are willing to pay for food at sporting events. A hot dog would set you back $4.75, as would a slice of pizza, and even a chocolate bar could not be had for less than $4.25. There were some other options that I could have availed myself of, such as chicken fingers and fries for $7.75, but didn’t.

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Looking outside toward downtown from the 300 level.

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I then headed to my seat high up in the upper deck. The term “nosebleed section” doesn’t do it justice as I had to make the steep climb up to row J. For the benefit of readers in the SPRM, the only rink I’ve been in with a steeper incline was the upper deck at the old Winnipeg Arena.

Interestingly, row J was located one row behind row H. I’m still not sure what happened to row I. Perhaps they’re using a special London alphabet. In any event, this was probably the highest elevation in southwestern Ontario. To say the least, anyone who has a problem with heights needs to avoid the upper deck at the Budweiser Gardens.

Despite the mild temperatures outside, the area where we were sitting was downright cold and even though I had a light jacket on, I was freezing all night long.

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Moments before the pregame introductions, a gentleman from our bus took the seat next to me. He would provide me with more fodder for a future book than the game itself. For the sake of discussion, let’s just call him Jack.

Jack likes beer and I suspect he was well on his way to becoming inebriated even before stepping inside the building. He brought a cooler on board when we went to Brown’s Town and though I didn’t notice this time around, he undoubtedly did likewise on this trip.

Before they even dropped the puck, Jack had made two beer runs, getting his limit of two beers each time. Later in the game, he made another trip and picked up two more cans of his favorite beverage. All told, at $9 a pop, the six beers at the game set him back $54, to say nothing of the beer he probably brought on board what would be termed the “booze bus.”

For the record, after checking their website, a six-pack would have run him $13.95 at LCBO. Plus KST, of course.

In the understatement of the month, Jack is not a careful shopper.

Later in the game, Jack would visit the concessions and both purchase and eat a plate of poutine. From the looks of it, he spent another $6.50 for fries that had been held underneath the back end of a cow with diarrhea.

Jack also has a booming voice. His often-repeated lines of “Come on boys,” “Let’s go boys,” and “Get ‘er done,” resonated in my eardrums during and long after the game. I have no doubt that, despite our distance from the ice and the noise from the other 9,000 screaming fans, some of the players could actually hear him.

No player could move a muscle without a comment from Jack. He was, if nothing else, on top of the action.

Evidently needing some exercise to go along with his beer runs and subsequent trips to the washroom to unload his rented beer, he stood up at one point during the game and did some light calisthenics, swinging his arms around, barely missing me. One loyal reader will understand the reference to a former colleague whose first name rhymes with “truce” who used to do this with regularity during meetings before leaving our place of employment under a cloud.

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Moving on from our friend Jack, I noticed there was a second IceDogs rooting section at the other end of the ice. Seated in the front row were the Burkes along with Wayne Gates, the Communist MPP for Niagara Falls, and the ghost of Jim Bradley. There are unconfirmed rumors circulating around town that he’s still our MPP. But again, I digress.

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Following the pregame introductions, the anthem singer took the microphone. He was good, fully clothed and performed O Canada entirely in the Canadian language. He even paused midway through to allow the crowd to take over for a few verses.

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After the opening faceoff, I noticed how Josh Ho-Sang was booed each time he touched the puck. No doubt, there was some past history dating back to the days when he played for Windsor. There was also a chant for London’s Cliff Pu every time he touched the puck. There was something odd, however, about having 9,000 or so people yelling “poo.”

As I looked around the rink during the play, at the entrance to the ramps in the lower bowl were ads for several real estate agents, one of them being George Georgopolous. All I can say is that it must have been a difficult pregnancy for his mother.

During the first period, London’s Matthew Tkachuk, son of Captain Weasel, the ever-disgruntled ex-captain of the real Jets, was involved in a little fracas. From what I saw, he’s a chip off the old block. He took and doled out plenty of abuse in front of the IceDogs’ net, was certain to be at the center of any display of hostility and took a couple of dives. For his sake, I hope he didn’t inherit his father’s legendary immaturity.

As for the game, which was almost a secondary concern, following a scoreless first period, the IceDogs scored first on somewhat of a fluky goal just after Alex Nedeljkovic stopped Captain Weasel, Jr. on a breakaway. From there, however, it was all downhill. London scored twice before the end of the second and added two more in the third.

As the third period was winding down and the fans were chanting “warm up the bus,” it reminded me of the opening game against Oshawa last season. In that series, the IceDogs lost in five games to a vastly superior team who outclassed them in every respect. I can only hope it doesn’t turn out that way in this series.

Needless to say, it was a rather subdued bunch who reboarded the bus after the game for the ride back to St. Catharines. Nonetheless, as always, it was an interesting and enjoyable experience.

26 Apr

IceDogs Road Trip to Brown’s Town

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On Saturday, I was one of a busload of fans who headed north to watch the IceDogs take on the hometown Barrie Colts in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final. It would mark my fourth road trip with the IceDogs and second to Barrie, having gone there on the trip last January.

Despite the fact that the team did not publish the trip on its website, Facebook page or Twitter account, they had a full bus of 56 fans and even had to turn some people away. I only heard about it by accident, but I was glad I did. Maybe it’s one of those “you’re just supposed to know”™ things I’ve seen so frequently since coming to this part of the world.

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As loyal readers who know me would expect, I was among the first to arrive at the Jack, where we were scheduled to leave at 4:00.

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As I was talking to a couple of the early arrivers, a couple of pillars of society passed us by.

While we continued chatting about the IceDogs’ improbable run in the playoffs, conversation elsewhere turned to beer. One fan wondered whether or not it would be allowed on the bus and after finding out that they turn a blind eye to it, debated making a run to the nearest beer store on Welland Avenue. I know I’m in the minority, but I’m proud of the fact that I don’t get the attraction to alcoholic beverages.

Nick Williams of the IceDogs arrived around 3:20 to take our money, then the bus pulled up around 3:30. While the others were drawn to the back, I climbed on board and dropped anchor in the front seat so I could get some good highway pictures of 400 between C.U. and Barrie. All told, I would collect more than 130 quality shots, soon to appear on a website near you.

Before we took off, a gentleman seated right behind me asked if I knew where we were sitting. As we began talking, it turns out that not only was he born in the degenerate capital of the SPRM, but he was also born at the same hospital I was. What are the odds?

With everyone on board, we left just before 4:00. As there were no empty seats on the bus, Nick had to bum a ride up to Barrie with one of the many others who were driving up on their own, leaving Matt Johnston in charge of the group. Fans may recall it was Matt who was married at center ice during the second intermission of a game at the Meridian Center earlier this season.

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The late Saturday afternoon traffic in and around the Center of the Universe failed to dampen the enthusiasm on the bus as “Go Dogs Go” chants broke out at regular intervals.

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In spite of the traffic, we still made good time and pulled into Barrie around 6:00. Matt went and got our tickets and we had time to kill before they opened the doors at 6:30.

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After the doors opened, I first went through the team store. Prices, if anything, were even higher than the outrageous amounts the IceDogs charge for their merchandise. For example, a youth hoodie was priced at $89.99. Junior hockey operators seem blissfully unaware that they are not catering to a champagne and caviar crowd wearing suits and ties.

On this night, I would have loved to have been showing my hometown team’s colors, but I flatly refuse to give the IceDogs $120+ for a jersey.

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Moving on, I toured the concourse and got some shots in the stands. Rally towels were on the backs of every seat in the rink, except for those in our section. It was an awfully petty gesture, but IceDogs fans would have the last laugh in the end.

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In the concourse, I spotted several IceDogs players kicking around a soccer ball.

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I was not the only one to stop for some pictures.

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During the warmup, I noticed the ad on the boards for Patrick Brown, leader of the opposition and the next premier of Ontario. Brown hails from this area and was the MP for Barrie before seeking the leadership of the Ontario PC Party. I had the pleasure of meeting him when he came through St. Catharines and did ultimately vote for him when it came time to cast my ballot as a party member.

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Just before the start of the game, Charlie Horse, the Colts’ mascot, paid us a visit. As I observed last year, he doesn’t nearly have the same engaging personality Bones does and for as little as he contributes to the fan experience, they might as well not even bother with a mascot.

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Once the game began, the IceDogs controlled much of the first period, but they weren’t able to get on the board until early in the second when the prime minister scored to send section 118 into a frenzy.

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The lead became 2-0 after Anthony DiFruscia scored from in front of the net, displaying a dexterity with the puck he hasn’t shown in the last two years.

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There were IceDogs fans throughout the rink, but most of us were concentrated in one section, where chants of “Let’s Go IceDogs” and “Ned … Ned … Ned” were raging. After each goal, the “Yes … Yes … Yes” chant also filled the air.

Barrie narrowed the gap with an early third-period goal, but Graham Knott’s marker at the 6:32 mark restored the two-goal lead.

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Brendan Perlini’s goal later in the third all but put the game away, and the IceDogs fans began serenading the Barrie fans on their way to the exits.

Late in the game, acting every bit the part of sore losers, one of the Barrie players took a run at Josh Ho-Sang and was lucky only to get a two-minute penalty on the play. As Ho-Sang was getting to his feet, I can only wonder what might have been if their coach, Dale Hawerchuk, had shown that kind of fire when he played with the Jets, a team that rolled over far too often for Edmonton when I was a Jets season ticket holder.

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In any event, the IceDogs cruised to a 4-1 victory, and after the game, just as they did in Ottawa a year earlier, they came by and saluted us on their way off the ice in a classy gesture.

Fans were in high spirits as they made their way out toward the bus, but things quietened down soon after we started rolling and it was a rather uneventful ride under a full moon back to St. Catharines. We pulled into the Jack at 12:20, and I was back home just after 1:00. It was another winning experience in more ways than one.

25 Apr

Riding the Rails to Ottawa

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Last week, I spent four days and three nights in Ottawa. It was my first real visit to the city, having only been there last year on a road trip with the IceDogs in which we returned home right after the game.

Bright and early on Monday morning, I took the GO bus to Burlington, then boarded the jam-packed Lakeshore West train to Union Station in C.U. along with many commuters. So crowded was the train that many had to stand.

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I had a two-hour wait for my VIA connection to Ottawa, so I took the time to check my e-mail, get my bearings and find the VIA departure area amid the mad crush of humanity. I quickly learned not to stop and smell the roses as being in the middle of rush-hour crowds in Union Station is akin to running with the bulls in Pamplona. I could have safely waited for the next GO bus/train to avoid the busiest time of day, but I opted to go earlier in case of any unforeseen traffic problems.

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About a half hour before departure, passengers began lining up at the posted gate, where a service attendant went down one side of the line scanning boarding passes. On the other side, someone was wheeling a portable scale, stopping when he spotted some potentially overweight luggage. VIA has strict regulations regarding luggage. There is a charge for any bags between 41-50 pounds, and anything over 50 pounds is prohibited. He went past me without as much as a glance, as I was traveling with a small suitcase, having long since learned to travel light.

Soon, we were headed up the escalator to the platform, and I took my seat in Car 5. I’ll leave it for the reader to judge as to whether or not that was a coincidence. On the boarding pass, VIA notes they reserve the right to ask to see photo ID and to inspect baggage, but they did neither on the way to Ottawa or on the return trip.

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Settled into my seat, I got some shots before the car filled up. As I looked around, it again struck me, as it did with the GO bus and train, that there was no graffiti, vomit or garbage, nor any smell of booze or beer cans rolling down the aisle, all common occurrences in the last city I called home. The SPRM feels like a million miles away in more ways than one.

This car was packed solid and I had a young man in his 20s in the aisle seat next to me with a huge lunch pack almost as big as my suitcase. He was listening to music on his headphones, but I couldn’t hear a thing, and like everyone else, he was quiet and respectful. The way it ought to be.

As we pulled out of Union Station, as part of the introductory announcement, they said disrespectful behavior toward staff or other passengers will not be tolerated. In Winnipeg, such behavior is almost expected. It’s a red-letter day when you don’t get treated disrespectfully.

After leaving C.U., we rocketed through the eastern suburbs of Pickering, Ajax and Whitby at speeds reaching 93 mph. That’s miles per hour, not Trudeau-metric. Unlike the GO train, there aren’t a litany of stops to make, so there’s nothing to slow them down besides the odd curve or when we have to stop to allow a freight train to pass.

As we followed the 401, an attendant came around to validate our tickets for a second time, a practice they would repeat on the return trip.

Past Oshawa, the scenery turns to rolling hills and farmland with more cows than cars visible from the train. To the north is the old Highway 2, the main route that connected C.U. to Montreal before the 401 was built, and to the south is Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. I had a view of Highway 2 on the way to Ottawa, and a view of the lake on my way back.

Aboard the train was a mixed bag of people, not commuters, but holiday travelers young and old. Many, like me, were traveling alone and aside from some brief exceptions, there was little chatter on board.

Perhaps the only significant conversation came from the older couple behind me, neither of whom knew each other before stepping on the train. Seated on one side was a man from Guelph who was taking a vacation to Ottawa after breaking up from a relationship. He will be going to Mexico soon, where he rents a place in a community of around 12,000 expats near Guadalajara.

On the other side was a woman who is a lawyer with a private practice in Kanata who went to school in Guelph. She made a special effort to lament how the public service has been downsized under Harper. No doubt, Bobo the Clown will make every effort to “fix” this.

He feels safe in Mexico, but she has friends whose daughter was killed there. They never found the body and it wasn’t investigated properly.

It is amazing what people will tell each other on a train, or a bus.

Around noon, they came down the aisle with the lunch tray. The guy to my right bought three water bottles at $2 a pop, and he would buy another when they came around a second time. As he only made a couple of trips to the bathroom, he must have a bladder the size of a 45-gallon drum.

For your reading pleasure, following is the economy class menu:

Chocolate bar or chips (Lay’s or Pringle’s): $2
Yogurt: $2.50
Brownies or chocolate chip cookies: $3
Almond/dried fruit mixes: $3.50
Water or soft drink: $2
Milk, coffee or hot chocolate: $2.50
Orange, apple juice, V8 or lemonade: $3
Arthur’s Smoothie: $3.50
Coors Light or Molson 355 ml: $6
200 ml of wine or 330 ml of Heineken beer: $7
Classic cocktail (50 ml) or Bloody Caesar: $7.50
Instant oatmeal, chicken noodle soup, hummus and crackers, or banana bread: $3
Bagel with cream cheese: $4
Fontaine Santé salad: $5
Egg salad and bacon on a croissant: $6
Cheese, crackers, carrots and dip; Chicken salad sandwich; Black Forest ham and smoked Gouda with maple mayonnaise on a croissant; smoked turkey, apple and pesto wrap; whole wheat falafel wrap with fresh veggies and tzatziki: $7
Assorted cheese plate with crackers, fruit, nuts and chocolate: $10.50

Unlike WestJet, where all food transactions are cashless, they will take cash on VIA. Unfortunately, the same people who are handling money are also the same people handling your food or drink without washing their hands. On one occasion, I saw one of the attendants handling a stack of paper cups by the top end just after making change for someone. I realize this isn’t a traditional restaurant environment, but their sanitation practices need to be improved greatly.

Just past Brockville, I took my one and only bathroom break. Luckily, I wasn’t too far from the washroom, but on the return trip, it was a different story. The train shakes and, unlike tour buses, there are no railings to hang on to as you walk down the aisle. Even for me, someone who is steady on my feet, it was a challenge to get to the opposite end of the car without falling into someone’s lap.

Inside the washroom was another adventure. It’s clearly best to sit down under these circumstances, but with the toilet seat badly soiled from others who have preceded me, I opted to stand and do my business, trying as best as I can not to splash my pants.

There was ample soap and hand wipes, which I used and then returned to my seat thankful that I only had to use the washroom once during the four-hour trip in each direction.

After turning north at Brockville, the scenery turns to solid trees and brush. Staring out the window as we go past at 90+ mph, it all seemed like a blur.

Soon before reaching Ottawa, they came around collecting garbage, as they did near the end of the return trip.

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We pulled into Ottawa about 20-25 minutes behind schedule and I made my way across the walkway over the 417, through the ballpark parking lot to the Hampton Inn on Coventry Road.

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I checked in at the front desk, where the clerk must have called me “Mr. Walker” about six or seven times. I appreciate friendly service, but this was over-the-top butt-kissing. Interestingly, the clerk was a spitting image of Tony Rinella, who, in addition to expertly selling our house in Winnipeg, has taken me to Minneapolis and back many times as the proprietor of Sun Ice Tours.

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I dropped my suitcase in my room and headed out for a little adventure before the expected rain came later that evening.

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By sheer accident, I spotted the Richard and Annette Bloch Cancer Survivor’s Park, one of many scattered across North America. I always made a point of stopping at the park in downtown Minneapolis each time I visited, and I made a brief tour of this one before moving on.

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Sadly, there was construction galore, which fouled up my proposed route, but I still hit some sights before stopping for a meal at a Subway on Main Street.

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The Cuban Embassy. The car has special red diplomat plates, a common sighting in Ottawa. It probably means they can do as they please, much as the way most people behave in Winnipeg. In case there are some readers who haven’t figured it out yet, Winnipeg is a place you don’t really ever get over.

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Any signs featuring poultry will naturally catch my attention.

Fortunately, I made it back to the hotel before it started raining, and I went to bed early to try and get as much rest as I could for the first of a pair of big days ahead of me.

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At the crack of dawn, I was in the dining room for the complimentary breakfast. Oddly, the offerings were nearly identical to those at the Wyndham in Erie last October, the last time I stayed in a hotel. The oatmeal even seemed to come from the same mix.

Wearing my blue Atlanta Thrashers jersey, I was gawked at like a stranger who walks into a small-town diner.

I finished the most important meal of the day quickly, then caught a #9 northbound OC Transpo bus. Throughout my travels in Ottawa, I noticed that the vast majority of passengers, like me, paid their fare using Presto, an electronic fare card also accepted throughout the GCUA. Not only is the fare cheaper with Presto, but it is so much more convenient than having to fiddle around with cash. On larger buses, passengers paying with Presto can even board in the rear and tap their card on the machines by the door.

As someone who hails from Winnipeg, where I thought progress peaked at being able to pay with a paper ticket, the dramatic leap in infrastructure such as this still amazes me.

On the bus, I noticed a sign that read, “If you feel harassed, let OC Transpo know.” In Winnipeg, if you don’t feel harassed, it’s a red-letter day.

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On Sussex Drive, I rang the bell at the foot of the Macdonald-Cartier International Bridge and exited through the rear door that I didn’t have to use a battering ram to open, unlike the case with Winnipeg Transit buses. From there, I crossed the Rivière des Outaouais into Quebec, something I swore I would never do.

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Let the record reflect that on 7:34 am Eastern time on Tuesday, April 19, 2016, I broke that vow.

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Immediately upon entering the country, I began snapping pictures of the southern terminus of A-5, a fitting number for my first Quebec highway pictures. Right away, I noticed the massive traffic jam headed into Canada. I’ve heard it said that the public service is one big affirmative action program for the French, and this certainly proves it.

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After getting some shots from Rue Laurier, I continued north on a nice trail through Parc du Lac-Leamy.

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This would be just one of many nice trails I would see on both sides of the border. Though I had much to cover on the ground, I was wishing I had my wheels with me. But alas, maybe another time.

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I spotted this church at the corner of Rue Jacques-Cartier and Boulevard Gréber. It probably means something different in Canadian, but I wondered if this was the place used car salesmen congregate to try and invoke a higher power to boost their bottom line.

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I took note of this sign, as the accent was going the wrong way. For as militant as Quebecers are about their own language, including shoving it down the throats of their colony across the river, you’d think they’d be able to spell it correctly.

I continued north towards Boulevard Maloney Ouest and QC 148 for some pictures before returning south along the same route, stopping at Rue Saint-Louis/QC 307 for more highway pictures. On the way, I spotted some oddities for your viewing pleasure.

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That’s the Salvation Army in Canadian.

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Shoppers Drug Mart.

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The hood of this car looks like it was done by a nutty ex-neighbor of mine who elected to prematurely end her stay on Earth back in 2007.

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Poulet Frit à la Kentucky. The Colonel’s favorite recipe.

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Et pourquoi?

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Qu’est-ce que c’est? L’Anglais sur le Québec? N’est pas le Roi de Burger? Appelez la police tout de suite!

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Back across the bridge and through Parc du Lac-Leamy, I made my way west into the vieux secteur Hull.

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Though I didn’t necessarily feel unsafe around here, this is clearly not an area one wants to frequent at any hour of the day.

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I couldn’t help but notice this truck. I never knew there were this many ways to say “used.”

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Your “vehicule” will be towed.

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You haven’t experienced Quebec until you’ve seen an Arrêt sign. S-T-O-P is good enough for Paris, but not good enough for Quebec.

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After getting some shots around the western terminus of A-50 at Station Montcalm, I headed for the roundabout at Boulevard des Allumettières and Boulevard Saint-Joseph.

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With two lanes of both major thoroughfares headed into the roundabout from all four sides, this must act like be a 50,000-volt magnet for fender-benders. Horns were honking like crazy and that I didn’t see some crunched metal during my brief time at this mess of an intersection is nothing short of miraculous. For the benefit of readers in the SPRM, it would be the equivalent of putting a roundabout at Portage and Main.

As bad as things are for cars at this intersection, it is even worse for pedestrians like me. There are lights at opposite ends when crossing Boulevard des Allumettières, but at Boulevard Saint-Joseph, you’re on your own.

While at one of the lights, I peered around the post to get a picture of QC 148, much to the amusement of a Muslim couple waiting to cross the street. After I sat down for a break at a bench, they walked past and laughed as they pointed at me. And a good day to you too.

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I was hoping to avoid having to patronize any establishment in this country, but fatigue and hunger got the best of me, so I went inside a nearby Subway and placed my order, entirely in Quebecese. It was anything but an award-winning performance as I used my high-school French for the first time for real, but I know somewhere, Bruce Christie, my seventh-grade homeroom teacher at Arthur Day Junior High, is smiling and proud of his former pupil.

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After eating, I wrote up some notes while listening to all the Quebecese around me. Very little Canadian is spoken in this country, and the most popular word of Canadian I heard was four letters long and started with the letter “F.” Seeing all the people running across the street reminded me of what I saw on Gréber, a busy street where so many just ran across against traffic, forcing cars to stop to avoid a collision. The people here appear to be a lawless bunch that makes Winnipeg look good.

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Right across from me as I ate was this lawyer’s office. A female lawyer is an “avocate,” as the sign at right correctly states, yet on the one at left, it is incorrectly spelled “avocat.” When I, as anything but a fluent speaker of Quebecese, can catch the error, you know it’s bad.

Following the much-needed break, I headed back towards Canada, when I spotted this pillar of society panhandling, or hat-handling, at the on-ramp to A-50.

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I would soon spot another such character, which was not an uncommon sighting throughout my stay in the area.

There was also this bit of odd street entertainment at the corner of Boulevards Sacré-Coeur and Maisonneuve.

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Relieved to be back in my own country, I headed west toward the Parliament Buildings, passing some sights along the way.

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The Saudi Arabian Embassy.

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The Japanese Embassy.

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Embassy of the State of Kuwait.

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Though I didn’t go inside, I walked past the National Gallery.

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I don’t even want to know how much we paid for this piece of “art.” No doubt, each of those tentacles picked our pockets clean.

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You need to go to school to learn how to work for the government?

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The U.S. Embassy.

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A rather peculiar way to secure a bike.

Having put on countless miles on foot, I was done for the day and boarded the #9 bus to take me back to the hotel. First thing next morning, however, I was back at it for another day of exploration, this time mostly on the Canadian side. I was hoping to visit the Parliament Buildings and take advantage of the free tours they offer, but sadly, unbeknownst to me, they weren’t offering tours on this particular day because the potheads were holding a demonstration on the grounds.

Instead, I began my day with a visit to Lansdowne, home of the former Ottawa Civic Center and TD Place, home of the CFL’s Redblacks. Oh wait, it’s not the Redblacks, it’s the REDBLACKS. Watch out when they play the BLUEGOLDS or the GREENWHITES.

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While waiting for a connecting bus on Bank Street, I spotted this character seeking donations to fund his weed habit. All he had to do was visit Parliament Hill and he’d undoubtedly get all he wanted.

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Scenes around Gate 3 of the former Ottawa Civic Center. This is the area where we were dropped off around this time last year on the fan bus trip to see the IceDogs battle the 67’s in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series. Loyal readers may recall we left right after the game and got back around 5:00 in the morning. The Ottawa Civic Center was also one of two host venues when the WHA kicked off its first season on the night of October 11, 1972.

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Overlooking the attached football stadium.

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After a brief tour of the area, I returned downtown and took in this outdoor mall on Sparks Street.

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The Terry Fox statue was something I definitely wanted to see. I would have liked to have spent more time there, but the statue is in the middle of a busy sidewalk, where, like Union Station, you really can’t stop and smell the roses.

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Despite the demonstration later in the day, I could still tour the grounds.

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I’m having a hard time picturing the 90-year-old Queen on a horse.

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The parliamentary outhouse. Maybe this is where Bobo forces the Conservatives to answer the call of nature.

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A War of 1812 memorial, a reminder of home.

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Sacré bleu! The French wording is in a smaller font than its Canadian equivalent. No doubt the language zealots on the other side of the border will soon be having a field day with this one.

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Moving on, I passed the Supreme Court of Canada, where more laws are made than in the House of Commons.

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At the foot of the Portage Bridge, I was again struck by the nice trails in the area.

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On the northbound lanes, there is a two-way bike path. I can’t imagine how scary it would be pedaling against busy traffic. I found it bad enough out on deserted Hecla Island in the SPRM many years earlier.

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Crossing Victoria Island, I went back over the river for another brief tour inside the empire du mal.

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Another nice trail to cover, if only I had my bike.

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A statue of Samuel de Champlain. If I didn’t know better, it looks like a spitting image of a former colleague with the initials of B.C. One reader will understand.

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Back over the bridge into Canada, I made my way to the Canadian War Museum.

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The admission price was $16.95, including KST, but it proved to be worth every penny.

The galleries were arranged in chronological order, beginning with the early wars among the aboriginal peoples.

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An early-model dagger, which looks like something one might find on a Winnipeg Transit bus.

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There was a phone where you could hear the dramatization of an Indian elder speaking about his first encounters with the French. I swear it sounded just like a good friend and loyal reader. He will understand and no doubt laugh heartily. I hope he was paid handsomely for the use of his voice.

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Of course, there were the usual bits of revisionist history, demonizing the British and making heroes out of the defeated French.

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The War of 1812, more reminders of home.

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The founding of the SPRM.

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There was a large collection on the First World War.

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How’s your “eyesite”?

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A display showing what it was like in a trench, sans the mud, of course.

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A plane with “C 5” on the wings. Loyal readers can judge for themselves as to whether or not that was a coincidence.

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Sadly, the slackers do rule Canada today and has an army of social justice warriors fighting on their behalf.

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There was an equally large collection on World War II, including Adolf Hitler’s Mercedes.

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One of the first flight simulators, used for training pilots.

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A U-boat torpedo.

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I know “retards” doesn’t mean the same in Quebecese as it does in Canadian, but it was still odd to see. This particular display showed what was being done on the home front, and a noteworthy omission was “If Day” held in Winnipeg in 1942. They had fake Nazis on the street, renamed Portage Avenue to Adolf-Hitler-Strasse and even published a fake edition of the Winnipeg Tribune to show what things would be like if Germany won the war, all in an effort to sell Victory Bonds.

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Wartime rationing.

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And peacetime propaganda is alive and well at the CBC, Toronto Star, Winnipeg Free Press and the rest of the Liberal-loving media.

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A Canadian beaver armed and ready for battle.

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An anti-aircraft gun.

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A German tank.

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There was a lot devoted to the Cold War, including this simulated World War III command center.

All told, I spent two and a half hours there and I can highly recommend it for anyone with an interest in military history.

After a stop at the café for refueling and rest, I was back on the road for some more sightseeing before catching the bus back to the hotel.

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By accident, I stumbled on the National Firefighters Memorial, located just across the street from the War Museum.

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I wasn’t aware the West had died.

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Potheads gathering at Parliament Hill. As I continued east, I passed many more on the sidewalk heading there.

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Upon reaching the bus stop, I spotted this rotund figure with the slogan “Keep it fit, hit the pit” on her back as she accompanied “Pita Pete” down the street. Had she passed by me, I might have been tempted to tell her to practice what she’s preaching.

The next day, I had plenty of time to sleep in before making my way back across the walkway to the train station.

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Scenes around the train station.

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Time went quickly, and I was soon on board the Toronto-bound train. The car was noticeably different than the last one, and even the woman sitting in front of me who travels this route frequently hadn’t seen one like it before.

The train was not completely full and I lucked out as the seat next to me, 5C in Car 5, was empty on the nine-year anniversary of my fateful inaugural visit to Carli Ward at Riverview Health Center. Whether or not that was a coincidence is left as an exercise to the reader.

As was the case on the trip to Ottawa, there would be little chatter on board except for a little bit in front of me before we left the station. A young woman in her 20s was telling the woman to her right that she was a student going to school in Toronto who was visiting family in Ottawa before going back to take her final exams the next day. She would later open her laptop and go through some sample questions on math logic. Hey, I got my math degree using paper and pencil.

As we were leaving, the announcement, “Hello, my name is Eric and I’ll be your service manager today,” came over the PA system, as it would after each of the Fallowfield and Kingston stops. Well, Eric, I’m Curtis and I’ll be your passenger today. To be more blunt, Eric, I really don’t give a flying rat’s behind what your name is. In fairness, however, Eric and his colleagues were much more pleasant than the bunch who were on the Ottawa-bound train.

The return trip offered me a view from the opposite side of the car, where I was able to see the lake, in addition to a couple of other odd sightings. One farmer was flying a Saskatchewan Roughrider flag upside down and I also spotted some assorted trailer trash sitting around an open pit with a fire going. The latter scene reminded me of an obnoxious former neighbor who would frequently burn railway ties in his backyard for no apparent reason.

Back at Union Station, I caught a Lakeshore West train and had a long wait at Burlington with many others for the #12 GO bus. Right behind me in line were three older women headed for Niagara Falls who were on the same VIA train from Ottawa as I was, just four rows ahead of me. I was able to help them with some directions and I hope they made their way there safely.

Tired and weary, I made it back to St. Catharines around 6:30 having experienced more over the last four days than I could digest.

I was glad I went, but I’m not sure I would return. There is still plenty I would like to see in Ottawa, but I might be inclined to save my money to go somewhere else.

21 Mar

Top Hat Ceremony

Today, I attended the annual Top Hat Ceremony for the official opening of the Welland Canal at Lock 3 here in St. Catharines.

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Judging from the packed house 20 minutes before the ceremony began, I didn’t arrive early enough.

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Before heading up to the second floor, I made sure to sign the guestbook and pry a program loose from one of the volunteers engrossed in a conversation with one of his colleagues. Luckily, I was able to get a good seat right up front before the others joined me.

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Master of Ceremonies D’Arcy Wilson kicked off the event while Niagara Regional Chair Alan Caslin shot me a “What the heck is he up to?” look. It’s a media event, Alan. I wasn’t the only one there with a camera.

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Francois Allard, Director of Marine Services for Windsor Salt and Allister Paterson, President of Canada Steamship Lines.

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Betty Sutton of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation and Terence Bowles of the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation.

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After an anthem singing I could have lived without, Bowles spoke first, followed by Sutton. Bowles played a video proudly showing off the new hands free mooring system being used on the canal and throughout the Seaway.

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Our mayor, Walter Sendzik, then took the podium. I have never known a more dynamic public speaker.

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Ted Luciani, Thorold’s mayor and a 25-year Seaway employee.

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Alan Caslin. Now he appears a little more receptive to the spotlight.

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Paterson spoke about the gloomy state of affairs with the market in China bottoming out.

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Allard then spoke about the salt business. There’s something so fitting about having the first ship through the canal being filled with the essence of Ontario.

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Gifts were then presented.

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Kathleen Powell of the St. Catharines Museum then presented the Top Hat to the captain of the Thunder Bay. The Top Hat tradition apparently dates back to the days of the fur trade, as the beaver pelts were used to make hats.

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The captain poses for the cameras.

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Bowles presented a plaque to the captain and chief engineer.

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Chaplain Arthur Taylor then led the group in prayer. No, we weren’t on our knees on a rug praying toward Mecca. Maybe there’s still some hope for us after all.

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Finally, Bowles and Sutton officially declare the shipping season open, bringing the hour-long ceremony to a close.

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As the crowd dispersed and headed downstairs for the free food, the participants posed for a group picture.

For the second straight year, I’m glad I went and again learned more about the Seaway’s importance not only to the region, but the North American economy.

03 Jan

Touring Toronto

Yesterday, with camera in hand, I spent the day touring the Center of the Universe for the third time.

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After catching the bus in St. Catharines, I got to Burlington in good time and waited for the Lakeshore West train. Before pulling into Burlington, the bus driver made sure to thank us for traveling with GO Transit and to wish us a happy new year. It sure beats the F-you greetings more common in my former home city.

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There were a number of people on the train, but being so early in the morning, I was able to get a seat off to myself. Looking around, I couldn’t help but notice once again how clean the train was. There were no condom wrappers, vomit, graffiti, or any indigents passed out after another night of ingesting near-lethal quantities of solvents mixed with beverages sold only at LCBO stores. As I’ve said before, I could get used to this. In fact, I think I have.

Moving on, my early morning peace was disturbed by a family of four who got on headed for the C.U. aquarium. Just in case anyone on the train was asleep, their six-year-old daughter gave us several wake-up calls by screaming at the top of her lungs intermittently while her mother was bundling her up in a snowsuit as if they were about to march across frozen tundra to the nearest igloo a hundred miles away. Though there was a little bit of a wind on this day, the temperature hovered around the freezing mark. These people just don’t know what real cold is, and I can’t imagine what they would do if they had to experience a typical January in the SPRM.

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My ears were relieved when we pulled into Union Station, which is undergoing many renovations. This shot shows what much of the station will look like in time, but for now, it’s a real mess. Navigating around the place, even for someone like me who is good with directions, was a challenge.

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I eventually got to Front Street, where I began my tour by walking through the largely deserted Financial District.

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The RBC Center. Other banks have equally gaudy towers, and TD even has two of them. For the benefit of one loyal reader, TD stands for Toronto Dominion, not Town Drunk, in reference to a former colleague.

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Continuing east, I ended up in the Old Town district passing St. Lawrence Market.

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It may not look like much from the street, but after checking into it the next day, St. Lawrence Market is probably worth a trip in itself. They even offer 90-minute guided walking tours of the market and surrounding area.

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On the way, I couldn’t help but be struck by all the white stuff. No, this isn’t snow, it’s salt. One thing I’ve noticed here in Southern Ontario is that as soon as the temperature hits zero and snow is forecasted, they apply salt by the truckload.

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Another trademark feature of Southern Ontario is the much-improved cycling infrastructure compared with the SPRM. Here, there is a special bike lane on top of the curb on one of many numbered bike routes in Toronto.

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Later, I would find many indoor racks like this one along the Bay Street entrance at Union Station. There were bike racks everywhere and many cyclists were out and about despite what they would call extreme cold.

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My first destination was the Don Valley Parkway as I made my way east on Queen Street.

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Such a nice, charming neighborhood. Or not.

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I couldn’t help but notice this sign. One loyal reader will understand the reference as it relates to a late colleague who used to brag about the number of computer languages he claimed to know.

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This sign certainly got my “attenion.”

After getting some shots of the DVP for my road photos site at the Queen Street and Dundas Street overpasses, I proceeded north through the Regent Park neighborhood.

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From there, I ended up at the Necropolis Cemetery.

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There, I found the grave of the late Jack Chow.

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I may want to use a character based on Mr. Chow, Canada’s answer to Lenin, in a future book, so I got some pictures of the monument. Though I know someone who would have wanted me to spit on his grave, I resisted the temptation. As someone who has suffered under the policies of the NDP in the SPRM, however, I admit the temptation was strong. Very strong.

While at Mr. Chow’s grave, I could hear the sounds of poultry across the street at Riverdale Farm. Apparently it is open year-round and it will likely be a place I will be touring in a future visit.

Moving on, I made way through Cabbagetown, where there are two and a half dogs for every human. It reminded me very much of Wolseley in the SPRM’s capital, where I swear there must be a neighborhood bylaw that requires each resident to have at least one dog. Leashes optional, of course.

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I ended up at Carlton Street, where I continued west until I reached Maple Leaf Gardens.

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Inside the former home of the Leafs is now a full-service Loblaws grocery store, where I wandered about before taking a break at their little café inside.

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Perhaps not coincidentally, I spotted this vanity plate right outside the historic former arena.

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After that much-needed break, I continued down Carlton to Yonge Street and the arts district.

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From there I made my way to Nathan Phillips Square, where many were taking advantage of the outdoor skating rink.

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Nearby, I was struck by this scene where people were lined up for opera tickets.

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I stopped for this shot of Roy Thomson Hall before continuing back toward Union Station.

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On the way, I passed by the Liberal Party of Canada headquarters, otherwise known as the evil CBC.

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I was particularly galled by this sign claiming that this was “private property,” conveniently ignoring the billions that Canadians have been forced to part with to prop up this propaganda-manufacturing empire.

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They have some nerve passing their lies off as “news.”

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My last destination was the NHL Hall of Political Correctness, where I browsed through their shop.

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Outside, they had a jersey from Jets legend Phil Housley.

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Back at Union Station, I couldn’t help but notice this beggar across the street, but one of many wandering the streets of Toronto.

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I noted with interest that he has a much better backpack than mine. Maybe I should have been begging him for money. Or I could simply call my MP, tell him I’m a refugee and hand him a forged Syrian passport.

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With my adventure in C.U. complete, I went up to the platform to wait for the Lakeshore West train to take me back to Burlington and the connection to the bus.

As we pulled out of Union Station, someone got on the intercom said, “Hello, my name is Ken and I’ll be your customer service ambassador this afternoon.” Well, good afternoon, Ken, my name is Curtis and I’ll be your passenger this afternoon.

As we got past Long Branch, an artificially cheery female voice replaced Ken, yet she failed to introduce herself. No doubt this is a major breach of GO protocol and if there was a supervisor on board, she’d be in some serious trouble.

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With a little bit of time in Burlington before the connecting bus, I made my way to the washroom. As you can see on the ramp, salt was again spread very generously.

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Again, more salt on the sidewalk.

Just as I was finishing up doing my business and getting ready to head to the sink, someone who was standing behind me, evidently eager for a conversation, said “Hi, how’s it going.” While I was washing my hands, he remarked about the “freezing cold” outside. I didn’t want to get into it with him, but trust me, +1 is not “freezing cold.” Try a 25-mile bike ride when it’s -20 outside, then come back and tell me about this “freezing cold.”

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Soon, our bus came, and about an hour later, I was back at Fairview Mall. I was surprised it took that long, since our driver was passing cars as if they were standing still. I have become convinced that the 100 km/h posted speed limit on the QEW is, in fact, a minimum, and not a maximum speed.

In any event, it was certainly an interesting day and one I won’t soon forget.

01 Jan

New Year’s Day Levee

Today, for the second consecutive year, I attended the New Year’s Day levee at the Lake Street Armoury featuring St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik and other dignitaries.

Arriving early, I was able to take a tour of the facility beforehand.

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A member of the ceremonial guard.

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Views from the mezzanine level.

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Many took advantage of the free food. As they say, if it’s free, it’s for me.

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Two guns on display, enough to scare the bejesus out of any gun-control-loving socialist.

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A plaque honoring those who had fallen in the Boer War.

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The fire escape plan for the “St. Catherines” Armoury. I know the city’s name is often misspelled elsewhere, and I’ve been guilty of that myself before the prospect of moving here came on the radar, but it’s inexcusable for locals to do it.

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Two centuries of service.

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The flags of New Brunswick and the SPRM fittingly side by side.

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The receiving line, led by Mayor Sendzik. As he said in line, it’s not Mr. Mayor, it’s Walter.

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The Lincoln & Welland Regiment band played before the dignitaries spoke.

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The town crier begins the proceedings.

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Standing at attention for the playing of God Save the Queen. I don’t imagine our new MP, who was in attendance, was too amused.

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Mayor Sendzik raises a toast to St. Catharines. It was another one of those memorable “we really did it” moments as I recalled all we went through to leave the SPRM and come here. It remains the best thing I’ve ever done.

Mayor Sendzik, or Walter, then delivered a six-minute speech, and my ears are still throbbing after they fired the cannon three times to wrap up the event.