Yesterday, I joined six others from the St. Catharines Photographic Club in an outing to the Center of the Universe’s Distillery District. I had been to C.U. a number of times before, but this would mark my first visit to this particular corner of the universe’s center.
As those who know me would expect, I got a number of good highway shots en route.
Passing the Ricoh Coliseum, home of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. Nearby is BMO Field, home of the Toronto Argonauts. Rumor has it they were playing yesterday. Not that many would notice or care. I figured they were playing the Farmers’ Republic of Saskatchewan since I spotted a few people milling about the Distillery District decked out in Riders gear later in the evening.
Passing the Rogers Center, née SkyDome.
At left is the Air Canada Center, home to a team in one of hockey’s major leagues.
Following an enjoyable drive that went much quicker than expected, I began exploring the area.
A group on a Segway tour. Watching them roll through the cobblestone streets, I couldn’t help but think of the late Lindor Reynolds, a former columnist with Socialism Illustrated who once interviewed me for a piece back in 2007. Reynolds fell and broke her pelvis while on a Segway in Minneapolis, and she later blew off a lot of steam in a self-serving column in which she unfairly laid the blame for her mishap entirely on the devices themselves.
But I digress.
Here was a magician at work. He was so good, in fact, that he must have made himself disappear. I later did spot him back at work, so he obviously knew how to make himself reappear as well.
Some urban art. I think.
An old truck.
As a non-coffee-drinker, it doesn’t brew my mind.
This was a particularly popular spot for selfies. All told, I probably saw more selfies taken around the Distillery District than in a typical visit to Niagara Falls.
Uber-trendy shops were everywhere, yet I hardly spotted anyone with shopping bags. The many people out and about were patronizing the bars and restaurants, taking pictures or getting married. I lost count of the number of wedding parties I saw around there through the course of the day and early evening.
It’s a good thing they put this sign in upper case to SHOUT at those hard of hearing.
Hook up with a Segway tour here.
Whatever this is, it reminds me of the giant spider outside the national art gallery in Ottawa.
Warm sake keeps you warm. Duh. I didn’t think it keeps you cold.
Plenty of space for outdoor seating for those so inclined.
Enjoy your “macarons.”
This piece of artwork with a Leafs motif caught my eye.
For $20, you too can have a lock put up on this selfie magnet. That includes engraving.
Just beyond the entrance was a block-long line of taxis coming and going. This is a popular destination.
With some extra time, I took a stroll around the neigborhood, covering the Canary District on my way to Corktown Common. This particular shot comes from George Brown College.
Elsewhere in the Canary District.
Shots around Corktown Common, a park bordering a bike trail.
Forget about the animals, stop voting Liberal. But again, I digress.
This Tim Hortons-branded bicycle caught my eye. If they are indeed branching out into bike sales, I hope that means they’ll soon by offering more bike racks at their restaurants.
This shot was taken for the benefit of one former colleague. Those of you who are friends of mine on Facebook may have already seen it.
Neither the dogs nor their owners seemed to be paying much attention to this sign.
More scenes around the Distillery District.
Look up. Look way up. So says the Friendly Giant.
This “treasure box” will set you back $38. Plus KST. No wonder there weren’t many people with shopping bags.
Many of the shops like this one were making an effort to cater to their customers who had a dog with them. There were a lot of dogs around, but in sharp contrast to what I’ve experienced in the SPRM, all of them were on a leash.
I’ve seem them before, but I got these shots of a TTC streetcar. It still amazes me that Winnipeg got rid of them once upon a time. Not that I’m bitter or anything.
We took a break and had supper at the Mill Street Brewpub. The dining options around there were horrible, but it was the best of a bad lot, so rather than make the two block trek to a Subway, I opted to stay with the group. The fish and chips I had were all right, though it did leave an aftertaste, and of course, I didn’t partake in any alcoholic beverages. The real problem there was that they stacked up their customers like cordwood. You really did have to step outside to change your mind.
Perhaps the funniest moment of the day came when we were ordering. Our club president asked the waitress if a particular offering was good. Did she expect the waitress to say it was lousy?
After eating, I took a stroll on the west side between Parliament and Lower Sherbourne Streets. This shot was taken at a basketball court in front of a housing co-op.
This dry cleaner offers “taperring.”
More scenes from the area. I took the shot of the fire hall for the benefit of one reader who I know will appreciate it.
Just in case you need to vacuum yourself.
A nice shot after the sun went down. The others, with skills and equipment far superior to mine, enjoyed the opportunity for some night photography.
The CN Tower lit up at night.
All in all, it was a long, but productive and enjoyable day. Thanks go out to Vic for organizing the event and to Steve, who got us there and back safely.
Thoughts and observations from before and during the IceDogs’ home opener last night:
1. Passing by a CIBC branch on the way downtown, I noticed a sign in the window promoting the fact that they now offer free WiFi. Why? It’s a bank, not a coffee shop.
2. Yesterday marked the fifth straight day that I had been out in which I spotted a license plate from the Old Country. There’s bound to be some meaning behind it, but I’m not sure what it is. Yet.
3. Though he wasn’t in the lineup last night, congratulations to Graham Knott on his signing with a team in one of hockey’s major leagues.
4. The bars and restaurants on St. Paul Street were again hopping before the game. From what I saw on the way, so was the LCBO. People were even hauling liquor on their bikes.
5. After so many years in the Old Country, it still felt kind of strange going to an OHL game, yet this is my third home opener since defecting two years ago. How time flies when you’re having fun.
6. I was not expecting the glass at the Meridian Center to have undergone its historic first cleaning. I’m not happy to be right. (eyeroll)
7. Good to see Horizon Utilities advertising again this year. In the business world, brand recognition is so important and it helps you stay one step ahead of your competitors. Oh right, they don’t have any. (eyeroll)
8. Speaking of advertising, I spotted this ad for a “medical pharmacy.” As opposed to a non-medical pharmacy?
9. When looking to go into the seating area, I stumbled upon a ramp not guarded by an usher, so I pounced on it. A wonderful stroke of luck I can only dream of for future games.
10. The tunnel leading to the IceDogs dressing room was, as expected, lined with many young fans-in-training. To their credit, before, during and after the game, each of the players high-fived any kid who extended his hand. Class.
11. Defenseman Liam Ham is one of many new players this season. I’m guessing he’s not either Jewish or an Adventist.
12. A Kingston Frontenacs uniform would be perfect for anyone wanting to dress up as a bumblebee for Halloween.
13. As part of the pregame festivities, following the player introductions, the Eastern Conference championship banner was unveiled. It was just too bad so few of the players who led the team all the way to the finals were there to see it. Seeing all the familiar numbers worn by unfamiliar faces during the warmup, it really hit home how many have moved on. Welcome to junior hockey.
14. It was a classy gesture to bring Matt Gillard out for the ceremonial pregame faceoff. For those who may have forgotten, Gillard fell into the boards early last season and broke one of the vertebrae in his spine, ultimately ending his playing career.
15. One thought kept going through my head during the pregame ceremonies. Turn. On. The. Lights.
16. Much to the delight of the IceDogs and the city, beer was flowing freely around me last night. The guy to my right had polished off two before the five-minute mark of the first period and it was much the same with the guy to my left. I wonder if the good folks at the NRP have considered roadside check stops after IceDogs games?
17. Seated three rows in front of me was someone with an IceDogs jersey bearing the number 5 on the back. Those of you who know me will understand the significance.
18. Seated at the end of the aisle one row in front of me was none other than Mayor Walter Sendzik. He was obviously not dressed for a political function and he really needs a shave. Also spotted in the concourse was one of his Liberal comrades, Jim Bradley, who is still rumored to be our MPP.
19. Right across from me was this ad from our local BMW dealership, reminding me of a good friend back in the Old Country. I miss him, but I don’t miss the Old Country.
20. Apparently, an IceDogs game is not complete without two self-serving introductions from the P.A. announcer. I fondly remember an earlier era when we didn’t even know who the P.A. announcer was.
21. That annoying band was back once again, but luckily, they were just as dead as the crowd was. As I was following them out, I felt like yelling, “Don’t come back!”
22. Oh by the way, there was a game. A dud. The IceDogs didn’t even score a goal. Even the fight was a dud. But being the cynical ex-Winnipegger that I am, I always seem to get more fodder out of a dud and this night proved to be no exception. Not that I want the home team to lose, mind you.
23. I don’t think there was one player wearing red who distinguished himself. It was a particularly rough second period for new starting goaltender Stephen Dhillon, who looked awkward and clumsy, much like his teammates. He needs to play more. A lot more.
24. Two of the more prominent and passionate fans in the building spent the second intermission snapping selfies. Before the game, they were handing out hand-made welcome signs for each of the new players, and each one was finger-licking good. I had a passion like that once. That was before I contracted Battered Fan Syndrome. It’s a disease I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake, but it has opened up a whole new world of opportunity.
25. I was mildly surprised there wasn’t a full house on hand. Official attendance was announced as 4,707 and it may have been a bit inflated. My guess was between 4,200 and 4,300.
26. Early in the third period, as Aaron Haydon and former IceDog Cody Caron nearly came to blows, three kids went running up to the boards, pounded on the glass and started yelling “Fight! Fight! Fight!” For a moment there, I thought I was at a Fighting Moose game.
Today, I covered 49.1 miles on two wheels in a bus-bike trip to Crystal Beach. For the benefit of those not familiar with the region, it’s located on Niagara’s south coast about midway between Port Colborne and Fort Erie.
Bright and early, I left the house and made my way to the St. Catharines Bus Terminal to catch the 7:05 #70 regional transit bus to Welland to give me a head start.
Unfortunately, the bus was 10 minutes late, but it was of little consequence to me. I noted with interest, however, that the driver was apologetic and was saying “Sorry for being so late” to each passenger. Once again, it sure beats the F-U attitude more commonly displayed in the Old Country. But I digress.
After getting to the Welland Transit Terminal, I made my way south along the trail to Port Colborne, then crossed the canal on Main Street.
I could have hooked up with the Friendship Trail linking Port Colborne to Fort Erie directly in town, but as most readers would expect, it wouldn’t be a proper bike trip for me without getting some highway pictures. So instead, I took Killaly Street east to the junction of Highway 3 in Gasline.
I know one reader will appreciate the name of this hamlet, as it would be a perfect retirement destination for a former colleague with a connection to the U.S. Postal Service who liked to treat us to plenty of his own gas.
After getting some shots of Highway 3, I turned south on Cedar Bay Road and followed the Friendship Trail to Gorham Road. Farther north, it’s known as Sodom Road and to the south it’s known as Ridgeway Road. It also carries the moniker of regional road 116. Take your pick.
I first headed north to get some shots of the junction at Highway 3, then turned around and headed for Crystal Beach.
As it says, the south coast of Canada.
A shot of the beach. Across the lake is the great state of New York.
Shots around the park.
As I sat and ate my lunch, I gazed at the Buffalo skyline and recognized places and buildings I visited in a trip there less than a month ago.
More shots around the park.
This is a shot of Point Abino and the lighthouse by the shore. Unfortunately, it’s a private community and the public is not normally allowed out there.
Homes by the shore, part of a gated community. Yes, access to the lake is a little limited.
For the benefit of one reader, the fire hall across from the Tim Hortons where I stopped.
Rested, hydrated and fed, I returned to the Friendship Trail and headed west back to Port Colborne. It was my second time on the trail and it was like an Interstate highway for cyclists. As someone who has spent the bulk of his life in a cesspool so hostile to cyclists (and everyone else), I don’t think people in this part of the world fully appreciate how lucky they are to have resources like this in their own backyard.
Near downtown Port Colborne, I stopped for this shot before heading north to Welland to hook up with the regional transit bus once again. Once I got to the Welland Transit Terminal, I noticed a Welland Transit bus waiting, but I ignored it and instead waited for the regional transit bus. Fortunately, the driver noticed me standing there and explained that the Welland Transit bus was indeed the regional transit bus I was looking for. Every other time I had taken regional transit, it has been labelled as such, so for prospective riders out there, take note that you could be getting a local bus rather than a regional one. As the driver said to me, read the route number instead.
With my bike on board, I made it back safely and without incident. It was yet another quality experience I’ve come to expect from living here.
Yesterday, I was among the handful of non-politicians present as our MPP, Jim Bradley, and Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca made the “historic” announcement that GO train service will be coming to Niagara.
That was the good news.
The bad news?
St. Catharines and Niagara Falls won’t be seeing the trains until 2023. That’s seven years from now.
Despite the massive letdown, in an understatement of epic proportions, that leaves plenty of time for our local elected officials to lay out the necessary groundwork to make this new service a win instead of a setback.
First, there must be vastly improved transit service to the St. Catharines train station from both St. Catharines Transit and Niagara Region Transit. As things stand, it would probably take me longer to get to the train station than it does for the GO bus to take me from Fairview Mall to Burlington.
In a recent chat with the Standard, I posed the question to Mayor Sendzik as to when we could expect such plans to be announced if the much-anticipated GO service came. All I got was a politician’s non-answer. This is the time when the planning needs to get done, not two years after the trains start rolling.
Secondly, a full Presto rollout throughout the region’s many transit systems should be considered a must, along with a discounted co-fare for those coming from or transferring to the GO service. This is commonplace throughout the GTHA and it should be no different here.
Finally, lift the restrictions on taking bicycles on the train during peak times. I know this is more of a personal issue, but cycling is a lot more popular in this part of the world than it was in the SPRM. It is not just a much more accepted mode of transportation with the locals, but people come from all over the world to explore the region on two wheels. They can bring their bikes on the bus today and it should be no less permissible when the train comes, regardless of the time of day or day of the week.
For the second year in a row, I made the trek to Hamilton for the open house at the Tiger-Cats’ new stadium.
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.
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.
The “Champions Club” is an impressive restaurant/bar where VIPs can sit and watch the game while enjoying their food and drink.
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.
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.
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.
I spotted this guy on the west side concourse. You think he’s a fan?
Later, once we were allowed on the field, he went to see quarterback Zach Collaros.
On the east side is the steam whistle they blow before every game.
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.
I wasn’t aware Brantford was in line for a CFL franchise.
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.
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.
Jeremiah Masoli, who eventually became the starting quarterback after the midseason injury to Collaros.
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.
One of the mascots.
Luke Tasker, the son of Buffalo Bills’ great Steve Tasker.
Mike Filer, the team’s starting center, takes the stage for an interview.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is a shot I couldn’t resist. NBCUniversal just had to have a presence in the Center of the Universe.
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.
There are a lot of people in Toronto, but also a lot of raccoons, giving rise to new entrepreneurial opportunities.
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.
Farther down Eglinton, I ran into our esteemed premier’s constituency office.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Chalk was available for kids to draw on the street. Here, some wrote names of their favorite players.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
The two teams shaking hands.
The IceDogs salute the remaining fans.
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.
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.
Mitchell Marner accepts the Gretzky Award.
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.
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.
For once, I was far from the first on the scene of the noon-hour event.
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.
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.
As someone said, he was being fed to the dogs.
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.
The prime minister.
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.
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.
The team assembled inside the bandstand.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Outside Budweiser Gardens.
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.
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.
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.
Looking outside toward downtown from the 300 level.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the concourse, I spotted several IceDogs players kicking around a soccer ball.
I was not the only one to stop for some pictures.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.