Category Archives: Ontario

19 Nov

IceDogs vs. Ottawa

Thoughts and observations from the game last night as the IceDogs rallied to beat Ottawa:

1. There was an exceptional amount of traffic and activity downtown before and after the game. Our mayor thinks that’s a good thing. I’m not sure I agree with him.

2. In the washroom before the game, I spotted someone putting in eye drops after doing his business at the urinal. Then he went to wash his hands. You just can’t make stuff like this up.

3. Someone nearby took her seat and proceeded to devour an order of ketchup with some chicken fingers and fries on the side. In the second period, someone had an order of gravy with some fries on the side. They are condiments, not meals.

4. During the warmup, LauraLeigh came to escort a couple of nearby fans down to the “best seats in the house” as part of a promotion they hold every game. Instead of watching the game through Gary Bettman’s gift to the world, they got to sit in a sofa at ice level and attempt to follow the play through the grimy glass. I think I got the better view.

5. Despite how wide and spacious the seats at the Meridian Center are, some guy a few rows in front of me had trouble fitting into his. Maybe that will be the final straw for him to get off the “see food” diet.

5a. This heavyweight bore a striking facial resemblance to a late ex-colleague of mine.

6. Just when you think the IceDogs P.A. announcer can’t possibly engage in more self-promotion, he does. In addition to his customary pair of self-serving introductions every game, now he gets his name and face on the big screen before the game. I swear he must be convinced that fans pay to hear him announce rather than to watch the game.

6a. So as not to give him more of the attention he craves, I refuse to identify him.

7. As part of the pregame ceremonies, the four newest members of the St. Catharines Sports Hall of Fame were introduced. One of them had apparently attended St. Catharines Collegiate, so the announcer made sure to tell us that St. Catharines Collegiate was in St. Catharines. Here I thought it was in Welland. Thanks so much for clearing that up.

8. A girls’ choir from Governor Simcoe Secondary School did a fine job with the anthem. Even better, they were fully clothed and did it entirely in the Canadian language.

9. Every section seems to have its own Howie Meeker wannabee and mine was no exception. I kept hearing “come on” and “keep an eye on him” from this guy who, like so many others, must think the players can hear and will listen to him.

10. The usher in the next section looked like Sean Connery when he played the submarine captain in The Hunt for Red October.

11. One of the groups in attendance was from St. James Catholic School. Back in the Old Country, I lived in St. James for many years.

12. One fan had no problem making himself right at home.

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13. During the game, there was a giveaway for a CAA card in a nearby section. It reminded me of a hotel where I once worked back in the Old Country that was “CAA Approved.” As one snarky painter who did some work there once said, it was approved by the cockroaches, ants and animals, not the Canadian Automobile Association.

14. During a second-period TV timeout, someone proposed to his girlfriend and she said “yes.”

15. A senior in the next section had a nose ring. It looks awful on an 18-year-old and it looks even more out of place on someone who should know better.

16. In the second period, there was another classic Bengt Lundholm moment when Kyle Langdon went through the Ottawa defense only to have the puck dribble off his stick.

17. Despite giving up a bad goal in the second period when he misplayed the puck behind his net, Stephen Dhillon looked better. Less awkward. He still needs more playing time, but there’s been some noticeable improvement since the last time I saw him.

17a. Entering the third period, it was looking like that miscue was going to cost his team the game, but his teammates rallied to take him off the hook.

18. Full marks to the boys for the aforementioned third-period rally to pull out the two points. Unlike what happened too often over the past couple of years when an early deficit meant “game over,” they kept working and were justly rewarded for their efforts.

19. Despite the two goals, Aaron Haydon still looks like a fish out of water up front. He belongs back on the blue line.

20. 4,698 was the announced attendance. Reduce it by 10 or 15% for the actual figure.

21. Fans began leaving during a third-period TV timeout with 9:07 left. What is this, the Old Country?

22. On the bus after the game, everyone without exception said “thank you” to the driver on their way out. On second thought, this is definitely not the Old Country.

08 Nov

Exploring C.U. – Kensington Market, Chinatown

On Monday, I set off for another tour of the universe’s center, this time focusing on the Kensington Market and Chinatown districts.

As usual, I caught the GO bus from Fairview Mall, and it moved well until we hit some thick rush-hour traffic near Burlington. En route, those of us on the upper level were entertained by someone snoring quite loudly. Wherever he was going, I hope he didn’t miss his stop.

The bus was also uncomfortably hot as the heat was seemingly turned up to full blast. I suppose I can understand, since after all, it went down to +2 C overnight. Don’t want those tootsies to get too cold now.

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After getting to Burlington, the train came in short order and it was a comfortable and less steamy ride into Toronto. On the way, we passed a couple of trucks parked behind a building with their corporate slogan, “Courage to Go Far” emblazoned on the side. That is a slogan that definitely hits home. Even though it’s been 27 months since our defection from the Old Country, I still sometimes wonder how we did it.

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Following a little tour around Union Station and the ACC, I set out north on Bay Street, then followed Dundas to the west, where I came across many interesting sights.

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The Village Idiot Pub.

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The Art Gallery of Ontario.

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I noticed a couple of these Car2Go vehicles during my travels. Apparently you sign up for a membership, pay for the time you use the car, then just leave it in a legal parking spot when you’re done with it.

It reminds me of a similar service back in the Old Country. There, a thief steals your car, takes it for a joyride, then strips it for parts and leaves it wherever it suits him. The difference is that the thief doesn’t have any membership fees to deal with and I doubt police even deem it to be a reportable offense. I know, old grudges die hard.

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More sights along Dundas. It wasn’t too far from the latter shot where I saw some old guy pushing a walker wearing a Chipman hat. Ewww. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I spotted someone later in the day wearing a Chipman jersey. Even worse was that he had it customized with Teemu Selanne’s name and #13 on the back, a revulsive connection between the Jets, a team that no longer exists, and the Mark Chipman Personal Hockey Club. Pardon me for a moment while I barf.

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My first stop in Kensington Market was at this statue of the late Al Waxman, who starred in the King of Kensington, the only show the Canadian Brainwashing Corporation ever produced that was worth watching. Besides hockey.

To my surprise, there was no button to press to play the show’s famous introduction. He’s a man of the men. The people’s champion. Here comes King. You get the idea.

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Touring Kensington Market. To say the least, it is an interesting place.

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Now which political party do you suppose the proprietor of this seedy establishment supports?

I could only shake my head when spotting the “Welcoming New Patients” sign in the window. Since when are we supposed to refer to potheads as “patients” of something?

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More scenes around Kensington Market.

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Free sofa and mattresses, no doubt filled with lots of multi-legged guests just waiting for you to welcome them into your home.

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Returning toward Spadina, I spotted this bum catching a few winks on the sidewalk. Throughout the day, I would also spot others doing likewise.

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Union Station seemed to be a hotspot for beggars as well, though at least they were not aggressive like they are in the Old Country. One guy who had a sign in front of him looking for money for food also had a dog. So he’s got money to feed and care for a dog, but he doesn’t have money to feed himself. Just so I understand.

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Following a brief meal break at an uber-crowded Tim Hortons where patrons had to beg to be let into the washroom, I continued south on Spadina before getting some more shots around Kensington Market.

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Personally, I don’t think this building is quite big enough for all the jerks out there.

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Elsewhere in Kensington Market.

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I ducked through an alley and got these shots of the work of various “street artists.” Vandals, actually.

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Another shot along Spadina. Off to the right shows the streetcars that run in both directions in the median. For anyone looking to visit the area, you can catch the #510 streetcar right from Union Station instead of hoofing it like I did.

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The People’s Book Company. Sounds like a venture affiliated with the NDP.

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Other scenes along Spadina.

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Those of you who know of my affinity for poultry understand why I took this shot.

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They think of everything in the Center of Universe, even providing free outhouses for passers-by.

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Entering the Fashion District.

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Continuing south, I got this shot at the overpass over the tracks. At right is the Rogers Center, formerly known as the SkyDome, and in the distance is the CN Tower. I haven’t been up there yet, but maybe I will in a future trip.

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Blue Jays Way. No, I am not, nor have ever been a Blue Jays fan, but I took the shot for the benefit of a couple of others, one of whom owns the cap I keep warm whenever I go out.

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In front of the Rogers Center.

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Grey Cup banners facing Beggars Row at Union Station. I wonder how many, or how few Torontonians know or care that the game is being played in their city.

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Before getting back on the train, I made a point of going past the Trump International Hotel and Tower. Though most of you know him from the presidential election, I first heard of “The Donald” back in 1983 when he bought the New Jersey Generals of the USFL. <shameless self-plug>For more on the Generals and the USFL, check out my most recent book, Fallen Generals, at http://curtiswalker.com/books_generals.aspx.</shameless self-plug>

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My last destination was Nathan Phillips Square and the now-iconic “Toronto” sign reflecting in the water that will soon be ice.

I then returned to Union Station and boarded the Lakeshore West train to wind up a long and action-packed day. I wouldn’t want to live there, but Toronto is a city with many sights to see and I look forward to returning for another visit.

29 Oct

IceDogs vs. Barrie Colts

Thoughts and experiences from the IceDogs loss to the Barrie Colts last night:

1. En route, I was following a couple delivering the sub-Standard. What exactly is the point of subscribing to a paper that’s delivered so late in the day that it’s obsolete before it hits your door?

2. Also en route, I passed by a shop selling bamboo steamers for $10.99 a pop. A bamboo steamer is just one fish dinner away from becoming the first item you make available for your next garage sale.

3. Being the last game before Halloween, many were dressed in costumes for the occasion I just don’t get. The ticket takers, the people working the concessions and paying customers like these got into the act on masse:

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3a. Was there anyone on the peninsula besides me who wasn’t part of the parade of costumes during the second intermission?

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4. It’s nothing new where the Meridian Center is concerned, but would you pay premium dollar to sit behind this:

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5. For the second straight game this year, there was no usher at my section. I can only hope to be so lucky at future games.

6. Someone was kind enough to leave some complimentary gum at the end of the aisle and the cleaning staff was equally kind in not removing it. But at least my seat was clean.

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7. I ask again, why is Horizon advertising? Do we have a choice as to where we get our power from?

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8. On the boards was an ad from Wawanesa Insurance, who recently entered into a new sponsorship agreement with the CHL. The last time I saw one of those, I was at a Fighting Moose game in the Old Country. For those who are not aware, Wawanesa is the name of a small village in the Old Country where I once visited.

9. In addition to the many costumes spotted around the rink, many fans came dressed as empty seats.

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Take this row, for example, one that was marked as completely sold out. For some strange reason, I had a flashback to those Fighting Moose days when Chipman’s staffers would pretty much pull attendance numbers out of thin air. And not just because former Fighting Moose goaltender Mike Rosati was behind the Barrie bench.

9a. The announced attendance figure of 4,768 was as phony as a three-dollar bill. Doubtful if much more than 4,000 were actually there.

9b. On a night with an artificially inflated attendance figure, it was so fitting that the season ticket holder of the game wasn’t even there. Friends had to accept his stick and gift card to the Seaway Mall on his behalf.

10. It was nice to see former Jet Dale Hawerchuk behind the Barrie bench once again despite the fact that this time last week, he was back in the Old Country sleeping with the enemy, so to speak.

11. This was the first time I had seen the new Tee Pees banners since they were raised last month. The IceDogs might have had another customer that night had they not been so secretive about the alumni who were attending. Or maybe I was just supposed to know.

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12. In the Barrie lineup was Jaden Peca, cousin of Michael, who was best known for his blindside hit on Teemu Selanne in Vancouver.

13. The kids from Senator Gibson Public School did a good job with the anthem, thankfully sung entirely in the Canadian language.

14. I spotted a few fans like this one wearing that hideous gay jersey. I know the Burkes try their best to do the right thing, but they really crossed the line when they forced the players to wear those duds. I fully support the right of anyone to live as they wish, but as a good friend of mine says, stop shoving it down my throat.

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15. Several fans in the section to my left were wearing Seahawks paraphernalia. It is a sight that normally would have brought a smile to my face, but I have not watched an NFL game since early September. I cannot support organizations that insult America, and part of me wants to burn every piece of NFL paraphernalia I own.

16. It was nice to see the Whale across the ice:

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17. During the game, they announced that anyone with an IceDogs ticket can work out for free at Good Life Fitness for the rest of October. Gee, what a deal.

18. Oh by the way, there was a game going on. Let’s just say it wasn’t exactly a classic. Neither team really deserved to win. But this is a “take your lumps” year and rest assured, more lumps are coming for the boys in white.

18a. I know they’re young and still learning, but the IceDogs were proudly showing off their pylon defense for most of the night.

19. Needing a goal in the last round of the shootout to stay alive, coach Dave Bell sends out … Ryan Mantha. Is that a compliment to the big, lumbering defenseman or a slap in the face to the young shooters on the bench?

16 Oct

Outing to the Distillery District

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.

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Entering C.U.

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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.

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Passing the Rogers Center, née SkyDome.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Some urban art. I think.

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An old truck.

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As a non-coffee-drinker, it doesn’t brew my mind.

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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.

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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.

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It’s a good thing they put this sign in upper case to SHOUT at those hard of hearing.

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Hook up with a Segway tour here.

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Whatever this is, it reminds me of the giant spider outside the national art gallery in Ottawa.

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Warm sake keeps you warm. Duh. I didn’t think it keeps you cold.

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Plenty of space for outdoor seating for those so inclined.

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Enjoy your “macarons.”

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This piece of artwork with a Leafs motif caught my eye.

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For $20, you too can have a lock put up on this selfie magnet. That includes engraving.

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Just beyond the entrance was a block-long line of taxis coming and going. This is a popular destination.

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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.

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Elsewhere in the Canary District.

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Shots around Corktown Common, a park bordering a bike trail.

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Forget about the animals, stop voting Liberal. But again, I digress.

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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.

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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.

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Neither the dogs nor their owners seemed to be paying much attention to this sign.

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More scenes around the Distillery District.

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Look up. Look way up. So says the Friendly Giant.

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This “treasure box” will set you back $38. Plus KST. No wonder there weren’t many people with shopping bags.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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This dry cleaner offers “taperring.”

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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.

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Just in case you need to vacuum yourself.

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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.

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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.

01 Oct

IceDogs Home Opener

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.

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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)

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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)

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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.

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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.

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11. Defenseman Liam Ham is one of many new players this season. I’m guessing he’s not either Jewish or an Adventist.

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12. A Kingston Frontenacs uniform would be perfect for anyone wanting to dress up as a bumblebee for Halloween.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

15 Sep

Bike Trip to Crystal Beach

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I first headed north to get some shots of the junction at Highway 3, then turned around and headed for Crystal Beach.

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As it says, the south coast of Canada.

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A shot of the beach. Across the lake is the great state of New York.

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Shots around the park.

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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.

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More shots around the park.

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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.

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Homes by the shore, part of a gated community. Yes, access to the lake is a little limited.

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For the benefit of one reader, the fire hall across from the Tim Hortons where I stopped.

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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.

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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.

29 Jun

Thoughts on Niagara GO

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.

Yawn.

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.

You want to play with the big boys? Act like it.

There’s lots of time to get this right.

No excuses.

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.