07 May

London Calling

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

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

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

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

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

But I digress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Outside Budweiser Gardens.

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

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

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

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

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Looking outside toward downtown from the 300 level.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26 Apr

IceDogs Road Trip to Brown’s Town

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25 Apr

Riding the Rails to Ottawa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Any signs featuring poultry will naturally catch my attention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That’s the Salvation Army in Canadian.

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Shoppers Drug Mart.

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

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

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Et pourquoi?

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

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

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

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

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Your “vehicule” will be towed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Saudi Arabian Embassy.

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The Japanese Embassy.

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Embassy of the State of Kuwait.

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

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

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

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The U.S. Embassy.

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A rather peculiar way to secure a bike.

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

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

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

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

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Overlooking the attached football stadium.

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

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

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

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

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

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A War of 1812 memorial, a reminder of home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The War of 1812, more reminders of home.

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The founding of the SPRM.

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There was a large collection on the First World War.

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How’s your “eyesite”?

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

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

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

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

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

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A U-boat torpedo.

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

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Wartime rationing.

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

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A Canadian beaver armed and ready for battle.

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An anti-aircraft gun.

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A German tank.

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

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

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

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

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I wasn’t aware the West had died.

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

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

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

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Scenes around the train station.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20 Apr

Ode to a Defeated Premier

Greg Selinger and his party ruled Manitoba with an iron fist.
Finally, his subjects became royally pissed.

He said “no new taxes” when he ran before.
Then he socked it to us more and more.

So hated he became, many in his party staged a coup.
To us and them he said “F-you.”

Desperation ruled his doomed campaign.
He resorted to calling his rivals many a name.

Stubborn and arrogant to his last day.
Only after a resounding defeat would he go away.

Good riddance to bad rubbish is how I feel.
But the gored treasury will need a generation to heal.

A legacy of failure and debt led to his rout.
Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.

21 Mar

Top Hat Ceremony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gifts were then presented.

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

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The captain poses for the cameras.

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Bowles presented a plaque to the captain and chief engineer.

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

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

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

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

03 Jan

Touring Toronto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Such a nice, charming neighborhood. Or not.

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

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This sign certainly got my “attenion.”

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

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From there, I ended up at the Necropolis Cemetery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Again, more salt on the sidewalk.

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

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

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

01 Jan

New Year’s Day Levee

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

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

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A member of the ceremonial guard.

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Views from the mezzanine level.

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

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

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

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

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Two centuries of service.

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

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

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

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The town crier begins the proceedings.

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

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

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

29 Oct

An Erie Feeling

Earlier this week, I was on a shopping trip bound for Erie and Grove City, PA. Unlike the others, however, my purpose was not to shop, but to explore Erie and digitally capture many of its sights.

Before boarding in St. Catharines, our tour director issued me a name tag and told me to sit “anywhere you want.” Since I didn’t get an itinerary beforehand, I asked for one and was told rather snottily, “You’ll get one.” The lack of assigned seating is most uncommon, and this was the first bus tour I was on where the itinerary was guarded like a state secret.

Following the last pickup point at Thorold Stone Road in Niagara Falls, our tour director introduced herself and our driver. Since my experiences with them and the tour company are not all positive, I shall not name them publicly.

Our tour director noted that our driver was female, which was a first for me on a bus trip. Much like her male counterparts I’ve had on other bus trips since coming to Ontario, however, she was a good, safe driver who was attentive and alert at all times. It continues to amaze me as to how much better the drivers are here in Ontario than in the SPRM, where I’ve often wanted to kiss the ground after stepping off the bus.

Between Niagara Falls and Fort Erie, our tour director mentioned that there were 42 passengers on board, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the majority of them were seniors. Being a shopping trip, I was expecting a busload of teenage princesses. Only two of the passengers were male, and our tour director, unaware as yet as to my purpose for coming along, referred to us as “pack mules.”

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The first official stop, and the only stop besides the one at U.S. customs, came at the Peace Bridge Duty Free store. Before going in, someone from the store came on board to explain our exemptions, then held a drawing for two $10 gift cards. I made no effort to answer the ridiculously easy questions to qualify, since I figured there would be nothing there I would want. After walking around the store, my instincts proved to be correct. The only thing of interest for me there was the free bathroom.

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There was no lineup on the bridge itself, but we had the misfortune of being behind a Greyhound as well as another bus filled with international passengers.

During the hour-long wait, our tour director finally decided pass out copies of the itinerary. As she passed my seat, I made a point to tell her that I would be going my own way tomorrow and not to hold up the bus on my account. While speaking, I could immediately see the bubble caption forming over her head with a big question mark inside of it. With her brain on serious overload, she asked, “Uh, so you’re not checking in at the hotel?”

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Slowly, and carefully, I had to repeat myself, but the concept of someone doing what they wanted to do on a trip was something she could not seem to understand. I think she finally got her head around it a couple of days later, but for all I know, her head might still be spinning.

Reading the vague and skimpy itinerary, I wasn’t the only one who noticed we were scheduled to go shopping immediately after our arrival in Erie instead of first checking in at the hotel. One woman seated in front of me, understandably weary after spending the entire day on the bus, stopped the tour director on her way back up front and asked if it would be possible to go to the hotel first.

Evidently still trying to process what I had told her, the befuddled tour director just couldn’t understand the simple request, and the poor passenger eventually gave up the fight after trying time and again to make herself clear.

While this was going on, memories of the SPRM came raging back as a truck from Bison Transport pulled up next to us. Loyal readers may recall my last crossing at the Peace Bridge when a truck from Reimer Express passed me by.

In good time, we were allowed to pull up into the bus lane next to the customs office, where our driver went outside to light up. This would be a recurring pattern throughout the trip. During every break, long or short, she would never miss an opportunity to smoke, often right next to the door. On one occasion, she lit up inside the bus before stepping outside, and on another, she blew some smoke inside. I’ve encountered many smokers before, but few with this strong of an addiction. She needs help. Seriously.

When the CBP officials finished with the bus in front of us, we all had to go inside and present our passports, and they had us in and out in a flash. The only question I was asked was, “Are you Curtis?” before being ushered off to the side with the other passengers. As is normally the case on these bus trips, they knew we were coming and had already pre-screened us, so there was no need for further interrogation.

After clearing customs and once out of the Buffalo area, our tour director then put on a movie to irritate us all the way to the Quaker State.

In Erie, before dropping us off at Target, our tour director regaled us with the first of two stories on how hard it is for her to find shoes to fit her 9½-size feet. This is not information we needed to know. She also made a specific point to make sure we leave our passports on the bus. My immediate reaction to that announcement was, “Are you nuts?” That will be the frosty Friday I’ll leave my passport unattended.

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While the others made their way through Target, I went up and down Peach Street for my first Pennsylvania highway sign pictures, soon to appear on a website near you.

In a recurring theme over the next couple of days, I would discover that this area is anything but pedestrian-friendly.

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Where there were sidewalks out in the suburbs, they would be like this one, beginning and ending in the middle of grassy patches. Either build one to cover the whole route or don’t bother at all. It’s like building a bridge that only goes halfway across a river.

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On the way, I spotted a haggard old bum slumped on the sidewalk near the eastbound I-90 on-ramp looking to thumb a ride. Along with his long, straggly beard and his dishevelled appearance, he had the look of someone who had just crawled out of a dumpster. My jaw nearly hit the pavement when I saw a woman in 30s or 40s actually stopping to pick this guy up. She should consider herself very fortunate if all she got from this encounter was a car full of fleas.

Before returning to the bus, I spotted a billboard showing the name and mug shot of a wanted man. I could only imagine how bleeding-heart socialists would decry stigmatizing those involved with the criminal justice system. After all, crime is just a theory. Or not.

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Moving on, we finally checked into the hotel around 5:00. Despite being pet-friendly, the room was clean, and there was little smell throughout the hotel. For anyone considering a visit to Erie, I can recommend it.

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The following morning, I caught the M3 bus to downtown Erie, and purchased a day pass from the driver for $2.70. Even though it isn’t that far to the downtown bus terminal, it is a long ride because it goes into each of the malls along the way instead of directly down Peach Street. The bus, however, was clean, with no graffiti, vomit, used gum or condom wrappers anywhere to be seen, unlike the case in the degenerate capital of the SPRM.

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At Millcreek Mall, one guy who was trying to skip out on the fare was giving the driver a song and dance about there being a problem with his transfer. The driver gave him a hard time, but the guy eventually ended up with a free ride.

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After getting to the downtown bus terminal, I went inside to take advantage of the free washroom. I was pleased to see that the washroom and the entire terminal were spotlessly clean and free of bums. As I’ve said before, this is a concept I could get used to.

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On the way to nearby Dobbins Landing, I passed by the Erie County Library and the 9/11 memorial.

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In front of the library, I spotted this painted frog.

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I spotted many others around town during the day, including this one on 26th Street. I would later learn that they were part of the 2004 Lake Erie Art Project.

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Sadly, the tower at Dobbins Landing is only open on weekends at this time of year, but I was able to get some other shots around the area.

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The marker at the end of the pier.

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Overlooking Presque Isle State Park, which I understand is great place for a cyclist to visit.

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The Sheraton hotel and adjacent Bayfront Convention Center.

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The walkway between the hotel and convention center. I tried getting there through the Sheraton, but you need a key card to get up to the eighth floor.

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Elsewhere around the harbor.

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I headed back towards downtown, and after passing by Gannon University, I was again asked for directions, as is most often the case on every trip I take over the border. Unfortunately for the lost tourist, I was unable to help.

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Immediately after turning on to 12th Street/PA 5, I saw this big rig from Ward Trucking. Spotting a truck from them on PA 5 was no accident. Longtime readers will understand.

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Before continuing west, I made a detour to the post office and train station.

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I did a double-take when I saw this mural painted on the side of a nearby road.

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I know that one loyal reader will laugh at the mural along with this offering at a convenience store I spotted later in the day.

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That same loyal reader will also enjoy seeing this shot of the Erie Central Fire Station back at 12th Street.

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I didn’t cover the most scenic areas of the city, but I was amazed as to amount of industry they have there.

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I then headed south along Raspberry Street, where I came across this park, which reminded me of a place in northeast Minneapolis. I stopped for a few minutes at the bench near the gazebo to rest and write some notes before moving on.

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My next target was 26th Street and pictures of US 20.

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On the way, I saw this sign outside someone’s house. It’s not exactly a welcome mat.

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I would also spot this unfriendly greeting painted on a house farther down the street. Have a rotten day yourself.

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This is the kind of thing I would have come up with.

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Another of their buses.

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It must be election time around there as well. I much prefer the American system to the Canadian one, but having to vote on the coroner and constable is going overboard.

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I stopped at this Vietnam veterans memorial near State Street for another rest. I could really have used a lunch break at this point, but I can never seem to find a Subway when I need one. When I’m not in need, however, there’s seemingly one on every street corner.

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Continuing on, I walked past Beirut Auto Sales towards the junction of PA 8 and PA 97. Sadly, I was not exactly welcomed with open arms in this neighborhood, and I have no doubt the locals hanging out on the street are still scratching their heads wondering about the dude who was walking around taking pictures of highway signs. Needless to say, I got my pictures and got out of Dodge, watching my back all the while.

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I couldn’t resist this shot. Is it a blind crossing for pedestrians or a crossing for blind pedestrians?

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Farther north on State Street, I finally found a Subway, but not before walking through a dark railway underpass very reminiscent of the Higgins and Main underpass readers from the SPRM can relate to. I was careful not to make myself an easy target for the would-be hoodlum hiding behind a post and his likely accomplice on the other side eyeing me up.

I spent about a half hour at that Subway recouping some lost energy while listening to a couple of infants screaming and bawling. Once they left, someone came around to clean up, wiping down the tables and the seats with the same rag. It’s not the first time I’ve seen it, and I know it won’t be the last. That’s why I only eat out when I have to.

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After the break, I covered more of the downtown area, passing by the Erie Insurance Arena, home of the OHL’s Erie Otters, whom I’ve seen in St. Catharines three times already.

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One of Erie Insurance’s buildings. Their complex covers an entire block and the grounds are meticulously well-kept.

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The Erie Art Museum. Like the St. Catharines Library, they’re closed on Monday.

Later in the afternoon, I ended up back at the waterfront and the bus terminal, where I caught the bus back to the hotel. It was anything but an enjoyable ride, as it was jam-packed with foul-mouthed teenagers whose favorite words were “like” and another four-letter word beginning with “F.” Making matters worse was that a big, fat guy so large they should have charged him two fares got on and sat right next to me.

The following morning, hotel staff picked up our bags and took them to the bus, then we got on for more shopping around the Millcreek Mall before heading home. Upon boarding, all of us were thrown for a loop when our tour director, without any prior announcement, stuck seat rotation tags throughout the coach. The move was most unwelcome for those who had already stuffed many bags in their overhead compartments.

I had initially assumed the reason for the seat shuffle was to allow those getting off first to sit up front, making it easier at each dropoff point. It would have been a logical thing to do, but our tour director instead must have just drawn names out of a hat. There was a couple from London in front of me and beside me was a woman from Collingwood.

The new crowd around me did make for some different chatter, however. Seated behind me were someone who was fawning over the many dogs she owns before announcing, “Oh, my butt has grown bigger,” as if it was a badge of honor. Later, she would lean across the aisle and ask, “Do you have a beer to borrow?”

While the others went to shop, I took the opportunity to get some more pictures, treading very carefully in the busy, pedestrian-unfriendly area around the mall.

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I couldn’t resist this shot for a former colleague. I’m sure he will take note that his name is spelled in upper case.

There was one particularly interesting episode when I went behind the mall to get a shot of I-79. As I was taking pictures, a security van quickly pulled up, evidently to make sure I wasn’t up to no good. I would later spot that security officer strutting around the mall with his 10-gallon hat like he was a state trooper. Some people do let their job titles go to their head.

Following a lengthy stay at the mall, we made an hour-long stop at Wegmans grocery store, then left for home. En route, we were treated to another annoying movie, interspersed with instructions on how to fill out our declaration cards for the CBSA. At Canadian customs, we had to go inside the office and present our passports and declaration cards, but we were in and out in 12 minutes.

As we made our way down the QEW, I couldn’t help but reflect back on the many bus trips I made to Minneapolis, when I dreaded the prospect of returning to the SPRM. This time around, it was completely different. I was genuinely happy to be returning home, and it was an awfully nice feeling. All the hassle and effort we expended in relocating to St. Catharines continues to pay off.

At the dropoff point, both the driver and tour director seemed a little miffed when I left without giving a tip. For the driver, forcing someone with sinus problems to walk through a cloud of smoke at each stop doesn’t warrant any financial reward. With the tour director, had there been a collection going around, I would have been seriously tempted to take money out. She was annoying, less than organized, and very self-absorbed. I would have enjoyed the trip more had she stayed home.

As for Erie itself, there are nicer parts to the city, including the zoo and Presque Isle State Park, but I didn’t have a chance to see them on this trip. I hope to if I make a return visit.

12 Sep

Two Days With Stephen Harper

This past week, as those who follow me on Twitter are aware, I had the honor of seeing Prime Minister Stephen Harper in person twice in as many days.

Tuesday night, I was part of a standing-room-only crowd at the Holiday Inn here in St. Catharines. I arrived more than an hour ahead of time, yet there was a lineup of people outside the door waiting to register. As I said to someone who I met there, so much for Canadians being apathetic about politics and “hating” Harper.

Of course, there were a handful of protesters on Ontario Street within shouting distance of those of us in line waiting to get in. They were screaming “Harper must go,” one was playing the bagpipes and I later heard one was waving the Palestinian flag.

I continually hear people repeating the same old tired line, “We’ve got to get rid of Stephen Harper,” but I have yet to hear a single intelligent argument as to why. As Harper said during the event the following day in Welland, “During the global financial crisis, where else would you rather have been?” As I suggested to someone behind me in line, we should have chipped in to buy those protesters plane tickets to Greece.

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Once finally inside, we had to wait in another room before being allowed inside the main hall.

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Being at the head of the line gave me a distinct advantage, and I was able to grab a seat only two rows away from where the prime minister would be speaking. To say the least, he was among friends here.

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Here, St. Catharines MP Rick Dykstra chats with the woman who sang O Canada. Unfortunately, part of her rendition included some Quebecese, but it was thankfully drowned out by the gentleman behind me who was singing loudly in the Canadian language.

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MPs Rob Nicholson and Rick Dykstra pose for a fellow Conservative supporter. Many of Nicholson’s team made the trip from Niagara Falls to hear the prime minister.

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One woman holds up a campaign T-shirt.

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As he would do the following day in Welland, Nicholson introduced the prime minster.

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Harper then spoke for about 45 minutes. I had not seen him in person before and he came across as more of a down to earth person than I would have expected for someone in his position. As you can see from the pictures, he walked around the room a little while speaking and just used the podium to hold his notes. Not unexpectedly, I found him to be a good public speaker, but he was guilty of using the word “friends” too much.

After his speech, in a moment I won’t soon forget, both he and his wife came and shook hands with me and everyone in my row. It was an honor that ranked right up there with the evening I spent with a number of former WHA players in Calgary two years ago.

Though I hardly got any sleep overnight, first thing the next morning, my bike and I were on a Niagara Regional Transit bus headed for Welland to see Harper once again. After pedaling from the Welland transit terminal to the Canadian Tire Financial Services office on East Main Street, I waited outside with another large crowd.

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We were packed inside the small room like sardines in a tin can and I was one of the many who had to stand alongside the wall. As I said to someone behind me, I would hate to think what would happen if a fire alarm were to have gone off.

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Here, Dykstra chats with one of the attendees.

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Nicholson once again introduced the prime minister.

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Unlike the event in St. Catharines, this was not a party rally, but a roundtable discussion with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. On Harper’s right was Allan O’Dette, the OCC’s president and CEO, who had a number of questions for the prime minister. The OCC had invited each of the party leaders to such a discussion and the Conservatives were the only party to take them up on their offer.

As an ardent conservative, I didn’t need to be sold, but I came away very impressed with Harper’s detailed knowledge of the economy. It’s nice to know the country is in such good hands. As he pointed out, it would be a disaster for Canada if the Marijuana Party and its teenage leader or the Non Democratic Party were to form a government.

In front of the pro-business audience, Harper made sure to point out the Marijuana Party leader’s most recent childish statement, where he called most small businesses tax shelters for the wealthy.

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Following the discussion, Harper took a few questions from the assembled contingent from the Media Party in the back of the room. Concerned more with Syria than their own country, they grilled him about the refugees, but Harper stood his ground against his political rivals masquerading as journalists.

One so-called “reporter” from the Red Star chided Harper for his legitimate security concerns in regards to the refugees. After she made the ridiculous comparison to the Ukrainians who settled in Canada more than 100 years ago, I don’t know how Harper resisted the urge to point out that the Ukrainians were not fleeing a country largely held by barbarians threatening to destroy Western civilization.

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With the proceedings over, Harper left the stage and I turned to leave the building and return home, but not before seeing more misguided protesters outside waiting for Harper’s bus. I’m glad I was able to take advantage of the opportunity to see our prime minister and it certainly qualified as a thrill of a lifetime.

11 Aug

Ode to a Return to the Center of the Universe

Yesterday, for the second time I had occasion to enter
Ontario’s capital, otherwise known as the universe’s center

While waiting for the GO bus, there was a sight I wish I did miss
A fellow passenger gave his dog a big, wet sloppy good-bye kiss

As we sped our way around the lake, no ex-Winnipegger can resist taking a poke
At the Rapid Transit system, Winnipeg’s longest running joke

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Curiosity must have been in the air when I was out past Brown’s Line.
Who was this guy standing in the median taking pictures of a highway sign

On Kipling Avenue, a jolly fellow on the sidewalk I did see
What is a bear that has no teeth, he asked of me

He clearly wanted to catch me off guard
As he tried to get me to apply for a credit card

I heard a weirdo near the end of my lengthy stroll
Ranting and raving at some poor, unsuspecting soul

It’s Toronto, what else can I say
It’s still a whole lot better than the city I left more than a year ago today