Tag Archives: Ontario

03 Jan

Touring Toronto

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

02_burlington
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.

03_ontrain
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.

04_union
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.

05_frontst
I eventually got to Front Street, where I began my tour by walking through the largely deserted Financial District.

06_rbccenter
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.

08_oldtown
Continuing east, I ended up in the Old Town district passing St. Lawrence Market.

11_stlawrencemarket
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.

09_salt

12_salt
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.

13_bikeroute39
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.

88_bikes_bayst
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.

14_dvp_queenst
My first destination was the Don Valley Parkway as I made my way east on Queen Street.

15_queenst
Such a nice, charming neighborhood. Or not.

16_150languages
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.

18_attenion
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.

34_regentpark
From there, I ended up at the Necropolis Cemetery.

35_necropolis

49_necropolis
There, I found the grave of the late Jack Chow.

44_chow
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.

51_chewchew
I ended up at Carlton Street, where I continued west until I reached Maple Leaf Gardens.

55_mlg

61_mlg
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.

20160102_008
Perhaps not coincidentally, I spotted this vanity plate right outside the historic former arena.

62_carlton
After that much-needed break, I continued down Carlton to Yonge Street and the arts district.

63_yonge
From there I made my way to Nathan Phillips Square, where many were taking advantage of the outdoor skating rink.

64_nps
Nearby, I was struck by this scene where people were lined up for opera tickets.

71_operatickets
I stopped for this shot of Roy Thomson Hall before continuing back toward Union Station.

72_roythomsonhall
On the way, I passed by the Liberal Party of Canada headquarters, otherwise known as the evil CBC.

75_lpc
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.

76_privateproperty
They have some nerve passing their lies off as “news.”

78_lpc
My last destination was the NHL Hall of Political Correctness, where I browsed through their shop.

82_spiritofhockey

83_spiritofhockey

84_housley
Outside, they had a jersey from Jets legend Phil Housley.

86_union
Back at Union Station, I couldn’t help but notice this beggar across the street, but one of many wandering the streets of Toronto.

87_bum
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.

90_platform
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.

94_salt_burlington
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.

95_salt_burlington
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.”

96_bus
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.

03_hall

A member of the ceremonial guard.

07_secondfloor 08_secondfloor
Views from the mezzanine level.

11_tables
Many took advantage of the free food. As they say, if it’s free, it’s for me.

22_gun 27_gun
Two guns on display, enough to scare the bejesus out of any gun-control-loving socialist.

24_inmemory
A plaque honoring those who had fallen in the Boer War.

23_stcatherines
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.

25_twocenturies
Two centuries of service.

26_nb_sprm
The flags of New Brunswick and the SPRM fittingly side by side.

10_line 18_line 19_line 20_line
The receiving line, led by Mayor Sendzik. As he said in line, it’s not Mr. Mayor, it’s Walter.

39_band 40_band

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

41_crier 42_crier

The town crier begins the proceedings.

49_podium
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.

50_toast
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.

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.

stc_01
Once finally inside, we had to wait in another room before being allowed inside the main hall.

stc_02
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.

stc_03
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.

stc_04
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.

stc_05

stc_06
One woman holds up a campaign T-shirt.

stc_07
As he would do the following day in Welland, Nicholson introduced the prime minster.

stc_08

stc_09

stc_10

stc_11

stc_12

stc_13

stc_14

stc_15

stc_16

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.

welland_01

welland_02

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.

welland_03
Here, Dykstra chats with one of the attendees.

welland_04
Nicholson once again introduced the prime minister.

welland_05

welland_06

welland_07

welland_08

welland_09

welland_10
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.

welland_11
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.

welland_12
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

17_427_north_evans

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

08 Aug

Ode to the NOTL Peach Festival

Today, I enjoyed a bit of a break
As I took in the Peach Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake

52_cogeco
It was the second visit to the festival for me
Cogeco was even putting it on TV

44_crowds

53_hatley
Even though the morning crowds were light in the town they used to call Newark
There was not a single place close by for anyone to park

24_thwaites

41_seaway

13_peachtruck

04_singlepeaches
Peaches were available everywhere, even on a truck
You could buy a quart, a basket or just one for a buck

08_peachsmoothie

10_nina

17_greaves

21_frozenyogurt

40_tarts_puffs
Peaches were in every type of food
There’s one to fit just about any mood

Smoothies, tarts, pies and scones were in the group
There was even chilled peach and yogurt soup

51_kurtz
Eating a hot dog with peach relish does not sound like fun
Nor does peach garlic dressing or peach-infused sausage on a bun

48_kurtz
Pets were welcome if restrained by a piece of twine
But around food is the not the place to take a canine

54_guitar

55_horse
The two-man band was playing without a frown
While the horses waited to take visitors around town

35_epicurean
The going exchange rate was 20% for those paying with American dollars
This place that was taking U.S. money at par deserved some angry hollers

It was another interesting celebration of the peach
Summed up by these lines of rhyming speech

31 Jul

One Year Later

It’s hard to believe a full year has passed, but tomorrow will mark the one-year anniversary of the day I left Winnipeg for the last time and came to settle in St. Catharines. In some ways, it feels like it was yesterday and in others, it feels like it happened more than a decade ago.

The hassle involved in the long-distance move certainly took an emotional toll, but it has paid off in spades. My only regret is that I did not come here sooner. I miss my friends, as I expected to, but I long for little else in the SPRM.

I suppose there’s a part of me that will always be linked to Manitoba. As Sylvester Stallone said about Vietnam in one of the Rambo movies, “As long as we’re alive, it’s alive.” Many positive memories from that part of the world do remain with me, and I try to focus on those instead of the many negative ones that helped fuel my desire to leave.

Today, I am better for having made the move, and I look forward to many more years to come in my new home city.

15 Jul

A Tale of Two Signs

While on North Service Road this morning, I noticed this new sign announcing upcoming bridge work at Victoria Avenue in Vineland in addition to a similar sign farther down the QEW for work at the Ontario Street bridge in Beamsville.

02_bridgework

Though the sign is in Liberal red and does have a slogan on it, most of the sign is informational, giving the location and expected completion date of the construction. For a scandal-plagued regime not above raiding the public treasury for self-promotion, I was actually quite impressed that they didn’t go overboard patting themselves on the back.

Contrast that with the approach taken in the SPRM, my former home.

More than a year ago, when I was still there, the Non Democratic Party rolled out a lavish ad campaign at the expense of taxpayers like me, spending over $1 million putting up signs like this at every construction site around the province.

01_propaganda

Conspicuously absent are the details of the construction project such as the estimated completion date, cost and the specifics on what’s actually being done. Clearly, the sign’s only purpose is to tell us poor suckers how grateful we should be for the infinite wisdom of the NDP. Steady growth. Good jobs. Words to make any Manitoban, past or present, vomit.

Yet another reason among many that I’m so glad to be out of the SPRM.

08 Jun

Open House at Tiger Town

Yesterday, I was one of a crowd estimated at around 5,000 at the open house at the Tiger-Cats’ new stadium in Hamilton. Out of respect for Canada’s energy workers, I shall not identify the major corporate sponsor whose name is attached to the facility.

I took the GO bus from Fairview Mall and got off at Nash and Barton, where I took a little tour of Hamilton before heading for the stadium. On the bus, I was hoping to use my PRESTO card for the first time, but the fare box was out of order and, as a result, all the passengers ended up with a free ride.

01_nash_barton
Not that I was in a hurry, but the bus was several minutes behind schedule. Perhaps I should complain and demand my money back. Every last dime of it.

Parking at the stadium, nestled in the middle of a residential neighborhood, is undoubtedly a chronic problem, even when Ivor Wynne Stadium stood there, but there was plenty of parking for cyclists like me on the plaza off Cannon Street, otherwise known as Bernie Faloney Way.

91_motorcycle
Parked at one of the racks was this motorcycle, whose owner is obviously a passionate fan. The CFL barely registers on the radar in this part of the world, but you wouldn’t know it by walking around here.

89_gate1
After entering through Gate 1, I was given a free jersey rally towel, which currently hangs from my mantel right next to the IceDogs towel I received at the regular-season finale. The cellophane wrapper had a “Made in China” sticker on it. Buy local. Or not.

11_seagramtouchdownlounge
Just past the gate is the Seagram Touchdown Lounge, where fans can sit back in comfort and enjoy the game.

69_fieldlevel
Later, I noticed these tables right at field level, presumably reserved for VIP customers. I’m not sure I’d want to sit there for any amount of money. Even at this level, the guys hit pretty hard and that’s a little too close to the action for comfort.

16_concourse

17_concessions
Walking through the concourse and passing the concession stands, I couldn’t help but think back to a year earlier when I was touring Manitoba Taxpayers Stadium for the first and only time. How things have changed over the past year.

14_field

26_westside

27_field
The stadium seats only 24,000, making it a target for the critics, who call it a high school stadium. However, I could find little fault with it. Everything looked first-class with all the amenities.

35_autographline

52_southend

86_southend
Throughout the stadium, who I presume were Tiger-Cat alumni were signing autographs for eager fans. Since my knowledge of the proud history of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats is practically non-existent, I had no idea who these guys were. I thought I recognized former quarterback Chuck Ealey, but that was all. It would have been nice to have signs at each table giving their names.

37_championsclub

50_championsclub
My next stop was the Champions Club, the full-service restaurant on the club level where you can sit and watch the game while enjoying your meal.

49_podium
I arrived just as they were finishing with some announcements, but I was still able to partake in some of the free food. To my amazement, it was not a spread of hot dogs, nachos and other assorted junk, but rather yogurt and juices. The yogurt I had didn’t even have any of those hideous artificial sweeteners in it. This deserves a two thumbs up.

While near the podium, I had a nice, long conversation with Carol and Walter, an older couple who are regulars at the games. Carol actually does the face painting on the east side. In addition to being a connoisseur of all things Tiger-Cats along with cheese and sausages, Walter is also an avid cyclist who shared some tips on good places for a ride around the area. I nearly choked when he talked about how dangerous some streets were in Hamilton. I don’t think anyone can fully appreciate what danger means until taking to the streets of the degenerate capital of the SPRM on two wheels. The only thing that prevents me from writing an epic novel on that subject is the painful memories it would dredge up, memories I would rather leave in Canada’s toilet bowl.

59_austin
After finishing up in the Champions Club, I went down to watch as head coach and general manager Kent Austin put his team through a light workout. It is a refreshing change that the head coach and general manager doesn’t also own the team. Hockey fans reading from the SPRM will understand that reference.

73_practice

75_practice

77_practice
While watching, I couldn’t help but look to my left and notice the escarpment to the south.

61_southend

82_field
Contrasting that view is the industrial sector to the north with all the steel mills.

66_field
Hamilton in a microcosm, right from your seat.

After practice, fans were allowed on the field to meet and get autographs from their favorite players, but with a 40-mile bike ride ahead of me to get back to St. Catharines, I left before the practice was over.

It’s not likely I’ll ever go to a game there, but I enjoyed the tour as I continue to explore my new home region.

11 Apr

IceDogs Road Trip to Oshawa

Last night, I was one of 32 fans who made the trip to Oshawa to see the IceDogs open their second-round best-of-seven series against the Generals at the General Motors Center.

While waiting between the double doors at the Jack for our bus to arrive, many others including me were amazed at what a beehive of activity the IceDogs’ former home was on this late Friday afternoon. We could only presume there was a tournament going on as endless streams of kids and their parents kept shuttling back and forth. Space inside was evidently at such a premium that one of the teams had to go to the parking lot across the street to do their pregame stretching.

Among the many parents with their kids was one gentleman who was wearing a jersey from the Mark Chipman Personal Hockey Club. Yuck! Double yuck! As a good friend and loyal reader would say, “Loser!”

002_bus

003_bus
I was relieved when our bus came so we could get out of the way of all the hustle and bustle. Thinking they had been hired to pick up the team, the dispatcher sent the driver to the Meridian Center and only after inquiring inside did he then come to meet us at the Jack. Our driver was excellent once again, but I knew he wasn’t much of a fan when he asked me what league this was.

The group consisted of a few who had made the trek to Ottawa along with some mothers and their children who brought along some sign-making materials that kept them occupied on the way. Without the photographer and Captain Ammonia to provide their unique brand of entertainment, much to my relief, it would be by far the quietest of the three IceDogs road trips I had been on this year.

009_traffic
Not unexpectedly, we ran into a fair bit of traffic, but we got to Oshawa in plenty of time.

018_oshawa
While waiting for the doors to open, I got some shots out front of the building and of our group.

019_generalstruck

022_group

024_gmcenter

029_group
IceDogs owner Bill Burke stopped to shake hands with a few of us on his way in and the Generals mascot, Deke, was having a little fun with us.

030_deke

031_deke
Deke didn’t quite measure up to Bones, but he was one of the better mascots I have seen.

oshawa-ticket
Despite the long line forming on the street and with the high winds making it miserable outside, arena staff defiantly refused to let us in even a minute before 6:35, one hour before puck drop. Season ticket holders were allowed early entry, but not the rest of us common folk. It’s not any different at the Meridian Center, but at least we get to wait indoors.

039_hof
After finally being allowed in, I made a point of circling the concourse and my first target was the Oshawa Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, a dedicated room displaying artifacts of the area’s sporting history.

037_hof

036_hof
Among the many displays was a game-worn jersey from former Manitoba Fighting Moose John MacLean.

042_fromcenterice
The view from center ice.

050_concourse
Walking through the concourse, I noticed banners like this honoring past Generals players, such as this one for Scott McCrory, another former Fighting Moose. It is nice to see teams do this and I hope the IceDogs follow suit with something similar once they get enough history of their own.

059_history

060_hockeyhouse
On the opposite side of the rink was the “Canadian Hockey House,” a popular restaurant/bar where patrons could sit and watch the game while getting plastered. Unfortunately, this was probably the best choice for anyone looking for food as the offerings at the concessions were most disappointing. All that was on the menu was pizza, hotdogs, nachos and a $10 “carve of the day,” but luckily, I wasn’t in need on this trip as I snuck in some food of my own.

094_bettmannetting
After taking my seat in section B, so named because it was squarely behind the netting, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s unfortunate gift to the world, I noted with interest that, just as they did in Barrie and Ottawa, they introduced the timekeeper, scorekeeper and goal judges in addition to the on-ice officials. As IceDogs fans say after the announcement of an opponent’s goal, who cares? The announcer didn’t introduce himself before the game, but he made sure to after the game. It’s one less time than what the IceDogs announcer does, but it’s still one time too many.

Looking down at ice level, the glass looked a little hacked up, but it was still reasonably clean and, unlike the case at the Meridian Center, a patron would not have cause to plead for a lower price because of an obstructed view. I couldn’t believe my eyes when someone came out with a squeegee during the second intermission to clean a spot where it had been sprayed earlier in the game. That is one shot I should have taken to send to SMG, who manages the Meridian Center, to prove that it is indeed possible.

I paid special attention when they announced a fan bus trip to the Meridian Center in “Niagara.” Not that I am not proud to be a resident of the region, but team’s and my home is St. Catharines. This is another case highlighting how the previous mayor and council seriously erred in not insisting the team take the name of its home city when making the investment to build the rink. Interestingly, one of the late arrivals two rows in front of me was none other than Dawn Dodge, the recently defeated councillor for my ward, who was adorned in a red IceDogs sweatshirt.

The game itself was controlled by the home team and was much more one-sided than the 5-3 final score would indicate. It was only Brandon Hope’s solid goaltending that kept Oshawa from running up the score. At times, it seemed like the ice was tilted.

076_hope
Not helping the visitors’ cause was Vince Dunn’s early ejection for slewfooting as well as the mediocre play of Brendan Perlini and Carter Verhaeghe, two of their top offensive threats. Too many nights have gone by where I’ve barely noticed those two and as I’ve said before, it’s hard to win when your best players aren’t your best players. Those two have the skill to be dominant at this level and both seem content to get by because they are better than their contemporaries. As Kurt Warner once said to Larry Fitzgerald, “Why just be good when you can be great?” Hopefully they’ll learn that lesson once they get to the next level.

089_firstintermission
Aside from the game, the two intermissions featured some fun and games including this first-period event with a couple of would-be sumo wrestlers. The last time I saw something like this was at a Fighting Moose game more than a dozen years ago.

After the game, Oshawa fans were eager to rub our noses in it. In addition to some comments outside, a couple of guys came aboard our bus, blew their bullhorn and yelled, “Better luck next year.” Even though one of the guys on the bus didn’t care for it all, it was all good-natured and perhaps later in the series, we’ll be able to return the favor.

As part of a promotion, since the Generals scored four goals, every fan was entitled to a free medium order of fries at McDonald’s, so on our way out, Wade Graham of the IceDogs suggested we go through the drive thru and order 34 medium fries, “just to stick it to them.” It was a good idea and it’s too bad we didn’t go through with it.

Even though the game didn’t go well, it was still a good experience and getting home at 1:00 sure beats getting back at 5:00 as I did after the Ottawa trip. Thanks to everyone at the IceDogs for making the arrangements and I look forward to future trips.

06 Apr

Good Friday in Ottawa

On Good Friday, I was among the group of 28 fans who made the long trek from St. Catharines to Ottawa to see the IceDogs take on the 67’s at TD Place, formerly known as the Ottawa Civic Center, the one-time home of the WHA’s Ottawa Nationals and Civics.

003_jack
Not unexpectedly, I was the first of the contingent to arrive at the Jack Gatecliff Arena, where our bus was scheduled to depart at noon for the six-hour drive.

It didn’t take long before I was joined by a few others who also came well ahead of time. One thing I have noticed is that people in this part of the world, very much to their credit and unlike those in my former home city, are chronic early birds.

Also along for the ride was Nino Bourikas and Wade Graham of the IceDogs staff and Nino collected the $100 fare from each of us while waiting for the bus to arrive. Nick Williams normally handles those duties but he was reportedly helping someone move.

Not surprisingly, also among the contingent was Natasa Djermanovic and her family who would take up seats beside and behind me. The sometimes vulgar banter between the team’s official photographer and David, a fan from Welland seated near the back, would certainly liven up the ride.

David was an interesting character and he was so loud that not only could everyone on the bus hear him, but I think passing cars on the 401 could hear him as well. On our way, he was hung up on Belleville and kept asking how far we were from the city that just lost its OHL team. He also made sure to tell us that he had recently recovered from a bout with “ammonia.” I presume he meant pneumonia, but he insisted it was ammonia.

Before leaving, Natasa was proudly showing off the $15,000 400 mm lens she had rented for this weekend and mentioned out loud, “Don’t have fun, don’t do anything because you’re going to be blogged about.” Whether or not that missive was intended for me, my presence certainly didn’t cramp her style.

005_bus
Badder Bus Services provided the transportation and according to Nino, their rate was half of what Coach Canada wanted. The discounted price, however, didn’t mean any less comfort or safety for us. Not only was the bus good but both drivers were excellent, in sharp contrast to many I’ve had when living in the SPRM. As an aside, it still feels so good to refer to the SPRM in past tense.

We left at noon and Ron took us to the car pool lot at Burlington, where Lyle took over for the rest of the trip. In Ontario, drivers are only allowed 13 hours on the road and a total of 16 hours on the clock before a rest period and because of the long distance, they needed two drivers to split the job.

Even though we were only going for the day, one older couple brought a trunkful of stuff with them including blankets, pillows, a cooler, a case of Rolling Rock beer and hefty order that cleaned out a nearby Tim Hortons. I was surprised to hear from Lyle that though it is in the contract that no alcohol is allowed on board, they and other carriers willfully turn a blind eye to it.

Not long after we got on the road, I spotted someone who had parked his motorcycle on the side of the QEW and perched himself on a guard rail so he could use his cell phone. Give it a rest. Nino then went to put on a DVD, but thankfully, the audio wasn’t working. Natasa and Captain Ammonia would provide more than enough audio for the trip.

Sitting in the front seat, as loyal readers would expect, I was able to grab many more highway pictures, soon to appear on a Web site near you. Among the new shots came from the 407 ETR, the toll route the dispatcher had given Lyle permission to use.

006_407transponder
In order for large vehicles such as these buses to use the 407, they must have a transponder that gates like these will read upon entry and exit to calculate the charge.

016_407_eb_from403
Traffic was quite heavy headed in the opposite direction, but things moved smoothly for us most of the way.

085_401_eb_400
It was my first time east of Toronto and as much as I was paying attention to the highway in front of us, I was equally interested in hearing Lyle’s stories from his two tours of duty in Vietnam with the U.S. Navy Seebees between 1969 and 1972. A native of Hamilton, he drove across the border to Buffalo to meet with a recruiting officer hoping to learn a trade in the service and instead, unexpectedly got shipped off to Vietnam.

I was particularly fascinated by his near-death experiences that he kindly shared with me. On one occasion, a young Viet Cong soldier no more than 14 years old had an AK-47 to his head. Not wanting to see the end, Lyle closed his eyes, “made peace with God” and waited for what seemed like an hour before opening his eyes to find that the young man had gone and let him live.

On another occasion when he was out in the field, he had tied something too tight and needed fixing as a result. He offered to stay to make the repair, but his lieutenant said the next crew would come and take care of it. That crew never came back, leaving him with an understandable case of survivors’ guilt.

There was also another time when a booby trap went off, sending out sharp metal shards, one of which would have sliced through his throat and killed him were it not for his dog tag that fell down around his neck as he was diving out of the way.

Though it bothered him at one time to talk about these incidents, he said it helps him now and today, he speaks to soldiers returning from Iraq, just as World War II and Korea veterans spoke to him after his return from Southeast Asia.

He also mentioned that he and his buddies would always have an annual reunion the week after July 4, but he’s the only survivor of the bunch as the rest have since succumbed to cancer as a direct result of Agent Orange.

Following his discharge, he was given American citizenship and went on to enjoy a 42-year career as an electrician. Today, he drives a bus part time “just for something to do.”

269_401_eb_pastregional45
As we rolled on into Eastern Ontario, the banter between Natasa and Captain Ammonia began to heat up. While passing some farms, they wondered what would happen if a horse and cow were ever to be mated. Captain Ammonia then yelled, “I want to hear some music,” to which Natasa replied, “Plug your ears!”

302_trentononroute

304_401_trentononroute
Roughly halfway to Ottawa, we stopped for a much-needed break at the Trenton ONRoute, one of many such rest areas along the 401. As I mentioned when I first saw them on the 400 on the way to Barrie, it sure beats the SPRM’s equivalent of a weather-beaten outhouse.

329_401_eb_past37
Past Trenton, we saw the first sign giving the distance to Ottawa.

404_401_eb_i81
We passed this exit that leads a bridge connecting to I-81 in the U.S. As I mentioned to Lyle, it’s one of the few places where you see an Interstate highway sign in Canada.

437_401_eb_416
At last, we reached the exit for 416 that took us north towards Ottawa.

446_416_nb_417
After taking the exit off the 417 in Ottawa, I noted with interest that the stop signs read “STOP” and not “ARRET,” as they do in St. Boniface, a suburb of Winnipeg. If the Canadian-language wording is good enough for a city on the shores of the Evil Empire, it ought to be good enough for St. Boniface.

450_icedogsbus
The IceDogs’ bus was already in the loading dock by the time we got to TD Place, over an hour before game time.

451_gate3
ottawa-ticket
When we were going in, I paid special attention to the security procedures. Unlike the case at the Meridian Center, there was no one rifling through bags and purses and security staff were friendly. After making a bee-line for the washroom, with plenty of time to spare, I took the opportunity to stroll through the concourse and get some shots inside the seating area.

453_seatingarea
Having not eaten for about nine hours, I also needed to scout around for food. There was a little more choice than I found in Barrie and I eventually settled on the $6.50 “Smokin’ Hot 67’s Pizza” with the $5 hot beef sandwich coming in a close second. Consisting of a BBQ sauce base, the pizza had chicken and onions and the taste stayed with me well into the next day, not to mention the fact that I got my monthly supply of grease in the process.

Elsewhere in the concourse, I noticed free charging stations for cell phones, much like I found at Eaton Center in Toronto. Browsing through their souvenir shop, I noticed that they sell 67’s jerseys for $140, $20 more than the IceDogs ask for one of theirs. I consider a $120 price too steep, let alone $140.

456_footballstadium
I joined several others in stepping outside to check out the attached football stadium whose grandstands back the arena before the security guards ushered us back inside.

458_chipmanflunkie
I nearly fainted when I spotted none other than Kevin Cheveldayoff, assistant general manager of the Mark Chipman Personal Hockey Club, busy on his cell phone, undoubtedly getting marching orders from his boss. What are the odds of running into him here?

After taking my seat, I noticed there was little leg room, but the seats were thickly padded and clean. I also noticed the glass was clean. If they can do it here, in Barrie, at the Xcel Energy Center and at the old Winnipeg Arena, they can do it at the Meridian Center.

We were seated in the parents’ section and Anthony DiFruscia’s mother was directly behind us. To my immediate left was Natasa’s son and on the other side was Captain Ammonia and his brother, who lives in Ottawa. Captain Ammonia’s lungs were still in high gear and he spent much of the night getting into it with a 67’s fan behind him from Gatineau. Even if I had a radio, there would have been no need to listen to the broadcast as I got all the play-by-play I needed from Captain Ammonia.

The game itself that almost seemed anticlimactic after such a long and eventful voyage turned out very well. The IceDogs jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the second period and after the 67’s narrowed the gap to 4-3 before intermission, the visitors broke it open in the third for an eventual 8-3 win. Yours truly was very pleased to be among the Niagara rooting contingent yelling “Go Dogs Go” and supporting our home team.

None of the three mascots, those from the 67’s, the REDBLACKS and the soccer Fury could hold a candle to Bones and I mentioned how nice it would have been for Bones to make the trip.

461_mascot
During the second period, the mascot for the REDBLACKS, not to be confused with the Redblacks, paid us a visit and used the throat-slash gesture to us. Needless to say, that was in exceptionally bad taste and I hope the person underneath the costume realized it.

465_scoreboard
Once the game was over, the IceDogs skated over to our section and saluted us on their way off the ice. It was an awfully nice gesture that I think all of us who had made the trek appreciated greatly.

With all of us on board, we took off around 10:10 for the long trip back to St. Catharines. Many of us were snoozing and I was able to get a little shut-eye, but not very much. What little I had was rudely interrupted by Captain Ammonia, who, unable to sleep, decided to come up front and talk to Lyle to spread his misery among those of us who were able to doze a little.

We stopped at the Napanee ONRoute at 12:30, where I went to the washroom while others loaded up at Tim Hortons. Inside the washroom, there was a man at the urinal doing his business while chatting on his cell phone. As I said before, give it a rest.

Lyle was alert and attentive throughout the entire trip, but he made the mistake of using his GPS as a brain substitute once we got to the eastern edge of the GTA. With permission to use the 407, instead of following the clearly marked signs to follow 404, he listened to the GPS that told him to go in the opposite direction. Even after getting back on the correct path, he followed the GPS’s incorrect instructions to get off on a side street. I hope he learned his lesson.

We got back to the Jack at 4:25 in the morning and 50 minutes later, I was walking through my front door. It was a long, exhausting journey that I don’t want to repeat any time soon, but I was still glad I went.

Go Dogs Go!