Tag Archives: Ontario

17 Oct

My First IceDogs Game

Last night, I was among the sellout crowd of 5,300 as the Niagara IceDogs played their first game at the Meridian Center. Not only was it my first IceDogs game, but it was the first time I had been at a junior hockey game since 2002 when the Brandon Wheat Kings played the Prince Albert Raiders in a playoff game at the Winnipeg Arena. My experiences with the junior ranks dates back to the 1980s with the Winnipeg Warriors, but I’m not sure sitting among 1,500 loosely interested spectators scattered throughout a cavernous 15,000-seat arena to watch a bad team go through it paces really counts. It would also be the first hockey game I’ve seen in person since the Devils battled the Wild at the Xcel Energy Center in downtown Saint Paul in December 2009. Yes, it’s been a while.

Adorned in my Manitoba Fighting Moose jersey, I made my way to the bus stop, where a car with an SPRM plate soon passed by. That may have been a bad omen for what was to come on the bus. The offer of free bus fare with an IceDogs ticket was well publicized by both the IceDogs and St. Catharines Transit, but when I showed my ticket to the driver, he acted like I was flashing a three-dollar bill at him. “What’s that,” he snapped in a very un-St. Catharines-like fashion as I boarded the #7 bus. Only when I explained that it was an IceDogs ticket did he recoil and take off. I hope that, in future, St. Catharines Transit does a better job of publicizing such offers internally.

After I sat down, the driver sped down Niagara Street like he was on the QEW and I got downtown in record time where I waited on one of the two pedestrian bridges leading from St. Paul Street to the Meridian Center.

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I was hardly the first one to arrive and there was a real buzz around the area. In the understatement of the year, IceDogs hockey is a really big deal here. There certainly wasn’t anything close to this kind of atmosphere during the eight years I attended Fighting Moose games and it even exceeded anything I saw during my five years as a Winnipeg Jets season ticket holder in the 1980s. As I’ve said before, I could get used to this.

While waiting in line, I noticed someone standing nearby with a hat bearing the logo of the Mark Chipman Hockey Club and his seat was only a stone’s throw from mine. I hope that is not another bad omen.

When the doors opened shortly after 6:00, one hour before game time, a security guard was at a table assigned to rifle through bags and purses, much to the dismay of my fellow attendees. After the slow procession of anxious fans down two flights of stairs, I made my way through the entrance to the concourse.

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It seemed spacious enough during Saturday’s grand opening, but the concourse was jam-packed during the intermissions. It was particularly bad near the washrooms and concession stands.

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Not that I wanted to buy anything, since I don’t go to hockey games to eat, but I paid attention to the menu and prices. $8.50 for a regular beer and $9.50 for a premium beer. Don’t ask me what the difference is. Since we are in the heart of wine country, wine is available for $7.50. Coffee was $2.00, bottled Coke products were $3.50, hot dogs were $4.50 and popcorn was $5.50. I was disappointed that in today’s day and age, healthier alternatives were not available.

As regular readers may be aware, I am quite proud of never having purchased a food product at the Winnipeg Arena in over 300 games that I saw there. I suspect I will have a similar track record at the Meridian Center.

Just before the warmup started, the two linesmen skated out and took their positions opposite each other at the red line. As I noticed in those Wheat Kings playoff games many years ago, the two teams cannot be trusted to be on the ice together at any time without adult supervision.

In a nice touch, the IceDogs were wearing special jerseys with the design of a tuxedo out front in honor of the special occasion. They would keep those jerseys on through the pre-game introductions before donning their new third jersey that looks like a Chicago Blackhawks knockoff. I liked the new addition of the interlaced “STC” on the shoulder atop the crossed bones to recognize their and my home city.

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The visitors on this night were the Belleville Bulls, who came in sporting a 6-1 record. The last time I had seen a team known as the Bulls was in 1979 when the Birmingham Bulls came into Winnipeg to play the Jets.

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While checking out the Bulls’ roster, I noticed the name of Jake Marchment, the nephew of former Jets defenseman Bryan Marchment, one of the dirtiest players to ever lace up a pair of skates.

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“Bones” out on the ice before the pre-game introductions.

Prior to the start of the game, I was puzzled by the announcement that all SLR and DSLR cameras had to be registered and any unauthorized cameras would be removed. Beyond the issue of blocking another patron’s view of the play, I can’t understand the rationale behind this policy. They should be happy that you care enough to be there and take pictures of the action.

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The opening ceremonies featuring Mayor Bryan McMullan, MPP Jim Bradley, Tom Rankin, Jason Ball, Bill and Denise Burke among others.

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Leading up to the historic home opener, there was much ado about attracting “Andee” to sing the anthem. I was among many who had never heard of her and her performance was nothing spectacular. In addition, her choice to sing partially in Quebecese was both unnecessary and disrespectful. Having the organist play O Canada would have been a much better choice. To her credit, however, “Andee” was fully dressed, unlike what I had seen so often during the Fighting Moose era were the singer would parade around half-naked in front of a crowd of mostly 8-12-year-old boys.

Once the puck dropped for real, it would be the most fascinating game-night experience I had ever seen. The building largely lived up to its lofty advance billing, my seat was comfortable and the sight lines were excellent.

The IceDogs got on the board with two quick goals and I got an early indoctrination into the fans’ tradition of howling for each goal after the cheering had died down. By contrast, the announcement of each Bulls goal was met with a collective “WHO CARES!”

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Along with the band clanging their cymbals and banging their drums to exhort the crowd on, I had the feeling I was at a college football game.

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First period action.

I noticed a smattering of empty seats throughout the building, but the place was mostly full and officially a sellout. The sound system worked well. Too well, in fact. It would be nice if they turned the volume down. I found it a little unsettling watching my home team not knowing any of the players, but I found the level of play to be quite good, full of end-to-end action. The kids make plenty of mistakes, but this is a developmental league and that’s to be expected at this level.

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The IceDogs bench during the second period.

I was particularly interested in the demographic of the crowd. For the most part, it seemed to be a combination of seniors and middle-aged couples along with a smattering of children. Almost without exception, they were dedicated fans who were there to watch a game and not just because they had nothing better to do.

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I noted with considerable interest the lack of zany promotions that I came to expect from the Fighting Moose. There were no rat cannons or “hurling of dead, frozen poultry carcasses,”™ just more garden-variety stuff like this score-to-win contest during the intermission.

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The most off-the-wall promotion was “Kiss Cam” during the third period when they focused on a couple and tried to shame them into kissing on camera for all of St. Catharines to see.

I was impressed that, during the game, they only allowed people to return to their seats during stoppages in play and announcements to this effect were made regularly. I noticed that the ushers were eager to help direct fans to their seats, but they were also often in the way. Instead of standing off to the side, many were standing in the middle of aisle and I had to contort myself around one of them who was standing between me and my seat.

During a break in the action, I laughed when I saw an IBEW ad on the video board in which they boasted about taking care of the whole country while showing the Toronto skyline. Those of you who have spent your entire life within the inner orbit of the Center of the Universe won’t get it.

It wouldn’t be a hockey game without a 50/50 draw and this would be no exception. Unlike the case with the Fighting Moose where aggressive kids ran after you halfway across the rink, the tickets here are sold by adults who wait on the sidelines and make themselves available to you – the way it should be.

Of course, there was a fight, but little did I know about recent rule changes at this level that will make this spectacle increasingly uncommon. Players with more than 10 fights are automatically suspended for two games and the team will be fined if the player exceeds 15. In the IHL, I more expected a player who didn’t reach double figures to be disciplined. The Fighting Moose once traded for a player who had a bonus clause in his contract based on the number of penalty minutes he racked up.

During the third period, there was a lengthy delay as they consulted video review for a disputed non-goal. I was shocked that they used any form of replay at this level and it was more proof as to what a big deal OHL hockey is in this part of the world.

Oh, by the way, there was a game going on. After the quick start, I had a feeling the IceDogs were going to let the game get away, but they held on and a late empty-net goal sealed the eventual 7-4 win. Their record improved to 1-6. Memorial Cup, here we come.

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The IceDogs salute the crowd after their first victory of the season.

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Denmark native Mikkel Aagaard, with two goals and an assist, including the first goal at the Meridian Center, was named first star. The announcer dubbed him the “Danish Delight,” a moniker I hope does not stick.

After the game, during the mass crush of humanity leading to the exits, it was a nice gesture for them to give out commemorative pucks to mark the historic occasion of the first game at the Meridian Center. I was able to get one and it will soon be prominently displayed on my mantle.

I expect the Meridian Center will be seeing my shadow again in the not-too-distant future and I look forward to more equally memorable games.

12 Oct

Grand Opening at the Meridian Center

Yesterday, I was one of many who attended the grand opening of the new Meridian Center in downtown St. Catharines. IceDogs season ticket holders and the politicians each had their own sneak preview in the preceding days, but this was the first time the general public had a chance to tour the facility.

I was among the first to arrive and I wasted no time in touring the seating area, as I would again after the ribbon-cutting ceremonies when they mercifully turned the lights on.

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The concourses seem spacious enough, though a better judgment on this point will come on Thursday night at the IceDogs home opener.

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Once again, I knew I was not alone.

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Many of you may take things like this for granted, but as a veteran of the venerable Winnipeg Arena, I was impressed that there were individual urinals and not a trough. In addition, the sinks and soap dispensers actually worked.

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I was pleased to see the city honoring its sporting past.

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I was shocked that the IceDogs’ store was not open. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to sell some merchandise to a captive and awestruck audience.

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This automated ticket machine was the team’s only presence.

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Interestingly, right after taking this shot, mayoral candidate Walter Sendzik passed by and recognized me from a recent debate I attended. I am getting around.

Before heading down to ice level for the ceremonies, I poked my head and camera into one of the private boxes.

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Mayor Bryan McMullan and MPP Jim Bradley were among the dignitaries to address the crowd. I was surprised when the mayor mentioned that the facility was located on the site where the original canal went through.

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IceDogs’ owner Bill Burke.

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Following the speeches, three young women in strange garb walked up on stage and climbed up these bands of cloth hanging from the rafters. They clearly possess an uncanny talent for contorting themselves around cloth at high altitude, but their purpose here was unclear.

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The official ribbon cutting. It was a nice gesture for them to provide cuttings from the ribbon for attendees to take home as a keepsake and I was lucky enough to get one.

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The mayor and a few council members posed for a shot after the ceremonies concluded.

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I continued my self-guided tour with a look at the dressing rooms at ice level. First was the visitors’ room.

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Next was the IceDogs’ room.

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The IceDogs’ workout room.

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Even the Zamboni was on full display.

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The retractable seats behind the goal. The row of orange seats reminded me of the Winnipeg Arena and its infamous ice-level orange chairs that sat atop creaky plywood floors loosely separating paying customers from the hordes of four-legged vermin that lived quite comfortably not far below the surface.

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The view from behind the net.

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The officials’ room.

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The penalty boxes and the timekeeper’s box. Oh, to be a fly on the wall during a heated contest.

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Looking behind the stage along the ice.

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And, of course, my home city is recognized on the ice.

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As impressed as I was with the facility, I was equally impressed with the friendliness of the staff who on hand to answer questions. It was another pleasant change for me coming from Winnipeg, where the Mark Chipman organization expects gratitude for the privilege of doing business with them. That is why, even though I no longer live there, my favorite NHL team is whoever the Chipman franchise is playing.

There is a part of me that laments leaving the history and tradition of older rinks behind, but the Meridian Center looks like a wonderful place to build new memories. I look forward to seeing my first game there on Thursday night at the IceDogs’ home opener.

06 Oct

Crossing the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge on a Bicycle

Yesterday, for the first time, I crossed the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge on two wheels. It was a relatively painless experience, but the procedure is not all that straightforward and I found precious few details online when planning my trip. Since many of my fellow cyclists may have the same questions I did, for the benefit of the cycling community, following is a detailed and illustrated synopsis of the procedure:

1. Canada to U.S.A.

Even though the U.S.-bound lanes on are the south side, cyclists approach from the north via Portage Road.

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There is clear signage from both directions on Portage Road and the nearby Niagara Parkway directing cyclists into the parking lot. Proceed around the barriers on the sidewalk towards the toll booth as shown:

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Go past the toll booth towards the Toll Captain’s office.

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The Toll Captain will give you instructions to proceed across the road past the orange cones and into the U.S.-bound lanes, see map below (click to enlarge):

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As the Toll Captain instructs, proceed with the cars in the “Autos” lane. Note that the lane for commercial trucks will be on your right, so I would advise staying a little to the left of the white line. There are a total of five lanes on the bridge and the middle lane is reversible, so the cars may or may not have more than one lane to pass you.

Once on the U.S. side, proceed to one of the lanes designated for cars at the Lewiston Bridge Port of Entry. After being cleared, take the first exit on I-190 for NY 104, see map below:

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On NY 104, you can proceed north towards Lewiston on NY 104 or south towards Niagara Falls. NY 104 is signed east and west, so Lewiston-bound traffic would use NY 104 east. Cyclists are prohibited on the adjacent Robert Moses Parkway.

2. U.S.A. to Canada

Fortunately, the procedure for Canada-bound cyclists is not as complicated.

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Take the turnoff to Canada from Upper Mountain Road, just west of Military Road (NY 265), see map below:

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As with the crossing in the U.S.-bound direction, proceed in the “Autos” lane. Commercial trucks and NEXUS card holders will be on your right.

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Proceed directly to Canadian customs, then to the toll booth. Pay the 50-cent toll, then turn off to your right and through the parking lot to Portage Road.

Cyclists with any further questions can send me an e-mail using the link at the bottom of the page and I’ll do my best to answer them. The pictures used were my own and the maps are courtesy of Google.

29 Sep

Outing to the Halton County Radial Railway Museum

On Saturday, I was one of a group of 20 from the St. Catharines Photographic Club who went on an outing to the Halton County Radial Railway Museum.

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After the hour-long drive from Fairview Mall, it was time to browse around and shoot pictures. I was a little embarrassed as everyone else hauled out their high-powered DSLR cameras and tripods while I grabbed my el cheapo point and shoot, but I was there for the experience more than the pictures.

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A welcome reminder in the gift shop that I was not alone.

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Historic Rockwood Station.

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A subtle reminder of a former employer of mine.

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After a few shots outside, I headed into Car Barn 3.

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From the outside, it doesn’t look like much, but there was a treasure trove of old railway and street cars inside. It completely dwarfed what I had seen in past visits to the Winnipeg Railway Museum.

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The highlight of the trip for me was a seemingly endless series of old TTC subway cars that visitors can walk through.

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As I, or should I say we, were walking through the cars, I couldn’t help but think of my former home city. These mothballed cars and a rail line would represent a massive improvement over what Winnipeg currently has, yet they continue to throw hundreds of millions of dollars at a bus “Rapid Transit” project that will be a running joke for decades to come.

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One reader will appreciate this shot.

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Note how the number 5 came through in the reflection as I took this shot of the TTC ad promoting service to and from Blue Jay games. Once again, I knew I was not alone.

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More street cars on display.

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Back outside, I took a ride on their little railway that takes you about a half-mile into the bush.

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This open-air car was one of three they had in operation on this day.

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Riders have the opportunity to get off at the end of the line and stroll through a little park and the nearby trails, then go inside for a treat at a café inside a restored street car.

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The line that takes you back to the main entrance runs approximately every 20 minutes.

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Before leaving, I took another round-trip on the number 8 car.

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As many of us remarked, the efforts of the people there are certainly a labor of love and their passion shines through throughout their impressive facility. This is a must-see destination for any railway enthusiast and I’m certainly glad I went.

14 Sep

Terry Fox Run in St. Catharines

This morning, for the first time in my new home city, I participated in the annual Terry Fox Run.

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I was one of the early birds.

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Sponsor tents.

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The registration desk.

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As those of you who know me would expect, I added the name of the late Carli Ward to the list of dedications. Long before her cancer diagnosis, Carli made the Terry Fox Run a habit and I’ve since continued the tradition in her memory.

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I was pleasantly surprised to see that, unlike what happens in Winnipeg, the ceremonies were kept rather understated.

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Local volunteers.

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This speaker was from Café Amoré, one of the sponsors.

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Dawn Dodge, one of my councillors and the deputy mayor, read a prepared statement on behalf of the city. She should have finished it with the line, “This has been a recording.”

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Another of the speakers, this one from Brock University.

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The warmup.

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At the starting line. I was impressed that they thought enough to stagger the departure times. In order to avoid the unruly free-for-all that normally takes place in Winnipeg, the cyclists went first, followed by the rollerbladers, runners and walkers. As they explained, it makes sense to have the faster participants leave ahead of the slower ones.

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A scene along the route. Again, I was impressed that they had police blocking traffic. In Winnipeg, there is no traffic control and participants have to be on the lookout for passing vehicles.

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There were people cheering the participants all along the route. It was a very nice touch that is unsurprisingly absent in Winnipeg.

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Once again, cheers greeted participants at the finish line. It was another welcome reminder that I no longer live in the SPRM.

I heard runners who passed me boast about their times and the pace they were able to keep, but the Terry Fox Run is one event where the times are not important. What is important is that the run Terry was not able to finish continues year after year in city after city to raise funds and awareness for cancer research. There have been so many advances in detection and treatment, but the battle against cancer is far from over. That struggle that touches nearly every one of us is the reason so many dedicated volunteers work so hard to put the run together and why so many of us set aside time to be part of it.

08 Sep

Voyage South of the Falls

My most recent scenic tour of my new home region comes south of Niagara Falls. For this particular outing, I eschewed Google’s recommendations and took Taylor Road past the outlet mall and up the escarpment to Mountain Road.

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The climb up the escarpment was in two manageable stages and there were paved shoulders on both roads. In addition, the roads seemed well-maintained and were not littered with potholes, unlike what I’m accustomed to from my years in the SPRM.

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Passing Walker Industries. Disclaimer: I have no connection to this organization.

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Turning east at Mountain Road towards the QEW.

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From atop the escarpment, you can see all the way across the lake. In the distance is the C.U. skyline.

I proceeded south on Dorchester Road, east on McLeod Road, then south on Portage Road past Marineland.

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Everyone loves Marineland.

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I then headed through the village of Chippawa. As the sign says, Chippawa is the home town of James Cameron, a famed Hollywood director who worked on many films including The Terminator, a true classic.

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While taking some shots at the bridge over the Welland River, an older couple sitting on a nearby bench kindly pointed out the weasel. I talked to them briefly and they asked me if I moved to St. Catharines for school. Those of you who know me may pause for a moment to laugh hysterically.

After passing through Chippawa, I found the Niagara Parkway Trail and headed south. The sign said Fort Erie was 24 km away and that journey will have to wait for another day. Nonetheless, I did make it past Navy Island, cycling through scenery that reminded me of scenes from Gone with the Wind. I kept expecting to find Rhett Butler on his horse coming around the next bend.

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Pictures don’t do the area justice.

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I imagine this would be a popular golf course for those who are so inclined.

I turned around here and headed back to the Falls, stopping for more pictures along the way.

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This humble abode was for sale. $3.2 million or best offer takes it.

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The Willoughby Historical Museum. Curiously, the sign on the door said it was closed for the season. Since when is early September out of season in one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations?

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More homes along the route.

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The historical marker for Navy Island at the south end of the island.

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Clear water. It’s still a novelty to see, coming from the murky shores of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers.

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Farther north on the trail, I stopped at the Chippawa Battlefield Park, site of another famous battle during the War of 1812, or more appropriately, the War of 1812-1815.

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The northern shore of Navy Island. Interestingly, Navy Island was once mentioned as a prospective site for the United Nations headquarters following World War II.

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The northern bridge connecting Grand Island to the mainland in New York State.

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Robert Moses Parkway. This is why the Canadian side of Niagara Falls remains much more popular than its American counterpart as my neighbor, a native of Niagara Falls, NY, can attest.

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Near Main Street in Chippawa, the trail cuts across the water towards the Falls.

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The Niagara Falls skyline. That’s mist coming from the falls, not the aftermath of an arsonist, one of the ten most popular occupations in my former home city.

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The dam as part of the hydroelectric generating station.

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Another couple of skyline shots.

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The mighty Niagara River.

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At Dufferin Islands, or “Daufferin,” as my late grandfather would say.

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I stopped by the Floral Showhouse, but I’ll save a trip inside for a future visit. The price of admission was a reasonable $5.65, but I was outraged to see that they want $5/hour for parking. There’s a difference between charging a fair price and gouging. This falls into the latter category.

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The incline railway and adjacent Welcome Center.

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Before heading inside to the Welcome Center, I had to hunt high and low before finding a rack to lock up my bike. Given the number of cyclists who traverse the Niagara Parkway, the lack of facilities for guests arriving on two wheels is a rather significant oversight that I hope is addressed in the near future.

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Once again, I know I was not alone. You may understand. You may not.

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I know one and perhaps only one reader will appreciate this.

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Elements on the Falls. Any connection to a former pair of colleagues from my distant past is strictly unavoidable. Most readers, even my close friends, will not understand.

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Tourists line the railing to get a good view of the falls.

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Still others want a more up close and personal look.

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Before leaving, I took a ride down Fallsview Boulevard and noticed a traffic jam in front of the Embassy Suites Hotel. I presume this is for the valet parking.

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The Fallsview Casino, an ATM for the government.

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I couldn’t help but stop to get a shot of this billboard. The farmer did not make my eggs today, a chicken did.

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A reminder of a piece of my past. I wonder if it’s a fighting moose or just a regular moose. One reader will understand more than most.

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Political incorrectness in its most egregious form.

It was an interesting outing and yet another positive experience. Once again, I only wish I had come here sooner.

05 Sep

Waterfront Trail – St. Catharines to Grimsby

Taking the lead of a friend and former colleague from the SPRM who recently paid me a visit in my new home, I decided to take a trek west and cover the section of the Waterfront Trail between St. Catharines and Grimsby.

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On the way, I noted this sign with particular interest as I passed through Port Dalhousie. I was most impressed to see that the city has a Clean City Committee and organizes activities like this. It was yet another pleasant reminder as to why we packed all those boxes and came all this way. I would ordinarily be the kind of person to see this as a waste of resources, but a fresh perspective has certainly made me appreciate being in a community that cares about such things. I don’t think readers from my new home city can properly appreciate that perspective unless they have spent any significant time in the degenerate capital of the SPRM.

Incidentally, I still find myself pronouncing Dalhousie as dal-HOW-zee. Old habits from the SPRM die hard.

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For the most part, the trail is well signed, but after leaving Port Dalhousie, it would be more appropriate to call it the QEW Trail instead of the Waterfront Trail since you end up seeing more of the QEW than you do of Lake Ontario.

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Nonetheless, there are some nice views of the lake as you pass by Charles Daley Park on the way to Jordan Harbor.

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At Jordan Road, the trail officially takes a detour into Jordan Village. I continued west on North Service Road, but I will check out the sights in Jordan Village in a future visit.

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Behind the Ramada Beacon Harborside Resort is Jordan Harbor.

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Even though the path of the QEW roughly follows the shore of Lake Ontario, this is one of the few places along the route where motorists can actually get a glimpse of the lake.

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Hidden away behind some brush is the rusting remains of “La Grande Hermine,” or “Big Weasel” that has been in Jordan Harbor since 1997. The full story of this abandoned vessel can be found here.

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Continuing west, I passed by the Lake House restaurant as the trail veers away from the lake.

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Prudhomme’s antique store and factory outlet.

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Prudhomme’s Landing Inn hasn’t seen too many landings recently. I don’t even think the buzzards bother to stop there anymore.

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Despite passing mainly through farmland, there are oases like this when you need to stop for a break. There’s also another such area in Beamsville a few miles to the west. Despite the ancillary traffic it brings, there are advantages to having the trail near the QEW.

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There’s more to Vineland than just a carpool parking lot.

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Another roadside attraction.

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I know one reader from the SPRM will appreciate this, even though I know it’s not spelled the same.

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I’ve seen these signs before, but never one at such close proximity. I know I’ve mentioned it before in a previous entry, but I unreservedly endorse these measures to punish reckless drivers. I do hope that, unlike the way it is in the degenerate capital of the SPRM, driving like a maniac is indeed a reportable offense.

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After putting on 19 miles, I reached Grimsby.

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I didn’t want to venture too much farther on this morning, so I turned around at Bal Harbor Park, but not before a little break to snap some more pictures.

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I imagine that second-floor patio gets a lot of use.

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The water was clear and didn’t smell like a sewage lagoon. This just in.™ This is not the Red or Assiniboine River.

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On the way back, I needed another break, so I stopped at Charles Daley Park, just west of Seventh Avenue Louth.

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View of 15 Mile Creek.

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Other views from the gazebo on the east side of the park.

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I noted this sign with interest especially having seen the signs in the washrooms along the Niagara Parkway advising that foot washing in the sinks wasn’t allowed. As a newcomer to the area, I don’t quite understand the fascination with foot washing in this part of the world. Maybe I’ll figure it out in time.

Going west from St. Catharines doesn’t offer the same quality of scenery as it does in the other direction, but it was a relatively non-contentious route, the kind of which I could only dream about when I lived in the SPRM. It offers a good view of the escarpment, but you won’t be climbing it, so it offers some of the easiest miles in the region for a cyclist. As Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, “I’ll be back.”™

30 Aug

Getting Around

As I begin my fifth week in my new home, as many of you might suspect, I continue to get around and discover the area.

Earlier this week, I headed south for my first visit to Welland, the city whose name adorns the canal that bisects the peninsula. One of these days, I need to look into why it’s called the Welland Canal and not the Thorold Canal, Port Colborne Canal or the St. Catharines Canal.

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Upon reaching the Welland Canals Recreational Trail, I did a double take when I noticed the name of this ship. When I lived in Winnipeg, my home was backing the sewage lagoon otherwise known as the Assiniboine River.

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I continued down the trail, up the escarpment through Thorold.

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Between Thorold and Welland, the terrain mercifully Saskatchewanizes and, for the benefit of my friends reading from the SPRM, it very much reminded me of the area around Whiteshell Provincial Park, located at the western tip of the Canadian Shield.

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On the way, I took a side trip across Bridge 11 to Allanburg.

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As those of you who know me would expect, picking up more highway pictures was the motivating factor behind this particular diversion.

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I then retraced my steps, got back on the trail and was soon in Welland.

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The Main Street Bridge, under construction.

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Canal Terrace, a nice little place to stop and look out at the Welland Recreational Waterway. Again, I kept expecting to find bums staggering around a morass of broken beer bottles, condom wrappers and other assorted presents left on the sidewalk. Old habits from Winnipeg die hard. Instead, the area was clean and perfectly well civilized.

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I made my way to Main Street and the roundabout where King’s Highway 406 ends. Standing on the sidewalk, I was able to understand the instructions on this mammoth sign, but I can imagine how motorists not familiar with the area might throw their hands up in despair trying to decipher its meaning. It is thorough, but I think someone at MTO outsmarted themselves on this one. They might have been better off applying the K.I.S.S. principle. Winnipeg has a famous intersection informally known as Confusion Corner and I think Welland just got one of its own.

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The Main Street Tunnel. I will save my first trip through it for a future visit.

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I returned through downtown and stopped for a break at the Welland Transit Terminal.

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Like Winnipeg Transit, Welland Transit also operates a “Sorry” route.

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Continuing on, I passed Welland City Hall.

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Elsewhere in downtown Welland.

As I have noticed ever since I set foot on the peninsula, the people have been very friendly and Welland proved to be no exception. However, I must have stood out as an unfamiliar sight as I got a lot of “you’re not from around here, are you” kind of looks. Which is true. Sort of.

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I returned to the trail and headed north back towards St. Catharines.

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Crossing under both spans of the 406.

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This frog was in the middle of the trail and I luckily avoided him.

All in all, I enjoyed my visit and I look forward to returning when I have a little more energy to look around more. Because of the side trips I made along the way and being an experienced cyclist well aware of my limits, I knew I was at the end of my tether. I will have to make a point of studying the Welland Visitors Guide to see what other attractions the city offers.

Later in the week, I went to the Seymour-Hannah Complex to check out the training camp of the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs, likely soon to be my new favorite team.

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It was an impressive facility and had four rinks. For those reading from the SPRM, it was like the ChipmanPlex. Without Chipman.

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Before heading for Rink 1, where the IceDogs were working out, I stopped at the display for the City of St. Catharines Sports Wall of Fame. Of particular note for me was the name of Rudy Pilous, who was listed in the inaugural class. A Winnipeg native who had spent many years in St. Catharines, Pilous was once the coach and, later, the general manager of the Winnipeg Jets during their years in the WHA. His biography at scshof.com incorrectly states that he had coached the team in 1973-1974, but he did coach the Jets the following year and subsequently served as the team’s general manager until John Ferguson dismissed him on December 15, 1978.

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Stepping inside, my nose immediately told me that much hockey had been played in this rink as the stench of decades worth of fermented sweat shot right up my nostrils. However, the rink looked very well maintained and I was stunned to see clean, padded seats on both sides of the ice. I had expected instead to see rows of bench-style seating consisting of little more than roughly chipped plywood that had not had contact with the end of a paint brush in the last quarter century. Again, that was the cynic in me that many decades of living in Winnipeg brings to the surface.

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Action between the red and black teams. I was a little curious as to why they were sporting jerseys with the OHL logo rather than that of the IceDogs. Perhaps that’s one of those things I’ll learn as my fandom builds. While watching, I really didn’t know who many of the players were, but again, I’ll learn.

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The IceDogs braintrust, I presume.

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I noticed this ad on the boards and it was another pleasant reminder that I no longer live in Winnipeg. According to the Winnipeg police, if you are walking down a street and are hit and nearly killed by a car pulling out of a driveway, it is not a reportable offense. You can imagine how they would react to something as comparatively trivial as graffiti.

In my first real foray into the world of junior hockey, I was surprised to see so few young, female admirers fawning over their favorite players/would-be boyfriends. When I followed the Manitoba Fighting Moose during their years in the AHL, watching the fanatical behavior of these groupies/puck bunnies proved almost as entertaining as the games themselves. Perhaps that will come when the puck drops for real.

I didn’t stay all that long, but I am eagerly anticipating the junior hockey experience. Unlike the case in Winnipeg, where junior hockey barely registered on the radar even when they had a team, smaller communities such as St. Catharines really seem to rally around their team. This new fan experience intrigues me as much as any future action on the ice and the seeds of a future novel have already been planted. Our MP seems to have dibs on “Hockey Night in St. Catharines,” so I’ll probably call it something else.

A couple of days later, I rode out to Niagara-on-the-Lake. On the way there, I went out of my way to take Niagara Stone Road. It isn’t a route I would normally choose or recommend due to the high volume of traffic, but the opportunity to get some shots of the former King’s Highway 55 was the reason I went that way. There was at least a paved shoulder to keep me a reasonable distance away from passing cars and trucks.

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I know it’s a lousy picture, but this particular sign on Queenston Street struck me, one that obviously dates back to when Niagara Stone Road was King’s Highway 55. After the route was downloaded to the region, they must have simply stuck a regional marker over the provincial marker, leaving the rest of the sign intact. Even though it has clearly seen better days, the sign still serves its purpose and common sense dictated that it did not need to be replaced entirely.

In the SPRM, they adopt a much different approach. Evidently flush with cash, the province has been on a search-and-destroy mission over the past few years to replace signs such as this at a dizzying pace and for no apparent reason. In a case like this, crews would be out either repainting or replacing the entire sign, most likely on a Sunday or holiday to rack up overtime. Click here for a glaring example of how this practice works in the SPRM.

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Entering the Greenbelt. Oddly, the sign is in blue. Perhaps it should be the Bluebelt.

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The Great Mountain Center, one of the places along the route that offers grape and wine tours. This one also offers locally-grown ginseng and tea.

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I soon reached the community of Virgil.

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Crossing Four Mile Creek.

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At East and West Line, cyclists like me can take advantage of a shared pathway and get off the road.

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Picard’s Country Store, where you can buy Ontario-grown peanuts.

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I had to pull off the road and get this shot. On this specific day, on the occasion of the four-week anniversary of my defection from the SPRM and arrival in St. Catharines, I spotted an SPRM flag and a New Brunswick flag on the same pole. Immediately to my right as I took this shot was a Beemer.

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Not far from this spot was Anne Street.

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Later in the outing, I would spot this “C” on the ground near the spot where I took a particularly nice picture.

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During a break, I would also spot this Whirlpool Jet. Number 5.

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Across the river was the number 5 on this communication tower.

As always, I knew I was not alone. Some of you will understand. Most of you will not.

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I continued on into the Historic Old Town, a place I am quickly becoming very fond of.

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A clever sign.

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One of the many fashionable dwellings along the lake.

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Scenes in Ryerson Park.

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Niagara Boulevard.

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I got another shot of the floral display honoring the United Empire Loyalists. When I got there, there were two women taking turns snapping pictures of each other, so I offered to take a shot of the two of them together. Sadly, the only words of English they spoke were, “I’m sorry, we don’t speak English.” Nonetheless, through the use of some clever charades, I got my point across and they gratefully accepted my offer. I hope the shots I took worked.

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The post office. As I understand, this is the correct spelling of the town’s name, yet I would later find this sign that has a capital “O” and capital “T” in the “on” and “the,” respectively:

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I know I’m being a little petty here, but the town ought to spell its own name correctly.

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One of the many bed and breakfasts in town. It seems like there’s one on every street corner.

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Overlooking New York State as I stop for a break. I know you’ve heard this before, but I could get used to this.

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Visitors from Wisconsin. Or as they say, “Wiscahnsin,” in their catchy accent. If you haven’t recognized the symbol, the picture I use on both my Facebook and Twitter profiles is a Wisconsin state trunk highway sign.

These are just the latest in a series of adventures over the course of the more than 300 miles I’ve racked up on two wheels during my first month here. No doubt, there’s more on the way. Stay tuned.

22 Aug

Cycling to the Falls

As many of you who know me might expect, soon after my bike arrived from Winnipeg, I wasted no time in making a pair of visits to nearby Niagara Falls.

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Though I’ve studied plenty of maps, since I am still largely unfamiliar with the best routes to use, I decided to rely on Google to plan my first visit to the Falls since I was a young child on vacation from Winnipeg.

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Google recommended first heading south from St. Catharines along the Welland Canals Parkway into Thorold.

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As the sign says, Thorold is where the ships climb the mountain. It is also where cyclists climb the mountain, otherwise known as the Niagara Escarpment. Coming from the flatlands, the frequent changes in elevation are something I’m going to have to get used to.

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I took the exit at Regent Street and proceeded south along Front Street through Thorold’s “historic downtown.” That phrase carries a very negative connotation in Winnipeg, but Thorold’s downtown has a lot more appeal than Winnipeg’s downtown does. Once again, I found no bums and the streets were clean. Thorold’s downtown reminded me of Kenora, a city in the northwestern part of the province I’ve visited a number of times when I lived in Winnipeg.

Google’s recommendation took me through the Front Street Park and towards the Thorold Tunnel that goes underneath the Welland Canal.

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I promptly got off my bike and walked it through the tunnel along the pedestrian walkway, separated from motorized traffic by a concrete barrier.

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MTO says the tunnel is 840 m long, but it felt like five miles when I was in there. I am normally not claustrophobic, but it was a harrowing experience having speeding trucks whizzing past me at close quarters inside such an enclosed space. After reaching daylight, I was visibly shaken for much of the remainder of the ride into the Falls. On my return trip, I would ride through and shorten the amount of time I had to spend in the tunnel. I suspect the Thorold Tunnel won’t be seeing much of my shadow in future.

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Once out of the tunnel, I turned south on Davis Road, then east on Beaverdams Road, following it to Lundy’s Lane.

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Beaverdams Road passes through a golf course and a few homes, but mostly through farmland. It seems to be lightly travelled, but it had no paved shoulder. This is why I normally don’t rely on Google or other cycling maps. There’s really no substitute for experience.

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After reaching Lundy’s Lane, I crossed the QEW and made my way towards the falls. Not unexpectedly, there were tourists galore and when I next want to spend some time looking over the falls, I’ll park my bike somewhere and walk. Walking a bike through such a large crowd was rather awkward.

A few days later, I opted to rely on my limited personal experience for my next trip. I crossed the lift bridge at Lakeshore Road and made my way directly to the Niagara Parkway Recreational Trail using East and West Line. Lakeshore does see more traffic, but East and West Line doesn’t seem to be that busy. More importantly, there is a paved shoulder to give cyclists like me a little more comfort.

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Upon reaching the trail, I headed south towards Queenston and Queenston Heights, site of a famous battle during the War of 1812.

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As I noted in a previous blog entry, they don’t call it Queenston Heights for nothing. I made it up this incline without too much difficulty, but I had to get off the bike and walk it up much of the way through the town.

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Continuing south, I went under the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge towards the floral clock.

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After a brief break to snap a few more pictures, I passed by the Sir Adam Beck Hydroelectric Generating Station.

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There are a number of spots where you can pull off the trail and get some shots, which I did.

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I noticed a sign for the Niagara Botanical Gardens and the Butterfly Conservatory, so I stopped in to check it out. Sadly, I was too early and the conservatory was not open yet, but I will make a point of getting there in a return visit. Given that this was the height of tourist season, however, I was surprised they were not open at the crack of dawn.

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I continued south on the trail towards the Whirlpool Gorge.

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I stopped for some pictures alongside a busload of people from Maryland. On this trip, in addition to many from neighboring New York, I would also spot plates from New Jersey, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Connecticut, Tennessee and Illinois.

After passing Victoria Avenue, cyclists have to go on the road, but there is a paved shoulder that takes you past the Whirlpool and Rainbow Bridges right to the falls.

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I stopped at the Not-So-Secret Garden before turning around and heading for home. This time, I planned a different route myself, wisely not relying upon Google.

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From the 420 junction, I took Stanley Avenue north across 405 to Niagara Townline Road. Stanley Avenue is a little busier, but again, there was a paved shoulder for most of the way.

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I took Four Mile Creek Road and made my way to the lightly used Queenston Road. Unfortunately, it did not have a paved shoulder, but there was far less traffic there than I found on Beaverdams Road.

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I stopped for this picture just north of the intersection of York Road. I’ve since found out what an “Unassumed Road” is, but the terminology seemed odd. At first glance, it sounds like they don’t want you to assume this is a road.

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Hello, my name is Coyote. Wile E. Coyote. Genius.

I followed Queenston Road back to St. Catharines and made it home safely. Overall, this route seemed to be a lot better than the one Google recommended, though much of the scenery to the north can be distracting.

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I’m sure there are other routes in the area to get to the Falls and back, perhaps better ones, and I look forward to discovering them over the coming months and years.

15 Aug

Hockey Night in St. Catharines

Last night, I attended Hockey Night in St. Catharines, the fifth annual such event in support of the United Way of St. Catharines and District. It is not an event I would normally have attended, but it was a way of taking the first baby steps to becoming part of my new home city. It also allowed me to see some former WHA players in addition to those who played in another major league, many of whom I have not seen for a decade or more.

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The game took place at the Gatorade Garden City Complex, a.k.a. Jack Gatecliff Arena, now, with the completion of the Meridian Center, the former home of the Niagara IceDogs.

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I was one of the first to arrive and I got some pictures around the seating area.

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The flags along with a picture of the Queen at one end. Ironically, the Winnipeg Arena, a building that saw my shadow hundreds of times, was famed for its long-standing picture of the Queen that hung in the south end before being moved across the rink once the Jets moved from the WHA into another major league. Unlike the picture that hung in the Arena, the Queen is sporting a cheeky grin, much like the one on my face when my one-way WestJet flight was taking off from Winnipeg two weeks ago.

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The banners honoring the Memorial Cup champion St. Catharines Tee Pees. The 1953-1954 Tee Pees were led by Rudy Pilous, who would later spend many years with the WHA Jets. Pat Stapleton, a former longtime major pro player and a wonderful man whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting twice, was a member of the 1959-1960 team.

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Before the game, Rick Dykstra, our MP, was circling the ice sporting a blue jersey with the Conservative logo.

After the warmups, it was time to introduce the players.

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Former WHA player Dave Gorman.

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Former Winnipeg Jet Bill Derlago.

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Dave McLlwain, another former Jet. Mark Osborne, playing for the red team, would make it a threesome of ex-Jets.

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MP Rick Dykstra.

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Steve Ludzik, a former pro player and someone who I last saw behind the bench of the Detroit Vipers of the late, great IHL. The woman circling the stands selling raffle tickets for the free WestJet flights and wearing one of his jerseys said that Detroit was “about four moves ago.” She also mentioned that Darren Banks, one of Ludzik’s former players with the Vipers, was playing for the red team. For those who don’t know, I followed the IHL for several years and the subject of my next book will be my experiences with the IHL’s Manitoba Moose. Pro hockey’s most unwanted team, its owner/president/general manager/head coach and its handful of supporters will be dissected with heavy doses of humor and sarcasm.

Interestingly, coaching the red team was former WHA player Jim Dorey. Like me, Dorey is also a member of the WHA Hall of Fame advisory board. For those interested in the history of the WHA, I encourage you to visit WHAHOF.com and, specifically, the database section that represents countless hours of research on my part.

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Former pro great Phil Esposito did the honors for the ceremonial opening faceoff. I found it odd that a security guard packing body armor followed him out to center ice. This is St. Catharines, not Winnipeg.

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O Canada being performed by Antonella Cavallaro.

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Al “Stomach Muscles” Secord chats with referee Ron Hoggarth. Hoggarth had a microphone with him all night and did his best to entertain the crowd, but I found it a bit much after a while. Having seen him work many Jets games at the Winnipeg Arena, it seems like he hasn’t changed a bit.

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During the first intermission, Hoggarth took his act into the stands. Later in the intermission, he had Kraig Nienhuis sing a little of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire. I know one reader will appreciate the reference as it relates to my late uncle.

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Second period action. The game itself, as one would expect, was little more than an organized pillow fight with all the intensity of a Jets-Oilers playoff game from the 1980s. Sorry, old grudges die hard.

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“Bones”, the IceDogs’ mascot made appearances throughout the stands. On this occasion, he was dangling a woman’s purse over the boards and put on a show as he rifled through it. I didn’t find all that funny, but maybe it’s just me.

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The post-game handshake.

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Our MP holds up a ceremonial check for $182,329.00, the amount raised at the event.

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Both teams gather for one last picture.

All in all, it was an interesting evening and I’m glad I went. I’m looking forward to October when the puck drops for real at the Meridian Center.