So 2017 looks like quite the year for landmark anniversaries! My LA Kings turn 50. It’s the 100th anniversary of the NHL and of independent Finland – a country from which half my ancestors and plenty of great NHLers hail. It’s also Canada’s 150 birthday!
To celebrate “The True North’s” sesquicentennial, I’m doin’ a list! I’ve compiled 17 miens, memories and moments – a random sampling of the many reasons Canada has a dear place in this American’s heart! And here, in no particular order, are the first 8:
1. An Overview of Overviews
I’ve never been able to resist a good view! Whether it takes an elevator ride, plane flight or uphill climb to get it, I’m always ready to pursue a panorama – and I’ve been lucky to catch some magnificent ones in Canada:
2. Show Me the Color of Money!
Maybe it’s a sign I never quite grew up, but I love currency like Canada’s that’s all different colors – and when you’re in a land where the coins have nicknames like “loonie” and “toonie,” you just know you’re going to have a good time!
3. Back (and Forth!) to Nature
Something I’ve savored in my Canadian rambles is that even in the midst of urban environs, I never seem far from magnificent natural ones!
Take Vancouver (easily the Canadian city to which I’ve been the most). I used to visit every year for a women’s recreational hockey tournament and it’s remained a favorite vacation destination when I don’t feel like choosing between culture and countryside.
4. Gold Medal for Humor
Though I didn’t get to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver (or to any other – yet), I at least wanted to check out their Olympic cauldron. It’s actually four intermingling conduits jutting up beside the harbor – and for me, it’s a monument both to sport and to good humor!
During the opening ceremonies, the indoor version of the cauldron was supposed to emerge arm by arm from the floor to be lit by four legends of Canadian sport. But one arm malfunctioned and refused to rise, leaving speed skater Catriona LeMay Doan all alone just carrying a torch. And boy have I been there…
So what to do when a relationship fail happens in front of gazillions of people? Launch an inquiry? Pretend it didn’t happen? Hope at least some of those gazillions were off grabbing snacks in the kitchen? Even without a lit flame, I’d have feared getting burned again.
But in Vancouver they opted to view it as a comic opportunity, adding a humorous bit to the closing ceremonies where a guy affects repairs, giving Ms. LeMay Doan a chance to light the cauldron after all. Proof that whether or not the course of true love – or true spectacle – runs smooth, you might as well have a laugh!
5. “Brava, Brava, Bravissima!”
Sports have always been a big part of my life – but other interests have drawn me north of the border, such as (nerd alert!) a love of musical theatre.
Yes, back in the 80’s, while fellow students were zombie dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, my Glee Club buds and I were thrilling to the voices of Michael Crawford in Phantom of the Opera and Colm Wilkinson in Les Misérables!
And it was the quest for a well-belted show tune that first led me to Toronto. My friend Sharon and I were dying to see Colm Wilkinson as the Phantom – so we bought tickets months in advance with no way to be certain he’d still even be playing the role. But we optimistically arranged for the Toronto date to be the finale of a grand tour through Montreal, Quebec City and Ottawa.
I have to own that the nuggets of Canadian history we picked up along the way were more news to me than they should have been. It was a real education to tour Ottawa’s Parliament Hill, and a bit of a shock to wander Quebec City battlements and read how the fortifications were built to ward off invasion by…us? What a relief that Sharon’s and my contemporary conquest as Americans was only to see a good show and give poutine a try!
During our “March to Toronto,” many a plate of poutine did meet its end. But, even as we sat in the theatre in those final hours, I still couldn’t bring myself to trust that “Operation Music of the Night” had been a success. In the show, you hear the Phantom’s voice before you see him – so when Wilkinson’s soulful tones first reached us from offstage, it was breathtaking confirmation that our cross-province mission had been accomplished.
And it had all been simply delicious!
6. The Best Game You Can Name
And then there’s ice hockey! I’ve had wonderful experiences playing in the States – but I always feel a special reverence in the country where the game we know was born.
Years after The Phantom, I returned to Toronto for a tour of the Hockey Hall of Fame and total immersion in all things twig and biscuit, complete with a post-tour meal at Wayne Gretzky’s restaurant!
Speaking of The Great One, my visit to Edmonton couldn’t be complete without a stop at Wayne’s statue (in its former location) memorializing his terrific success as an Oiler. I was hoping some of his amazing ability might rub off on me for my game – but I think it’s safe to say this did not, in fact, occur. Still, mad skills or bad, playing hockey has been one of the pure and altogether unanticipated joys of my life!
7. “Scope for the Imagination”
Okay, I am aware that there are other fine exports from Canada – including in the field of entertainment.
Among the Canadian big- and small-screen exports I’ve enjoyed are the hilarious and brilliant SCTV series, the sweet and heartwarming Anne of Green Gables saga and the haunting and poignant film, Away from Her. Also, one of my all time favorite series from any nation is Slings and Arrows – to which I could apply all the adjectives above, right down to “haunting” (in more ways than one – hm!).
8. The “Vincey”
And then there’s ice hockey! Yeah, I already said that. But it’s tough to downplay the influence the sport has come to have on everything from my priorities (now that Mum’s a local, we rarely miss watching a Blackhawks or Kings game together), my travel plans (“Hey, there’s a tournament in Palm Springs!”), to some of my very dearest friendships. By and by, hockey has shaped much of what I am today – and sometimes, it’s even showed me what I’d like to be.
On Nova Scotia’s rugged and stunningly beautiful Cape Breton Island, the Vince Ryan Memorial Hockey Tournament takes place every spring, and my LA Chill travel hockey club has made its way across the continent to take part on a number of occasions.
The massive tournament raises scholarship funds for local students while giving businesses a boost outside the tourist season. To manage this, island residents band together to pull off an unbelievable feat of organization and hospitality, resulting in participants’ having an all-around unforgettable time. I had an absolute blast the year I got to go!
I do remember, though, as I was sitting in the airport afterwards and recalling a whirlwind weekend of events, that two lists were forming in my mind. One was of all the charmingly new experiences I’d had beyond the excitement of tournament play. Like I’d posed with the biggest fiddle in the world. I’d shared with a men’s team from Ontario a marvelously scenic and raucous bus ride from Halifax. And I’d even appeared on local TV.
Delightful new adventures, all!
But there was another list. I began to think too of all the things our kind hosts had done for us that, to me, seemed way above and beyond the call. These lovely (not to mention brave) volunteers had devoted themselves to such tasks as showing us around, performing equipment repairs, sewing patches on a dozen jerseys because we hadn’t managed it beforehand, waiting at the tournament office to find out if we’d made the finals and then driving miles just to tell us in person that we had, offering coaching advice and encouraging words and shoulder pats to a ragtag team full of disparate skill levels and temperaments – and overall, treating members of the Chill like family every single time they’ve made the trip.
I sat there wondering if I could have been counted on to do as much if the roles were reversed. Was it in me to be that generous of time and spirit? To be that committed and kind? Years after my visit, I’m afraid I still wonder.
In any event, the good news is that if I should still need a lesson in any of those qualities, I feel fortunate that I know a great place to go and brush up.
Stay tuned for the next post with 9 more things I love about my neighbors to the north!
In the meantime, here are some previous posts covering my Canadian adventures: