O Canada

The older I get, the more patriotic I seem to get. Sure, Canada isn’t without its problems (as many have chosen to highlight for #Canada150), but I truly believe it’s one of the best countries in the world. Living abroad has only reaffirmed that. So it make sense that Canada Day is a big deal to me. Usually spent at the Skydome watching the Blue Jays play, followed by a patio somewhere to watch the evening fireworks, I was determined to find some sort of substitute celebration in Melbourne.

The only Canada Day event I could find though, was at a place called the Wharf Hotel. Hotels are what many pubs are called here. I vaguely remember hearing that back in the day, only hotels could get liquor licenses, so that’s where people went for a drink. The name endured as the laws changed and hotels converted into proper bars, and was also used by new places wanting that ol’ watering hole vibe. I’ve never bothered to fact check so that could be completely wrong. It seems plausible though.

Anyway, I’m always a bit skeptical of hotels as many of them also have pokies (or poker machines) in them. They either attract questionable gambling addicts or are hipster haunts, and it’s hard to know which type you’re dealing with before visiting one. I had been told that the Wharf is the place to go for Canada Day though, so I was hopeful it was the latter and pokie-free. Plus, our whisky-loving friend was going to meet us at the bar, so it should be a good time, regardless of what the actual place was like.

We opted to drive without knowing exactly where to go and parked by Melbourne’s World Trade Centre. As we walked past expansive buildings with large empty foyers, seemingly as far away as possible from any sort of festivities, my skepticism came back. We were in search of the river, since I knew the venue had a large patio that overlooked it. My significant other told me the river should be on the other side of the ghost buildings, so we turned down a random alley and immediately spotted a person in a t-shirt with a red maple leaf emblazed on it – we were heading in the right direction. And then all of a sudden we heard the noise, the alley opened up and I could see all my beloved Canucks overflowing on the waterfront! There were red and white decorations everywhere. Red and white banners. Red and white balloons. Tons of glorious plaid, Roots sweats (which is kind of risky here since the word ‘root’ has a totally different meaning in Oz) and hockey jerseys. It was the most beautiful sight.

I had read that there was supposed to be foosball, air hockey and other surprises, but first, we needed food. Beaver tails with maple-bacon jam, poutine and Caesars where all on offer, as well as usual bar fare like burgers and pizza. I was never one to order poutine unless I was in Montreal and could go to La Banquise – a 24-hour spot that is always busy, serves massive portions and in my humble opinion, does the best poutine in Canada. But as it was Canada Day, and I was about as far away from my homeland as possible, I felt like I needed to have this quintessential Canadian dish. We grabbed a couple of drinks (Molson Canadians were 10 bucks a pop, but obviously, had to be ordered) and (politely) pushed our way through the thick of the crowd to find a spot to eat.

As we tucked into our food, I happily soaked in all of the Canadiana around me. Some guy wearing a swimming cap with a big maple leaf on it. Two others walking around in hockey helmets. Tons of red Olympic mitts, hockey jerseys and Blue Jays gear. I was amazed by all the stuff people had thought to bring when they moved down under. Friendly Canadian accents could be heard everywhere. There was a big screen at one end showing an AFL game for some reason. I struck up a conversation with a girl from Victoria and we concurred, it should have been showing Canadian sports highlights. A montage of Joe Carter’s World Series home run, Jose Bautista’s bat flip, any of Vince Carters crazy dunks, even the classic Canada v Russia 1972 hockey game would have been more appropriate. If I’m still in Melbourne next Canada Day, I have a suggestion.

My significant other had been checking in with our friend and it didn’t seem like he was going to make it after all as he was caught up in some sort of a situation with a girl he had met on Tinder. Seems dating is the same everywhere, regardless of what city you are in.

A band playing about 40% Canadian content (apparently they were basing their set list on CRTC minimum requirements) broke up covers of “ If I Had a Million Dollars” and “Heart of Gold” with frequent requests for the audience to make noise if they were from Newfoundland or Vancouver or Toronto. Some of their song choices were a bit sleepy, but after a big “O Canada” sing-a-long followed by a rousing rendition of “Chicken Fried” by the very un-Canadian Zac Brown Band, everyone was in a dancing mood.

We decided to do some exploring and found a Canadian wall of fame set up with pictures of notable Canucks, including Ryan Reynolds, Shania Twain, Ellen Page and Shawn Mendes. A cardboard cut-out of Ryan Gosling’s head had been tossed aside on a table, clearly ripped from the rest of his body. A large-scale, still in-tact Justin Trudeau was being felt up by an excited group. We then decided to check out the lower outdoor patio and found the promised games.

The last time I remember playing air hockey was years ago at the Cineplex at Scarborough Town Centre – I had forgotten how much fun it was! My significant other and I teamed up against two girls who had been waiting for the table. They were worthy opponents but we definitely outplayed them. We then attempted to play foosball one-on-one. Are people able to do that well? Because we were awful. We just couldn’t move between the handles quickly enough for it to be at all entertaining. Luckily, a couple of nearby Canadians came to our rescue, in typical Canadian fashion, to lend a hand.

When we had tired of our games, we decided to call it a night. After a night full of Canadian food, music and camaraderie, I deemed our Canada Day on the other side of the world a success.