It is the mecca of Canadian sport, Maple Leaf Gardens, where every small boy on a frozen Saskatchewan pond dreamed of playing one day. This is a great occasion. Down in the arena are not simple representatives of a professional hockey team. The athletes are representing all Canada, our lads carrying the Maple Leaf in the world basketball championships.
And at the turnstiles, official lackeys are handing out tiny three-by-five-inch paper Canadian flags—the ones handed to school kids when the Queen lands at the airport: television fodder. It is a pitiful attempt to inject artificial patriotism. Because streaming into The House That Conn Smythe Built are thousands of excited fans bearing huge blueand-white flags.
These are the fans of Greece, Canadians all, deafening the bewildered WASPs with their passionate fervor. On the floor, the rather mystified Canadian players wonder if anyone cares. This is the Canadian way.
There are 65,000 Greeks living in Toronto. Every one of them suddenly becomes a basketball fan. Their shouts drown out the few Canadians sprinkled through the arena. The stands are a sea of blue and white. Only the sardonic note that blue and white are the famous colors of the Maple Leafs. This is the unfortunate Canadian way.
Incredibly, on the scoreboard up towards the rafters where Foster Hewitt used to sit, Greece is listed as the “home team.” Canada—in Canada’s holy grail of hockey—is listed as “visitors.” Only in Canada.
From the rafters hang the Stanley Cup pennants—1932... 42... ’47, ’48, ’49... all the way to 1967. Hanging are the (blue-and-white) sweaters of Ace Bailey, whose career was killed by an Eddie Shore blindside; Bill Barilko, who was killed in a plane crash; Syl Apps, who won the pole vault in the British Empire Games and became Leaf captain and then an Ontario Conservative cabinet minister; and Teeder Kennedy. And the passive Canadians in the stands are drowned out by the Greeks. At halftime, a comic dressed in an ink-
black gorilla costume comes on the floor and bounces around doing crazy things that comics think gorillas do. It is assumed the Angola team, when they played Canada, thought this very funny.
Croatia, featuring stars from the National Basketball Association, draws delirious Croatian fans, hitherto hidden somewhere in Toronto, who drown out the Canadians. The Canadian coach complains that for two nights in a row his team was booed by Canadians. It’s the Canadian way.
The surprise of the European track season this summer has been Canadian sprinter Donovan Bailey, who has posted the fastest time this year of any Canadian 100-m runner. But he was not chosen for the Canadian entry in the 100 m at the Commonwealth Games that open in Victoria this week because he missed the trials with the flu.
In 1952, one John Turner was holder of the
Canadian record for the 100-yard dash. But, as a Rhodes Scholar, he was at Oxford and officialdom decreed that unless he attended the Canadian trials he could not make the Olympic team. Raised by a widowed mother, he did not have the money to fly to Canada and back and therefore never made the Olympic Games. It’s the Canadian way.
Air Canada, our national airline, hires a chap from Georgia to run it. The Globe and Mail, “Canada’s national newspaper,” hires as its new publisher an American who promptly confesses he knows little about the country. The NDP, which is against free trade with the United States, hires an American firm to do its commercials. It’s the Canadian way.
The Canadian Football League hires as its boss a marketing guy from a frozen food outfit. His solution is to add to Canada’s league teams from Las Vegas, Sacramento, Shreveport and Baltimore. It then awards the 1997 Grey Cup to Baltimore (which still hasn’t figured out a name for its team), an event that undoubtedly will draw a lot of fans from Regina and Winnipeg when the Baltimores meet the Shreveports in Canada’s fall classic and a mug donated by an English lord will sit in some trophy case in a saloon in Baltimore. It’s the Canadian way.
This is the same league that has an official name for the Canadian players who play on each team. They are known as “nonimports.” Only in Canada would Canadians become non-persons.
This is the country that has as its official head of state a foreign woman who 0 lives in another country 1 across a large ocean and g visits every year or three “ for ceremonial purposes,
mainly for the excitement of aldermen’s wives who get to curtsy before her. It’s the only time they will get to curtsy in their lives. It’s the Canadian way.
This is the country where Maclean’s July 1 poll found that a vast majority of Quebec voters thought Canada was the best country in the world in which to live—a far higher percentage than British Columbians gave. And the same voters seem poised to put into power a party whose main goal is to take Quebec out of Canada. It is the Canadian way.
A United Nations survey suggests Canada is the best place to live in the world, an obvious fact to anyone who has ever travelled abroad extensively, or been on a New York City subway car near midnight on a Friday night.
And this is the country that is contemplating dismembering, while the PM says nothing. It’s the Canadian way.
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