Sunday, July 9, 2017

How to Go to a Hamilton Tiger-Cats Game

I close out the Trip Guides for the 9 Canadian Football League with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats -- not easy, because Hamilton is a city for whom I haven't yet done a Guide. I can use pieces from the Toronto Guide, including the directions, so it's not being done entirely from scratch, but close enough.

The Ticats opened their season with a loss away to their arch-rivals, the Toronto Argonauts, lost to the Saskatchewan Roughriders last night, and have their home opener this coming Saturday night, against the BC Lions.

Before You Go. This is Canada, the Great White North, but it will also be Summer, so you don't have to worry about the cold. The website of the Hamilton Spectator, a.k.a. The Spec, is predicting daytime temperatures in the mid-70s, and nighttime ones in the low 60s, with a 20 percent chance of rain.

Being in a foreign country has its particular challenges -- and, yes, for all its similarities to America, Canada is still a foreign country. The French influence makes Québec cities like Montréal and Québec City seem more foreign even than Toronto, the only city and metropolitan area in Canada with more people than Montréal.

Make sure you call your bank and tell them you're going. After all, Canada may be an English-speaking country (at least co-officially, with French, although Québec is French-first), and a democracy (if a parliamentary one), and a country with teams in America's major leagues, but it is still a foreign country. If your bank gets a record of your ATM card making a withdrawal from any country other than the U.S., it may freeze the card, and any other accounts you may have with them. So be sure to let them know that you will, in fact, be in Canada for a little while.

As of June 1, 2009, you have to have a valid, up-to-date passport to cross the U.S.-Canadian border. You should also bring your driver's license (or other State-issued photo ID). If you don't have a valid passport, you will need a valid photo ID and a copy of your birth certificate. This is not something you want to mess with. Canadian Customs officials do not fuck around: They care about their national security, too.

Do yourself another big favor: Change your money before you go. There are plenty of currency exchanges in New York City, including one on 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenue. There are also a few in New Jersey: Travelex has exchange centers at Newark Liberty International Airport, and at 4 malls: Garden Sate Plaza in Paramus, Jersey Gardens in Elizabeth, Menlo Park Mall in Edison and Bridgewater Commons. 

Leave yourself $50 in U.S. cash, especially if you’'e going other than by plane, so you'll have cash on your side of the border. I was actually in Montréal on the day when it most favored the U.S.: January 18, 2002, $1.60 to $1.00 in our favor. As of Friday morning, July 7, US$1.00 = C$1.30, and C$1.00 = US 77 cents.

Hamilton is in the Eastern Time Zone, so you won't have to fiddle with your timepieces. And this is very important: If you need to go to the bathroom, don't ask anyone where the "bathroom" is. Ask for the "washroom." 

Tickets. The Ticats averaged 24,001 fans per home game last season. That's 98 percent of capacity. Hamilton is 1 of 2 cities out of the 9 in the CFL that doesn't also have an NHL team -- Regina is the other -- and is thus a city where the most popular team in town is a football team. Getting tickets may be difficult.

In the lower level, midfield seats are $89, and in the corners $36. In the upper deck, midfield seats are $48, and in the corners $28. There is no end zone seating. And, of course, these rices are in Canadian dollars.

It has been recommend that you try to sit in the West Stand, because, in the East Stand, the Sun will be in your eyes in the early evening.

Getting There. It's 458 miles from Times Square, and 45 miles from the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, to downtown Hamilton. Knowing this, your first instinct will be to fly. But Air Canada's flights from the New York Tri-State Area's airports to John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport are expensive: A little over $1,000 round-trip. And you'd have to change planes in Montreal. (Munro was a member of Parliament, from Hamilton.)

The train doesn't work. Amtrak runs 1 train a day from New York to Toronto, the Maple Leaf, and it leaves Penn Station at 7:15 AM, reaches the Border at 4:54 PM, and arrives at Aldershot Station at 7:04 -- right around kickoff, so you'd have to go up the day before. Going back, it would be 8:59 the next morning, returning to New York at 9:50 PM. And it would be $280 round-trip.

Aldershot Station is at 1199 Waterdown Road in Burlington, not in Hamilton proper, but that's not as bad as it sounds: It's only about 6 miles north of downtown Hamilton, and the Number 18 bus will get you there fairly quickly.

Greyhound offers 1 New York-to-Hamilton run a day, leaving Port Authority at 5:15 AM, changing buses in Buffalo, and arriving in Hamilton exactly 12 hours later, 5:15 PM. There are 3 buses a day back. The round-trip fare is $104. The Greyhound station is also the old train station, at 36 Hunter Street East, downtown.

So it seems as though your best bet is to drive. Get into New Jersey to Interstate 80, and take it all the way across the State. Shortly after crossing the Delaware River and entering Pennsylvania, take I-380, following the signs for Scranton, until reaching I-81. (If you've driven to a game of the Yankees' Triple-A farm team, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, you already know this part.) Take I-81 north into New York State. (If you've driven to a game of the Mets' Double-A farm team, the Binghamton Mets, you already know this part.) Continue on I-81 past Binghamton and to Syracuse, where you'll get on the New York State Thruway, which, at this point, is I-90. Continue on the Thruway west, past Rochester, to Buffalo.

What happens next depends on where you cross the border. But first, let's discuss what you should do when you're actually at the border. Because you need to take this seriously. Because Canadian Customs will.

You'll be asked your citizenship, and you'll have to show your passport and your photo ID. You'll be asked why you're visiting Canada. Seeing a Yankees vs. Blue Jays game probably won't (but might) get you a smart-aleck remark about how the Jays are going to win, but they won't keep you out of their country based on that alone.

If you're bringing a computer with you (counting a laptop, but probably not counting a smartphone), you don't have to mention it, but you probably should. Chances are, you won't be carrying a large amount of food or plants; if you were, depending on how much, you might have to declare them.

Chances are, you won't be bringing alcohol into the country, but you can bring in one of the following items duty-free, and anything above or in addition to this must have duty paid on it: 1.5 litres (53 ounces) of wine, or 8.5 litres (300 ounces or 9.375 quarts) of beer or ale, or 1.14 litres (40 ounces) of hard liquor. If you have the slightest suspicion that I'm getting any of these numbers wrong, check the Canada Customs website. Better yet, don't bring booze in. Or out.

As for tobacco, well, you shouldn't use it. But, either way over the border, you can bring up to 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars, and 200 grams (7 ounces) of manufactured tobacco. As for Cuban cigars, last year, President Obama relaxed the embargo: Now, travelers may return to the United States with up to US$100 worth of alcohol or tobacco or a combination of both. Products acquired in Cuba may be in accompanied baggage, for personal use only.

On October 14, 2016, President Obama finally ended the ban on bringing Cuban cigars into America. This also applies to rum, for which Cuba is also renowned. It is still considerably easier to buy these items in Canada than in America, but, now, you can bring them back over the border.

If you've got anything in your car (or, if going by bus or train) that could be considered a weapon, even if it's a disposable razor or nail clippers, tell them. And while Canada does have laws that allow you to bring in firearms if you're a licensed hunter (you'd have to apply for a license to the Province where you plan to hunt), the country has the proper attitude concerning guns: They hate them. They go absolutely batshit insane if you try to bring a firearm into their country. Which, if you're sane, is actually the sane way to treat the issue.

You think I'm being ridiculous? How about this: Seven of the 45 U.S. Presidents -- 9 counting the Roosevelts, Theodore after he was President and Franklin right before -- have faced assassins with guns, 6 got hit and 4 died; but none of the 23 people (including 1 woman) to serve as Prime Minister of Canada has ever faced an assassination attempt. John Lennon recorded "Give Peace a Chance" in Montreal and gave his first "solo concert" in Toronto, but he got shot and killed in New York. In fact, the next time I visit, I half-expect to see a bumper sticker that says, "GUNS DON'T KILL PEOPLE, AMERICANS WITH GUNS KILL PEOPLE."

(Another note about weapons: I'm a fan of the TV show NCIS, which airs in Canada on Global Network TV. If you are also a fan of this show, and you usually observe Gibbs Rule Number 9, "Never go anywhere without a knife," you need to remember that these are rules for members of Gibbs' team, not for civilians. So, this time, forget the knife, and leave it at home. If you really think you're going to need it -- as a tool -- mention the knife to the border guard, and show it to him, and tell him you have it to use as a tool in case of emergency, and that you do not plan to use it as a weapon. Do not mention the words "Rule Number 9" or quote said rule, or else he'll observe his Rule Number 1: "Do not let this jackass into your country, eh?" And another thing: Border guards, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, most likely will observe a variation on Gibbs Rule Number 23: "Never mess with a Mountie's Tim Hortons coffee if you want to live.")

And if you can speak French, don't try to impress the Customs officials with it. Or the locals, for that matter. You're going into Ontario, not Quebec. (And even if you were going into Quebec, they're not going to be impressed by your ability to speak their first language.) A, People of French descent are a minority west of Quebec (although singers Alanis Morrissette and Avril Lavigne are both Franco-Ontarians); and, B, They can probably speak English, let alone French, and possibly another language or two, better than you can. If you try to speak French in Toronto, you won't sound like you're from Montreal, and you certainly won't sound like you're from Paris. You'll sound like a smartass. That's if you speak French well. If you don't, you'll sound like a damn fool.

When crossing back into the U.S., in addition to what you would have to declare on the way in (if you still have any of it), you would have to declare items you purchased and are carrying with you upon return, items you bought in duty-free shops or (if you flew) on the plane, and items you intend to sell or use in your business, including business merchandise that you took out of the United States on your trip. There are other things, but, since you're just going for baseball, they probably won't apply to you. Just in case, check the Canadian Customs website I linked to above.

Precisely where will you be crossing the border? It could be at the Peace Bridge, built in 1927 to commemorate the U.S. and Canada having "the world's longest undefended border," from Buffalo into the Ontario city of Fort Erie.
After going through Customs, this would take you right onto the Queen Elizabeth Way (the QEW). After the Pennsylvania Turnpike, this was North America's 2nd superhighway, and was named not for the current Queen but for her mother, the wife of King George VI, the woman most people now under the age of 65 called the Queen Mother or the Queen Mum. (You know: Helena Bonham-Carter in The King's Speech.) This road will hug Lake Ontario and go through the Ontario cities of Niagara Falls, St. Catharines and Hamilton before turning north and then east toward Toronto. Toronto's CN Tower is so tall that you may actually see it, across the lake, before you get to Hamilton.

The most common route from Buffalo to Toronto, however, is to go north on I-190, the Thruway's Niagara Extension, to Niagara Falls, and over the Rainbow Bridge, past the Horseshoe Falls. After you go through Customs, the road will become Ontario Provincial Highway 405, which eventually flows into the Queen Elizabeth Way.
Take Exit 90 off the QEW, onto Nikola Tesla Blvd. Follow that until it becomes Industrial Drive, then turn left on Gage Avenue, and turn right on Cannon Street. The stadium will be on your right.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and 15 minutes in New Jersey, an hour and 45 minutes in Pennsylvania, 3 and a half hours in New York State, and about an hour in Ontario. That's 7 hours and 30 minutes. Counting rest stops, preferably around Scranton and Syracuse, and counting Customs (there should be a restroom and vending machines, at the least), we're talking about 9 hours. At least you won't have to deal with Toronto traffic.

Once In the City. Founded in 1846 by Canadian merchant George Hamilton, the city sits on a natural harbor on Lake Ontario, about 40 miles southwest of Toronto and 65 miles northwest of Buffalo.

Nicknamed "the Steel City" and "the Ambitious City," it is home to about 540,000 people, more than such American "major league" cities as Kansas City, Atlanta, Miami, Oakland, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Tampa, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. But, like pretty much every Canadian city except Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, it doesn't have much in the way of suburbs, so its metropolitan area has only about 720,000 people -- fewer than not just all U.S. cities with major league teams, but fewer than any CFL city except Regina.

Indeed, as close as it is to Toronto -- about as close as Baltimore and Washington are to each other -- you could argue that Hamilton is part of Toronto's metro area. Don't tell that to a Hamiltonian, though, especially if he's been thinking about the Tiger-Cats/Argonauts rivalry.

Hamilton is an industrial city, much closer in tone and style to fellow Midwestern "Rust Belt" cities Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Detroit than to the much-closer, more glamourous Toronto. It is, effectively, Canada's Chicago. Or maybe, since it's not nearly that big, and it is called the Steel City, we should call it Canada's Pittsburgh. Either way, it's "a drinking town with a football problem."

The sales tax in Hamilton -- they call it the Harmonized Sales Tax, or HST -- is a whopping 13 percent. Then again, their taxes actually pay for things that get done for their citizens. Canada, eh? King Street -- not Main Street -- divides street addresses into North and South, and James Street divides them into east and west. Postal Codes in Hamilton start with L. The Area Code is 519. The drinking age in Ontario is 19.

Hamilton has no subway or light rail service. Buses are C$3.00, or $2.30 with a PRESTO Card. The city has no freeway "beltway."

Going In. Tim Hortons Field, named for the Canadian baked-goods and coffee chain (and thus for the Hall of Fame defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs who cofounded it), is at 64 Melrose Avenue North, about 2 1/2 miles east of downtown. Bus 2. Parking costs C$20.
The field is artificial turf, and runs north-to-south. The stadium seats 24,000, although it can be expanded to 40,000 for special events, such as the Grey Cup Final, which it has not yet hosted, nor is yet scheduled to host in the future. It opened in 2014, for the Tiger-Cats and for events of the 2015 Pan American Games. In 2018, the Canadian Premier League, Canada's attempt at a "top flight" soccer league, will begin play, and Hamilton will have a team, as yet unnamed.
It was built on the site of the team's 29,600-seat former home, known as Civic Stadium when it opened in 1928, for the 1930 Empire Games, the British Empire's mini-Olympics that became known as the Commonwealth Games. It had this is common with the old Empire Stadium in Vancouver (1954 Empire Games) and Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton (1978 Commonwealth Games).
Civic Stadium, 1960. Note the baseball field attached to it,
and a smaller stadium behind that.

In 1971, Civic Stadium was heavily renovated, and renamed Ivor Wynne Stadium, who built the athletic program at Hamilton's McMaster University and was chairman of the City Parks Board. It was home to the Tiger-Cats from 1950 to 2012, and to one of their predecessors, the Wildcats, from 1941 to 1949. McMaster played football there in 2005, '06 and '07 while their new stadium was being built.
Ivor Wynne Stadium in its last years

It hosted 3 Grey Cup Finals: In 1944, when the Flying Wildcats were defeated by the Montreal-Donnaruma team that stood it for the Alouettes during World War II; in 1972, when the Tiger-Cats hosted and beat the Saskatchewan Roughriders; and 1996, when Doug Flutie led the Toronto Argonauts over the Edmonton Eskimos in a snowstorm. It hosted the Vanier Cup, the national championship of Canadian football, in 2004, '05 and '08.

Food. Levy Restaurants runs the concessions, but neither their website nor the stadium's has a map. One thing is certain: With the legendary baked-goods chain holding the naming rights, you can be sure that they will have their own food available.

Team History Displays. The Tiger-Cats are the result of a merger between 2 teams. The Hamilton Football Club was founded on November 3, 1869 -- 3 days before the 1st American football game was played in New Jersey between Rutgers and Princeton. They played their 1st game on December 18, 1869 -- exactly 100 years to the day before I was born. They played a team from the Canadian Army's 13th Battalion, now the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, but the result is not recorded. This could allow the Tiger-Cats a legitimate claim to being the oldest continuously-operated professional sports team in North America: They have just started their 149th season.

On October 18, 1873, they played away to the the Toronto Argonauts, and a Toronto newspaper saw their black and yellow uniforms, and nicknamed them the Tigers, and the Tigers they became, and the Tigers they remained until 1950.

In 1883, they joined the Ontario Rugby Football Union, making that the official birth year of the Tiger-Cats franchise. In 1907, they joined the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union, and they went back to the ORFU in 1948. They won 5 Grey Cups: 1913, 1928, 1929, 1932 and 1935.

In 1941, a new team was formed, the Hamilton Wildcats. In the 1943 and '44 seasons, with many of their players in the Royal Canadian Air Force, they officially changed their name to the Hamilton Flying Wildcats. They won the Grey Cup in 1943, but lost the Final in 1944. In 1945, the war over, they were again just the Wildcats. In 1948, like the Tigers, they moved from the ORFU to the IRFU.

But Hamilton simply wasn't a big enough city to support 2 professional football teams, and they merged in 1950. The Wildcats' colors of red and white were dropped, as the new team merged the names, becoming the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, or the Ticats for short, and kept the Tigers' colors of black and yellow. They moved into the Wildcats' home of Ivor Wynne Stadium. In 1958, when the IRFU and the Western Interprovincial Football Union (WIFU) were merged to form the Canadian Football League, the Ticats became a charter member.

There was also a team called the Hamilton Alerts, which was founded in 1911 and won the Grey Cup in 1912, but a controversy got them kicked out of the ORFU, thus leading several of their players to join the Tigers, who won 2 of the next 3 Grey Cups.

The Tiger-Cats have won 8 Grey Cups: 1953, 1957, 1963, 1965, 1967, 1972, 1986 and 1999. They also lost the Final in 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962 (each of those to Bud Grant's Winnipeg Blue Bombers), 1964, 1980, 1984, 1985, 1989, 1998, 2013 and 2014. All told, Hamilton football teams have won 15 Grey Cups, more than any city except Toronto.

However, the Tiger-Cats are only allowed to claim the 8 they won under their current name, and not the 5 won by the Tigers, the 1 won by the Wildcats, or the 1 won by the Alerts. And there is no display for these titles in the fan-viewable areas of Tim Hortons Field.

The Tiger-Cats have 2 retired numbers, both from their successful run of the late 1950s through the 1960s: 10, quarterback Bernie Faloney; and 68, defensive tackle Angelo Mosca. Nicknamed "King Kong," Mosca was also a professional wrestler, as was his son, Angelo Mosca Jr.

There are 26 Tiger-Cats figures in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. They are:

* From the 1953 Grey Cup: Running back Bernie Custis, defensive tackle Vince Scott, and defensive end Peter Neumann.

* From the 1957 Grey Cup: General manager Jake Gaudaur (later the CFL's longest-serving Commissioner), Scott, Neumann, quarterback Bernie Faloney, receiver Tommy Grant and defensive tackle John Barrow.
Bernie Faloney

* From the 1963 Grey Cup: Gaudaur, head coach Ralph Sazio, Neumann, Faloney, Grant, Barrow, receiver Hal Patterson, guard Ellison Kelly, defensive tackle Angelo Mosca, defensive backs Garney Henley and Don "Suds" Sutherin.

* From the 1965 Grey Cup: Gaudaur, Sazio, Grant, Barrow, Patterson, Kelly, Mosca, Henley and Sutherin.

* From the 1967 Grey Cup: Gaudaur, Sazio, Grant, Barrow, Patterson, Kelly, Mosca, Henley, Sutherin, and receiver Tommy Joe Coffey.

* From the 1972 Grey Cup: Sazio (now general manager), Coffey, Mosca, Henley, Coffey, tight end Tony Gabriel and center John Bonk.
Angelo Mosca and Garney Henley with the 1972 Grey Cup

* From the 1986 Grey Cup: Team owner Harold Ballard (yes, the same bastard who ran the Toronto Maple Leafs into the ground), slotback Rocky DiPietro, defensive end Grover Covington, linebacker Ben Zambiasi, and defensive backs Paul Bennett and Less Browne.

* From the 1999 Grey Cup: Quarterbacks Ron Lancaster and Danny McManus, receiver Darren Flutie (Doug's brother), and defensive end Joe Montford.
Tiger-Cats Wall of Honour display at the old stadium

In 2006, TSN (The Sports Network, Canada's version of ESPN) named the CFL's 50 Greatest Players. Tiger-Cats honored were Henley (6), Patterson (13), Barrow (17), Gabriel (18), Browne (23), Coffey (27), Covington (28), Mosca (37), Montford (40) and Darren Flutie (50).

It's also worth noting that the Tiger-Cats are the only CFL team ever to beat a current NFL team. On August 8, 1961, they played the nearby Buffalo Bills, then still in the American Football League, at the old Civic Stadium, and won 38-21. Because the NFL's preseason now falls within the CFL's regular season, and injuries are a concern, there has never been another game between NFL and CFL teams. (In contrast, there were 6 between 1950 and 1961, and the NFL teams won them all, despite the CFL team having the home field advantage every time.)

The history isn't all good. Along with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Tiger-Cats are 1 of 2 CFL teams to not have won 1 of the 1st 17 Grey Cups of the 21st Century. And in 2003, they put together the worst record in CFL history: 1-17.

Stuff. The Tiger-Cats Shop is in the southeastern corner of the stadium. The usual team-related stuff can be found there.

In celebration of the team's alleged 125th Anniversary, Bob Young and Neil Lumsden wrote A Tradition of Excellence, 1869-1994. In 2003, the CFL Traditions series released a Tiger-Cats DVD.

During the Game. You're a visitor, not rooting for the opposing team, so unless you say something unkind about the Ticats, or something kind about the Toronto Argonauts or the Ottawa Redblacks, you shouldn't be concerned about your safety.

The Tiger-Cats' arch-rivals are the Argonauts, and it may be the roughest rivalry in the CFL. As the great ABC college football broadcaster Keith Jackson would say, "These two teams just... don't... like each other!" During Labor Day Weekend in early September, they play the Labour Day Classic, as do other pairs of CFL teams. They play in Hamilton, and then, a week later, play again in Toronto.

The Ticats hold auditions for singing the National Anthem ("O, Canada," of course, not "The Star-Spangled Banner"), rather than have a regular. Their mascot are a pair of, well, I guess tiger-cats: Stripes and TC (for "Tiger-Cats").
The team adapted the University of California's "Oski Yell" as their fight song:

Oskee Wee Wee!
Oskee Waa Waa!
Holy Mackinaw!
Tigers, eat 'em raw!

That's how they officially spell it.

In response to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' "Swaggerville," Ticats fans called Ivor Wynne Stadium, and now Tim Hortons Field, "Hammerville," adapting the Hamilton name. And, like a lot of fans who are, or imagine themselves to be, blue-collar, many of them wear hard hats in team colors.
After the Game. Your safety should not be an issue. Your stomach might be, as Tim Hortons Field is in a residential area, and finding a place to get a meal, a snack, or just a pint might be difficult. You may have to head back downtown.

Ye Olde Squire is apparently the best soccer pub in town, in case you're visiting after mid-August and want to see your favorite European club in action. 1508 Upper James Street, about 4 1/2 miles south of downtown. Bus 27.

Sidelights. Like most Canadian cities, Hamilton loves its hockey. But most of its history is wrapped up in football.

McMaster University plays at Ron Joyce Stadium -- oddly enough, named for the other co-founder, only with Tim himself, of Tim Hortons. Opening in 2008, it seats 6,000, about right for Canadian college football. The capacity was doubled with temporary seating for the 2013 season, so that the Tiger-Cats would have someplace to play in town while Ivor Wynne Stadium was demolished and Tim Horton Field was built on the site. 1280 Main Street West. Bus 47.
The lone stand of Ron Joyce Stadium

The McMaster Marauders have won the Vanier Cup, the National Championship of Canadian college football, in 2011; appeared in the Semifinal in 1967 (Atlantic Bowl), 2011 (Uteck Bowl), 2012 (Mitchell Bowl) and 2014 (Mitchell Bowl again); and won 7 Yates Cups as Ontario Provincial Champions: 2000, '01, '02, '03, '11, '12 and '14).

The Hamilton Amateur Athletic Association Grounds (or "Hamilton AAA Grounds") were the original home of Hamilton football. The old Tigers played there from 1872 to 1949, and the Alerts did so in 1911 and '12. It hosted 7 Grey Cup Finals: 1910, 1912, 1913, 1928, 1929, 1932 and 1935. Grey Cups were won by teams playing there in 1912 (the Alerts, all others by the Tigers), 1913, 1928, 1929, 1932 and 1935.
There is no longer a large stadium there, just an athletic field, a track and a small fieldhouse. 250 Charlton Avenue West, at Reginald Street, at the southwestern edge of downtown. Bus 34.

In 1920, the NHL's Quebec Bulldogs moved to Hamilton and, like the football team, named themselves the Hamilton Tigers. In 1925, they finished 1st overall in the NHL. But the players were asked to play 6 extra games, and said they would go on strike if they were not paid for those games. Management refused to pay, and the 1st NHL players' strike began. NHL President Frank Calder suspended the players, and declared the 2nd-place Montreal Canadiens NHL Champions. The rights to the Tigers players was bought by the expansion New York Americans, and the NHL Tigers were dead.

They played at the 4,500-seat Barton Street Arena, later renamed the Hamilton Forum, which continued to host junior and minor-league hockey until 1977. The icemaking equipment broke down, and the city decided that, if they had to get new icemaking equipment anyway, it would make more sense in the long run to tear the old arena down and build a new one with new equipment. Housing and stores are now on the site. 500 Barton Street East, about a mile and a half east of downtown. Bus 2.
Building a new arena took until 1983 to get an agreement, and until 1985 to open. The Copps Coliseum was named for Victor Copps, Hamilton's 1st Catholic Mayor (1962-76), and was renamed the FirstOntario Centre, after a credit union, in 2014.

It seats 17,383, and has been home to a series of minor-league teams since its opening, including its current tenant, the Hamilton Bulldogs, who've played there since 1996, first in the American Hockey League, and now in the Ontario Hockey League. Because of the Bulldogs, the FOC is nicknamed the Dog Pound. They won the AHL title, the Calder Cup, in 2007.
FirstOntario Centre, under its old name,
Copps Coliseum

The deciding game of the 1987 Canada Cup was held there. The Hamilton Skyhawks of the NBL played there, but only lasted 1 season, 1992-93. The NBA's Toronto Raptors played a few home games there in their 1st 2 seasons, 1995-96 and 1996-97. The Coliseum hosted neutral-site games in 1991-92 and 1992-93, mostly featuring the nearby Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres.

But the Leafs and Sabres are the roadblocks to an NHL team in Hamilton. In 2007, local software billionaire Jim Balsillie made a bid to buy the Nashville Predators and move them to Hamilton. He was willing to spend his own money to upgrade or replace the Copps Coliseum. In 2009, he tried again, with an attempt to buy the Phoenix Coyotes. In 2011, another group, led by Nelson Skalbania, who's owned several Canadian sports teams, tried to buy the Atlanta Thrashers and move them to Hamilton.

All 3 bids failed: The Predators have stayed in Nashville (and reached this year's Stanley Cup Finals), the now-Arizona Coyotes are still trying to stay in the Phoenix area, and the Thrashers became the new Winnipeg Jets.

And so, the Copps Coliseum/FirstOntario Centre, and the fans who would go there to see an NHL team, wait for both the right opportunity and the willingness of the Leafs and Sabres to relax their territorial rights. They may have to wait forever, as Hamilton, if admitted, would be the smallest market in the NHL. 101 York Blvd., at Bay Street, downtown.

Hamilton is no longer home to professional baseball. Bernie Arbour Memorial Stadium was built in 1970, and hosted teams in the New York-Penn League, the Hamilton Angels and the Hamilton Redbirds, who won a Pennant in 1978. But since the Redbirds left in 1992, it has been all-amateur. 1100 Mohawk Road East, about 5 miles southeast of downtown. Bus 21.
Before Arbour Stadium, the Hamilton Red Wings played from 1939 to 1942. The Hamilton Cardinals played from 1946 to 1956, and won the NYPL Pennant in 1955. Both teams played at the baseball field attached to Civic/Ivor Wynne Stadium, as seen in the photo above.

The National Basketball League of Canada features teams relatively close to Hamilton (or, at least, closer to Hamilton than to Toronto or Ottawa): The KW Titans, representing Kitchener and Waterloo, at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium, 400 East Avenue, 40 miles northwest of downtown Hamilton (but, to get there without a car, you'd have to take a bus to Mississauga, almost to Toronto, and then another bus to Kitchener); the London Lightning at Budweiser Gardens, 99 Dundas Street in London, 80 miles west (commuter rail from Aldershot); and the Niagara River Lions, representing St. Catherines, at the Meridian Centre, 1 IceDogs Way, 35 miles east (3 buses).

In addition to the aforementioned McMaster University, the University of Guelph is in, yes, Guelph (27 miles northwest); Wilfrid Laurier University, named for the 1896-1911 Prime Minister, is in Waterloo (44 miles northwest); and the University of Western Ontario (UWO) is in London (80 miles west).

Despite its small size, Hamilton has several interesting museums. HMCS Haida is a museum ship. 658 Catherine Street North. Bus 4. The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, though far from the capital of Ottawa, is Canada's version of the Smithsonian Institution's Air and Space Museum. 9280 Airport Road in Mount Hope, about 9 miles south of downtown. Bus 27, transferring at Mountain Transit Centre to Bus 20. Westfield Heritage Village is probably the closest thing Canada has to a "Colonial Williamsburg." 1049 Kirkwall Road in Rockton, about 20 miles west of downtown. No public transit.

The tallest building in Hamilton is the 417-foot Landmark Place, at 100 Main Street East at Catherine Street. Al Frisina built it in 1974, breaking the unwritten rule of a 6-story height limit. Still alive, he thinks no taller building will be built in town because, "The demand's not there, and nobody's crazy enough to do it."

As with other Canadian cities, any TV show or movie set there would be unfamiliar to most Americans. Nevertheless, some movies you might have seen were at least partially filmed there, including the sports-themed films The Cutting Edge and Cinderella Man. Robin Williams filmed scenes from Death to Smoochy and Man of the Year there.


Hamilton, Ontario is a city on the verge -- of being big enough in numbers or influence to be noticed. But if you're a sports fan, you should notice it, and check it out.

No comments: