We were sitting on a wooden terrace overlooking several acres of untouched and unspoiled shoreline with the whitecaps of the St. Lawrence River in the background. And, if you squinted just slightly, you could see the northern shore across the water. Kind of.
"This has to be one of the best-kept secrets in all of Canada," I remarked to my friend Sylvain.
"In Quebec," he corrected.
I finished the last of my beer and reached for another. "Yeah, but it's up there with other beauties in Canada."
"No," he corrected again. More seriously he added, "This is Quebec. It has nothing to do with Canada."
At this point, I simply nodded and swallowed my rebuttal. There was no need to mention two failed Referendums or point out that Quebec is a province in the Dominion of Canada. Truly, the Bas-Saint-Laurent (or Lower Saint Lawrence) is a pretty place to visit but the tourists see it more as a stopping point on the way to the more picturesque Gaspesie.
An important question at this juncture: WTF does this have to do with the Leafs?Glad you asked. You see, there's been a plethora of news items over the past two weeks--those ridiculous Quebec Nationalists protesting the Canadiens about not having enough Quebecois players, the Tim "I am Flat Like a Ken Doll" Baines article in the Ottawa Sun suggesting that Leafs fans "blew it" in the All-Star voting. And some discussion in different comments about "true" rivalries (Leafs/Habs or Leafs/ Red Wings). A recent DownGoesBrown article also inspired me to come up with this.
I am an individual of few words--especially here on PPP. I've never been fond of writing sarcasm or posting GIFs because I would rather shit myself laughing at something someone else posted than be mocked or ridiculed for posting something myself. So, few words is one thing. I was born in Nova Scotia, I've been living in Rimouski, Quebec for close to six years now. My wife is Quebecoise, my kids were born here and speak both English and French (well, one does... the other is still shitting herself and regurgitating breast milk).
For a Leafs fan this deep in enemy territory, it's often difficult to come by Leafs games if they aren't shown on TSN or CBC.ca although there are other methods of obtaining these games despite being very illegal. In other words, I am saddled with more Montreal Canadiens news items than Maple Leafs. And even beyond that, thanks to the new TVA Sports channel with Georges Laraque, Dave Morissette and Enrico Ciccone providing analysis of Ottawa Senators games, my beloved Leafs fall to third in terms of television coverage. (Imagine neanderthals attempting to have an intelligent discussion about hockey).
For my fellow brothers in blue, I wanted to give you a glimpse into some of my experiences in dealing with Habs fans and the dubious things said about both the Leafs and the Leafs/Habs rivalry from folks here in La Belle Province.
As sampled in the exchange with my friend Sylvain ahead of the jump, this was my very first experience talking to someone who believes Quebec is an entity unto itself and therefore is not a part of Canada. This is part of the mindset of a lot of people who consider themselves Sovereignists/Separatists. Let's be clear: not everybody in Quebec is like this. I've met my fair share of HarperHumpers and Liberals and as we learned last May, the NDP were the average Quebecer's choice for Parliament. This doesn't directly impact hockey but culturally speaking, there is an undercurrent of nationalism that does exist and if you listen closely, it's there.
My neighbours are easy targets but they are the most benign of Habs fans. We live on a quiet street with a cul-de-sac and the neighbours to our left are both retired and very, very friendly folks. Whenever I'm out shovelling my driveway and wearing my Leafs toque, Jean-Paul may threaten to blow snow from his driveway onto mine but only in a joking sense. They don't have grandchildren and therefore spoil my son to no end. As well, you can set your watch to seeing ol' JP in his living room watching Canadiens games on RDS. I asked him about the Cunneyworth situation recently and his response? "It doesn't matter as long as they're winning," he responded. "But the correct thing would have been to fire Gauthier and bring in someone who CAN build a winning team--French or English."
My other neighbour is slightly more rigid in terms of his hockey attitudes. He has a son who plays in the LHDAA (Ligue de Hockey de Developpement AA, Est-du-Quebec) as a goaltender and they both routinely make the 12-hour roundtrip drive about 2-4 times annually to see games at the Bell Centre in Montreal. He and his son are both massive Habs fans although they will continue to cheer and support their team even when the Canadiens are in the shitter. Kinda like us Leafs fans. And therein lies their redeeming quality, even as dirty Habs fans.
Anyway, both neighbours are very nice and the back-and-forth about Leafs/Habs is now something I look forward to whenever I talk to them.
There's a darker side being a Leafs fan in Quebec, however. About a year ago, I was in Montreal visiting the sister company of a small tech firm (which I no longer work for) in Ville Saint-Laurent. I drove there with my colleague who is a hardcore Habs fan and we stopped outside of Montreal for gas. It was winter, it was cold, I put my Leafs toque on and started pumping some gas.
A few moments passed before I heard some shouting from another pump. Some middle-aged man with a goatee was calling me out in French. I didn't hear exactly what he was saying but there was something about my mother and telling me to "go back to Ontario and fuck a moose". Very high-class stuff from a total stranger. I was more amused than bitter. He continued to accost me even when I went inside to pay. He told me the Kessel trade ranked worse than Courtnall-for-Kordic. I simply replied, "Ferme ta gueule et va chier." (Shut your trap and F-U)
Nothing happened. It was a mild encounter when compared with others I've experienced.
A few years back, I used to teach at the CEGEP (for those who don't know, the CEGEP is cross between Ontario's old Grade 13 and community college with several university preparatory courses and programmes built-in). Most of the groups I used to teach were in the evening which meant the place was deserted and dark, for the most part.
One evening, I had finished later than usual and was on my way through the pre-WW1 labyrinthine corridors to my car. I was wearing my Leafs toque and had just turned the corner near the front desk when I saw five very drunk and very energized young men clad in Montreal Canadiens jerseys, toques and kit bags. They had evidently just finished playing hockey somewhere and had found some time to polish-off a half dozen beers each (I assumed).
As I passed by them, I smiled and nodded. I glanced down to look at my keys when I felt my toque being ripped off of my head! Some total drunken punk actually had the nerve to take something off my head. Instead of being a hot-head about it, I simply turned around and was about to say something like, "Okay, guys. Funny stuff." This was until I witnessed something very classless.
The heavyset kid with the Kovelev jersey actually spat on my Leafs toque (or attempted to) which was now on the floor. At this point, I thought of two things: 1) say nothing, let it pass, take the toque and walk to the car -or- 2) go Bruce Banner/Incredible Hulk on them.
As it happened, one of my students, Rejeanne, a 50-something fitness instructor, was waiting for her drive and saw the whole exchange. She walked over, slapped one of the guys on the back of the head and cursed him out in French. The guy sheepishly bent down, picked up my toque and gave it back to me. None of them appeared very apologetic but I wasn't looking for anything else from them. They walked away as soon as the security guard returned to the front desk. It was the following week when Rejeanne explained to me that the kid she slapped was her nephew from Montreal who was actually renting a basement apartment from her and her husband while he attended CEGEP in Rimouski.
Most of the incidents I've had with Canadiens fans were in Montreal or were with people FROM Montreal. I've had pleasant experiences with people in Quebec City. As I'm sure no one who reads PPP is unaware, fans of the Nordiques are possibly the only other team supporters who hate the Canadiens as much as Leafs fans. (I don't include Bruins fans because there are several in my family who live in New England and are really only "fairweather" anti-Habbers.)
The most vile experience in my 31 years with a Canadiens fan happened in front of my 2 year-old son when we were buying tickets to a Rimouski Oceanic game. After the office manager for the Oceanic gave my son two Oceanic posters and a free Oceanic puck (my boy was thrilled) we headed back to the car. During the day, the Colisee de Rimouski is often used for rec league hockey and as such we passed several men entering and exiting the building with their hockey bags and sticks. My son was wearing a Nordiques sweatshirt and a Maple Leafs ball cap and I think I may have been sporting a Curtis Joseph/Maple Leafs ball cap as well. Some dickhead in his 50's or 60's walked in through the door next to us, took one look at us and in French, said:
"Leaf Faggot and Leaf Faggot Junior!"
He was walking by very briskly with a smirk on his pock-marked face. I'm not one to engage in confrontation with children present for obvious reasons and especially because words are just words, not to mention my son definitely didn't know (and still doesn't understand) this French pejorative ("Fif"). So there really didn't appear to be any reason to retaliate... so I didn't. But someone else did. Again.
Behind us, coming out of the stairwell were two individuals I had not seen previously--one was an unassuming man I judged to be in his late-40s and the other was the woman who had sold us our tickets not five minutes before.
The man shouted to the dickhead (in French), "Hey you, do you like insulting young children in front of their parents?"
The other man stopped and took a tentative step back toward us. He replied (in French), "If I raised my kid to be a Toronto fan, I'd have to be a brainless faggot. I'm entitled to my opinion."
The man who had stood-up for us was suddenly familiar to me: Assistant Coach for the Oceanic, Donald Dufresne. "What gives you the right to use language like that, especially in front of a child?"
By now, several other rec league players had entered the foyer of the Colisee and were now witnesses to what would become an epic dressing-down of a Habs fan by a former Stanley Cup winner with the Habs for insulting a 28 year-old Leafs fan and his 2 year-old Leafs fan son.
When the dickhead did not respond, one of the other players turned to me and said, "Don't pay attention to that guy. He's been kicked off of many rec league teams and probably will get booted for good after the rest of his team hears about this incident."
The incident ended when the dickhead saluted everybody and walked toward the dressing rooms. I don't know how it ended for him but I can only imagine he lives a lonely life where he feels the need to judge people based on their interests and tastes. As for myself and my son, we got to meet Donald Dufresne and in the following weeks, several Oceanic players.
My long-winded post can be boiled down to one question: Shouldn't we all have the right to sport our favourite colours without being afraid of ridicule and mockery?