Thursday, November 06, 2008

O-Town Espionage: Man on the Street

After surveying unsuspecting citizens on Wellington Street and at the safe house, kibitzing with Sens fans in Kanata, and trading e-mail with another Ottawan, I bring you the following snippets.

He’s a Leafs’ fan, but his favourite Senator is Dany Heatley. #1 donut is the Sour Cream, Glazed.

Does is have to be from Timmy’s?

“Nowhere else.”

“I haven’t played hockey since I was a kid.” He doesn’t watch hockey either—or at least doesn’t have a favourite Sen. The Blueberry Fritter is his first choice, but he thinks the Old Fashioned is most popular in O-Town.

“Double Chocolate,” she says without hesitation. But when asked who her favourite hockey player is, she has to think about it…and then says, “Fisher.”

Safe house1
She’s not a hockey fan, so does that mean she knows B-Frit? Nope. She likes crullers, no matter the manufacturer.

Safe house2
“I think Gerber is a great goalie.”

And he thinks the Boston Cream is the bomb. Does it have to be from Timmy’s?

“You know it.”

Dressed in a Bruins jersey, he says he likes the Walnut Crunch (sounds familiar, eh?).

UsherShe digs Chris Neil. #1 donut is the Canadian Maple, washed down with a Triple Triple (milk, not cream).

He’s sporting the Black and Gold, #8 on his back, #4 in his heart…and a Chocolate Dip on his mind.

Kingston2Like father, like son. Almost. The kid likes Kessel and the Old Fashion.

Plain Jane
Dany Heatley is #1 on the ice, and the plain Old Fashion is tops on her donut list. (Maybe B-Frit was right?)

“Plain? What does that say about me? “Jazz it up a bit,” says her husband.

He’s fond of the (Apple) Fritter and a fan of Chris Neil.

2CupDonuts are nothing to write home about. He’ll have a cup of coffee at Tim’s but prefers his first and subsequent cups at Second Cup.

Until next time, O-Town, farewell.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ottawa in October

“IT IS OCTOBER 17, 2006. A cold rain is falling in a slant along Wellington Street, the lights from cars moving past Parliament Hill washing yellow down toward the parkway along the Ottawa River. It is nasty and miserable and those of us hurrying along the sidewalk are in danger of being splashed from the side as well as having our umbrellas ripped inside out from behind. We are heading this wretched night, heads bowed, collars tight to the chin, to the National Library to hear a panel discussion on what exactly makes a Canadian.

“True story.”

Canadians, Chapter Two, “A Canadian Is…”
by Roy MacGregor

IT’S OCTOBER 17, 2008. This Friday night in Ottawa is crisp and clear and cheery. Happy Canadians, strolling, smiling and laughing, abound on Wellington Street. Parliament Hill’s street lights illuminate Peace Tower—the Maple Leaf lording over Timbit Nation—and reflect off the Rideau Canal, which feeds into the Ottawa River. North, across the watery border and into Gatineau, Quebec, the scene is also serene. Twenty-two kilometers west-southwest, in Kanata, the Ottawa Senators are trouncing the visiting Phoenix Coyotes.

Perfect conditions for conducting espionage. My mission, however, is not yet as clear as the weather; my superior has not yet provided details, only a general directive: Observe. Remember. Wait.

Saturday is another bedazzling day. After a brisk two-hour walk with Fort Collins’s Mr. Hockey (a.k.a. my dad), a hearty lunch, and then a briefing with my wife (a.k.a. The AMHL Photographer), my anonymous superior reveals details. I’m to identify Ottawa’s favorite donut and the city’s favorite Senator. I leave the safe house and return to Wellington Street.

True story (pretty much).

Of the thirteen Canadians I interrogate, two politely decline to answer questions and are released on their own recognizance. The others supply conflicting information: Two select the Old Fashion Plain as their favorite. Everyone else picks a different donut. All but one prefers Tim Hortons over any other donut supplier; the lone exception is vendor-agnostic: She prefers a Honey Cruller, no matter the manufacturer.

Of these eleven respondents, two don’t follow hockey; so I augment my findings about Ottawa’s favorite Senator with additional interviews and information provided by double agents. Two Ottawans select Chris Neil as their favorite Senator. Every one else picks a different player.

In the next week, I’ll release details of these conversations. But for now, do we conclude that the Old Fashioned Plain and Chris Neil are Ottawa’s favorites?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

In honor of Thanksgiving Day in Canada, I decided an informal ether-based freelance effort was in order. I unwrapped the Ron Hynes cassette from its case, inserted the Newfoundlander’s Cryer’s Paradise into the CSD –ED37 CD all-in-one music machine, and then commenced to conducting espionage.

With Mr. Hynes supplying the soundtrack, I discovered Canadian Newcomer Magazine. According to the publication’s Web site, “The mission of the magazine is to connect the regions diverse ethnic communities in Canada using one voice and language by providing free information, advice, entertainment and encouragement to new immigrants.” It sounds like a stuff introduction to Canada, but one back issue belies this properness by offering a tongue-in-cheek “How Canadian Are You” challenge.

As you might have surmised, I passed with flying colors. Had it not been for questions about broadloom and Upper Canada College (and not knowing that some of the twenty questions have more than one correct answer), I would have aced this entertaining exam.

Regardless, the lessons I learned may abet me on an upcoming assignment. This time next week, I’ll be on a bona fide mission, details of which I’m not yet at liberty to disclose. But rest assured that I’ll update you—if not while at the safehouse—soon after I’ve eluded the authorities, who will no doubt be monitoring my every move.

Until then, Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Fuzzy Canadians

Image courtesy of

I haven’t crossed the 49th parallel since July. But make no mistake: I’ve continued to spy on the Northland.

These covert operations come in various forms. First, I’ve been reading Canadians, Roy MacGregor’s colorful commentary on a nation’s fuzzy identity.

Early on in the book, MacGregor describes a scene centered by Pierre Trudeau’s passing:

“…At one crossing a woman held up a cherry paddle, a rainbow-coloured voyageur scarf tied carefully around it. At another, a man held up his country’s flag with his country’s perfect flagpole: a hockey stick…Construction workers crawled free of the hole they were digging near a culvert to stand in respect, the yellow front-end loader behind them stilled, its scoop raised in its own serendipitous salute.”

MacGregor’s coverage of Timbit Nation is as expansive as the country’s geography. From popular culture to fictional entities to sports, including references to Red Green, Anne of Green Gables, and the Grey Cup—MacGregor paints, as the best-selling book’s title continues “a portrait of a country and its people.”

I’ve referenced the book (which also includes one chapter dedicated to hockey) in my conversations with Canadians. Most didn’t recognize the prolific author’s name or his best-selling book.

Nor do they have the slightest clue about what Mats Sundin will do. Return to the Leafs? Become a Ranger? Retire? I doubt MacGregor—or Sundin himself—knows.

A book and a telephone have connected me to Canada. So has the media. I’ve contemplated the standing ovation for Sox outfielder Jason Bay, the less-heralded arrival of ex-Canadien Michael Ryder to Beantown, and the continued character development of Satchel Pooch, the Canadian dog in Darby Conley’s (not a Canadian) comic strip, Get Fuzzy.

My conclusions from this collective espionage? Americans are not threatened by Canadians but don’t quite understand them either. But then again, Canada doesn’t know itself either. I understand MacGregor’s contention that Canada is a conundrum: After much self-inspection, Canada has both an inferiority complex and an inflated ego.

Confusing? Read the book. Or maybe explore the links I’ve added to the site.

As for me, I’m eager to finish the book, talk to more Canadians on the phone, read the comics—and to cross the border again to continue my research.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Return to CanadAmerica, Part II: Double Good

Continued from Part I

I woke up from a nap and removed the thin, dark blue blanket covering my head.

“Any international security forces tailing us?” I asked my wife.


Spy stuff, I tell her.

“Oh god,” she says and then refers to me as Walter Mitty’s donut-loving cousin.

I guess we’ve ditched the double agents, so I toss the blanket onto the back seat. Another mission accomplished…

From Grand Manan, we landed at Blacks Harbour and then drove to the safe house in St. Andrew’s.

After a two-hour nap, I watched a doubleheader—Oprah and Ellen—as cell phone coverage went from Rogers to AT&T to Rogers to AT&T.

My wife and I then walked west along Water Street, past the art gallery touting and toward Olde Tyme Pizza.

While we waited for the Hawaiian Pizza, I glanced back and forth at the two televisions. On the monitor to my left, the Weather Network updated us on highs and lows across Canada; to my right, a station from New York aired the People’s Court.

Walking back toward the wharf, we entered the new coffee shop in town. At Honey Beans we ordered two hot beverages. The new owners, who had moved from Alberta, were still getting things in order. They needed business cards, a Web site, and an American flag to compliment the Canadian one hanging outside, but my hot chocolate and my wife’s latte hit the spot.

With sundown still two hours or so away, we finished our treats while gazing upon Passamaquoddy Bay. We discussed the possibility of someday setting up a satellite spy operation here in St. Andrews, where we could observe activities from Canada’s Navy Island to Eastport, Maine.

Instead of watching the same fireworks that Eastporters would watch the reluctant spy’s wife and I walked back to the safe house to catch the pyrotechnics on Boston’s WBZ.

I fell asleep long before the first flare was fired, knowing that we’d have to slink from the safe house before the authorities could, unannounced, pop in on us.

On the road by 6:00 a.m., Walter Mitty's donut-loving cousin and his wife were at Timmy’s in St. Stephen and then across the border before the feds could say “foiled again.”

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Return to CanadAmerica, Part I: Happy Days

Thursday July 3, 2008
11:00 a.m., Atlantic Time

“You gonna eat that donut?” I ask the AMHL Photographer as we wait to board the boat that will ferry us from Grand Manan to mainland New Brunswick.

The donut has accompanies us for about two of our three happy days in the heart of CanadAmerica. Without a Dunkin’ Donuts or a Tim Hortons, it was surprisingly easy to find a donut. North Head Bakery was a snap to locate—way easier than finding any harbinger of hockey.

Grand Manan is all about basketball. Hoops hang above many a garage door, and the b-ball court stands out in the village centre. Hockey doesn’t even place second here. A source at a local eatery told me that a vote was taken to determine if the local arena should accommodate curlers or skaters. Curlers won the big prize, but an outdoor rink was constructed for when weather permits, which is not as often as you might think, islanders to play hockey.

Hockey has been unheralded here, but that may change because ground has been broken for a multi-purpose complex that will house the Boys and Girls Club and an upgraded ice rink. Another source told me that some islanders are skeptical about the need for an indoor ice surface, however. This doubt sounds similar to what yet another source said about the fishing industry vis-à-vis tourism: Those who land lobsters and haul in herring tolerate the tourists.

Best to keep a low profile, which as a field agent is now second nature. (I don’t stand on street corners pretending to read newspapers) Laying low for my meals at the safe house, I enjoyed the victuals and ambiance.

“Put Your Head on My Shoulders”, the Paul Anka song Warren “Potsie” Weber made famous, prompted me to ask my wife, “I wonder what Anson Carter—I mean Anson Williams—is doing?

I don’t know where the ex-Bruin or the former TV star are these days, but I enjoyed the wordless version of the hit from Happy Days as much as I’ll relish that donut to which I haven’t yet formally introduced you.

Meet the chocolate sugared donut: chocolate cake, no glaze, just granular sugar sprinkled on top and a nutty aftertaste going down. I know this because, a few days ago. I devoured a donut from the same batch as the one now in the brown paper bag.

My wife doesn’t want any part of this two-day-old beauty and grants me the rights to the free agent confection.

“You’re like a five year old,” she says. “You’ll eat anything that isn’t nailed down!”

So be it. But besides the obvious faux pas of dissing a donut, tossing it toward the trashcan—as if the donut were a basketball flying toward a hoop—would be too risky.

Unlike basketball on Grand Manan, I want to keep a low profile, especially when escape to the mainland is imminent.

To be continued...

Sunday, July 06, 2008

History and "Mission" Statement

“Canadian spy.” In due time, when AMHL Glory is published, I’ll reveal the person responsible for creating that moniker for me. I’ll let you in, though, on the history and evolution of my “mission.”

On the Fourth of July, 2006, while driving through New Brunswick, I first envisioned a separate Web site for readers who want to learn more about Canada. Content would be aimed Americans who would want to delve past the thick ice of silly superficialities and stereotypes: hockey freaks, Molson-minded Mounties, and eh-sayers who spell “center” with the e at the end.

Since that day two years ago, I’ve talked to many Canadians who don’t even follow hockey. I know Canadians, on both sides of the 49th parallel, who say PRAH-sess instead of PROH-cess. One Canadian goalie I know may as well pledge allegiance to Coors instead of Molson. And some stateside Canadians have no intention of returning home.

This site, then, is not only a source for enlightenment about America’s northerly neighbor but also a portal for disconnected Canadians who maybe haven’t seen the Sun (the Ottawa Sun, that is) in a while or who haven’t recently read the Globe and Mail.

In addition to links to mainstream media outlets and to satellite sites that shed light on Canada’s grass roots, I’ll deliver quick-hitting and reliable field reports (while dodging the authorities who track my every move.) is for Americans who want to avoid appearing on a Rick Mercer special, but the site is ultimately for Americans and Canadians—and anyone else who seeks insights about Canada. And my ultimate “mission” is to foster greater understanding between two great nations.

Oh, and almost anyone can become a “Canadian spy.” So if you’d like to pursue a challenging career in “covert ops,” or become a famous “field agent,” please send e-mail to jimfdwyer(at)gmail(dot)com.

Thanks for reading (and for not reporting me to the authorities.)

Jim Dwyer