TORONTO -- It is now Tuesday of last week.
I'm sitting at a bar in Stratford with this actress friend of mine. We fall into a conversation about Grey Cup. Turns out, she's never heard of it. Neither has our bartender (who's also a composer). I get on my sandbox and start speeching about Grey Cup – how more than just a football game, it stands as a symbol of who we are, a festival, a celebration. Grand gestures. Flowery language. Patriotic music spills from my vibe. The actress is quite moved. Bartender, not so much.
I then mention The Toronto Sun Zip Line that will be running from between the iconic towers of Toronto City Hall down to the foot of Queen Street. It'll be the tallest urban zip line in North America. His eyes perk up. I go on to mention concerts by K'naan, Sam Roberts, Matthew Good, and tons of others. Over 50 events in all, including alcohol soaked street festivals and a couple of football games. He's still not interested in the game, but the festival around the game has him sold. I caught wisps of enthusiasm motivating his keystrokes as he marked the calendar in his phone.
So now it's last Sunday afternoon.
The actress is sitting beside me as we take in the Eastern Semi-Final at Rogers Centre. It's her first football game ever and she's loving it! Moved nearly to tears at times. She never expected a live football game to be such an emotional roller coaster. I keep thoughts of the 2009 Grey Cup to myself. By the third quarter, she declares herself to be a football fan. My thoughts now turn homewards, back to Regina.
I remember a friend scoffing when it was first announced that Toronto would host the 100th Grey Cup. He felt that TO didn't deserve the honour because the city doesn't care about the CFL. I couldn't really argue with him – but I did anyway because that's how we relate to each other. Still, he had a point.
Despite being the 5th largest market in North America, attendance at Argos' home games over the past decade have been somewhat not reflective of that population in proportion to what other CFL cities draw based on their populations – to put it politely. 'Embarrassing' would another way to state it.
I've been living in Toronto a year now and I'm getting a feel for the character of this city. Indeed, Toronto doesn't care about the CFL – but then again, en-masse, Toronto doesn't care about any one thing in particular. That's the secret charm of this place.
So much is happening at any given time, that you don't really hear much hype about anything. It all gets drowned out by the cultural noise.
To really understand Toronto, you need to drill deeper. For me, the city doesn't feel like a city (unless I'm downtown, or stuck in traffic somewhere). Toronto is a thousand small towns crammed together. Each of these small towns have a distinct character, with their own language, foods, and culture.
I'm writing this article from a coffee shop in 'The Junction'. Feels more like Melfort, or Esterhazy, or Assiniboia. Very old two and three story buildings lining one main street, with residential beyond – but with better shopping.
Just as Toronto is divided into a thousand small towns, it's equally divided into a few hundred different vibrant 'scenes' that all play out loudly and simultaneously – music, art, culture, sport, politics, academia, people who dig tofu, entrepreneurs, fashionistas, writers, keepers of the phrase 'bunny hug', and among many many others, CFL fans. Five million people are dispersed throughout these scenes.
They cross pollinate with other scenes and they are passionate about what they're into – CFL fans included.
The 100th Grey Cup Festival is a reflection of this diversity – though on a national scale. There's a caption on the front page of 100thgreycupfestival.com that reads, "A cultural and sporting event a century in the making… uniting our country with an invitation to Our Nation… Coming to Toronto this November… The celebration starts now…"
As much as the 100th Grey Cup Festival is an invitation to the nation (and that includes you), it stands as an invitation to the city itself. By design, the festival will be making a lot of cultural noise. It will be taking up massive chunks of Toronto's downtown, including Young-Dundas Square, Nathan Phillips Square, and street closures along Simcoe, Front, and John Streets.
The Argonauts have been enjoying respectable attendance figures this season. The Sun had something like 18 sports pages dedicated to the CFL last weekend. The Argo's on field performance has people talking. Organizers of the 100th Grey Cup Festival have pulled out all the stops to make this once in a lifetime event, truly memorable and lasting.
Masses of humanity, from a wide swath of Toronto's scenes and neighbourhoods will have no choice but to be gobbled up by the festivities – and what's good for Toronto's motley assortment of people creatures, is even better for you. Take in the live music. Consume the diversity. Party. Be loud. Discover the people, places, and faces this city has to offer – and while you're at it, bring non-football types into OUR scene, and OUR league.
Ultimately that's the mission here. Grow the CFL's footprint across the country and around the city. I truly believe we're all in for something special over the next 10 days and 11 nights. Buy a plane ticket. Get in your car. You'll find yourself in good hands upon arrival. I'll get into details on specific events over the next few days. In the meantime, start making travel plans.