Ottawa Trip Part 1: QMJHL Hockey in Southern Quebec
Drummondville, Trois-Rivières, Victoriaville, QC.
Plattsburgh, NY. (Map)
I had business in Ottawa one week, so I left Newfoundland on a Friday, so that I could rent a car & have a weekend to explore some uncharted territory.
I researched all directions, but leaned against driving north since this was February. I also consulted the Quebec Junior Hockey League schedule, as to see some new arenas & experience junior hockey in Quebec0.
It came down to a Val d'Or/Rouyn Noranda trip vs. a Drummondville/Victoriaville trip...
I had no interest in taking the 401 to my destination & opted for back roads instead.
The road I picked ended up being quite empty anyway.
This church is in Osgoode, Ontario. It was the most exciting thing I saw in the first hour.
The scenery improved as I reached Morrisburg.
I had already worn myself out with the emptiness & went in search of coffee. Along the way I came across plenty of handsome homes, homes which I'd imagine were originally tied to the wealth of the St. Lawrence River (which flows directly beside Morrisburg).
Having never been to Cornwall, I took the time to explore the city and its arena after I reached the city limits.
Cornwall itself was smaller and grittier than I imagined. You hear so much about Cornwall that you expect it to be a larger place, and as for the grittiness, well I simply didn't know that they made gritty cities in the Thousand Islands neck of the Ontario woods.
As for the Cornwall Civic Complex...what a beauty of 1970s architecture.
I normally prefer older barns, but Cornwall's stadium was unique, well kept & endearing. I haven't been to that many arenas, but I certainly had never been to one like this.
I was happy with my planned Cornwall stop.
Leaving Cornwall, the majority of my afternoon was spent on Quebec back roads. I was trying my best to avoid the highways into Montreal, which meant a convoluted route crossing from secondary highway to secondary highway.
None of these roadways seemed to want to go to Drummondville, only over peaks & into exclamation marks.
The reason I was going to Drummondville was to take in a Voltigeurs game (QMJHL).
I arrived early and the limited Drummondville parking lot was filling up quickly. I was surprised at how relatively small the crowds & area seemed to be. It reminded me of a Jr. C playoff game back in Ontario.
All of this was alright though, as one of my main motivations for attending these games was to see small, old arenas & intimate hockey. The Centre Marcel-Dionne was built in 1963 & provided just that. Through narrow concourses, I bounced past plenty of merry Frenchman, seemingly happy to see the end of the week, some hockey & Coors Lights.
Taking my wooden seat 4 rows from the ice, I sat at attention & took it all in. This was partly because of the atmosphere, but it also had to do with the antiquated amount of space between the seats - my knees barely fit (this made no difference to me, since no one was sitting in front of me).
^#7 is Sean Couturier - the #5 overall pick in the NHL entry draft this year (by the Flyers).
At the first intermission, I decided it was a good idea to start a tradition of sampling the poutine at every QMJHL game.
The poutine was easy enough to order, but I had a little trouble with the water. "Low, low, le-ow, low", I barked at the girl (I was trying to say l'eau (water)). Afterward I realized I should have simply asked for an Aquafina.
The server girl was snooty & clearly didn't care for my inability to order water. Still though, it was hard to dock points for her crabbiness, as I was spellbound with her French hotness as I stumbled through my water & poutine order.
As for the poutine itself, I'd give it an 8 out of 10. The large cheese curds meant it was hard to have curds & fries in every bite...but those bites which did? They were superb.
I briefly considered going out in Drummondville - because really, how many nights am I'm going to ever spend in Drummondville - but eventually decided against it. I stopped at the gas bar & grabbed a Molson Export 40 and settled in back at my hotel.
Even sitting in my room, I got a bit of atmosphere as the Shawinigan Cataracts were staying at my motel & also about 5 dudes on snowmobiles (they drove the sleds right up to their doors). The place wasn't the Ritz or anything, and the only reason I stayed there was because the online review said there was an unlocked porn channel (the reviewer was complaining about this!)
Well it ends up there wasn't any unlocked porn channel. It wasn't all bad though, as I got Nicole to make my reservation since she speaks French. They were being snobby with her, until she said my French-sounding last name...and suddenly it was like I was allowed into the Cool Kids French Club!
"Ohhhhhhh, [French last name really drawn out]! Yes we have a room! I'll put you in 115."
Breakfast was in Drummondville at the Jucep.
As is typical for me in Quebec, I was a bit nervous about trying to order. Thankfully the waitress quickly realized that her English was about as good as my French. So we worked together & happily accomplished getting me some breakfast.
After that crabby arena girl, the females of Drummondville were regaining points. Although I was a bit curious about how rough Drummondville was, since the waitress had a low-cut top & a chest scar (could it be a knife scar?).
(I'd later run across another girl with a similar scar & they're actually from some medical condition which I forget.)
It was snowy, windy & sleepy in downtown Drummondville. The traffic was so light, that I simply drove around & checked stuff out from the warmth of my rental.
Overall, there were some attractive buildings, but there were also a good amount of vacant lots. I also found the town to be smaller than I imagined (the population is 68 000, it's the 8th largest QC city).
My friend Kyle also asked about the down ledge in front of the Centre Marcel Dionne...but let me tell you that the real biking/skateboarding highlight in Drummondville is at the high school! There was this rail/ledge down some steps, which halted my car while I creepily peered through a 1/2 open Buick window.
I wasn't spending my entire day in Drummondville & I was on the QC-143 northbound soon enough.
The small towns along the way were similar to the small Quebec towns of the day before: 4000 person places surrounding a central church.
Part of today's goal was to reach Trois-Rivières: Quebec's 6th largest city, situated about halfway between Quebec City & Montreal. The population of Trois-Rivières is 141 529.
The reason Trois-Rivières ranked so high on my to-do list, was because I grew up with an Uncle who tried to make me a Montreal Canadiens fan. Although he ultimately failed, I did always enjoy the old VHS tapes & hockey cards of Jean Beliveau, and it instilled a life-long wish to meet Le Gros Bill.
Beliveau was born in Trois-Rivières & I had wanted to visit the city for decades.
Trois-Rivières downtown was very similar to any Ontario city of the same size.
Trois-Rivières's Old City was definitely worth a walk through though. Trois-Rivières is the second oldest Quebec city behind Quebec City, having been founded in 1634.
I kept my typical quick pace about me for most of my walk, but I was slowed down in the Old City.
I spent the remainder of my Trois Rivières time exploring neighbourhoods & beholding their impressive French churches.
Leaving to drive southeast to Victoriaville, I quickly got off the Autoroute, then quickly exited for an even more rural road at the sight of a "Covered Bridge Attraction, 1km" sign.
Having traveled around Maine & New Brunswick a fair amount, I've always found it funny how I've never came across a covered bridge before...
And today wasn't my day either, as the snow clearing only went to within 100m of the covered bridge.
Since my goal is to drive through a covered bridge, I decided against fighting through the snow by foot.
I'll get one, one day. I continued on towards Victoriaville.
I had tickets for the afternoon hockey game in Victoriaville, so that was ultimately my destination after Trois-Rivières.
I arrived a little early to explore another new Quebec community. Victoriaville struck me as a place to take a girlfriend, as there wasn't very much grit & the downtown shopping district was quite lively (especially considering it was a dreary Saturday in February).
I felt as if I was doing a bit of a disservice to Victoriaville by attending one of their games in the afternoon, but I had no other options for the day.
It didn't take very long for that feeling to go away though, as I started to really enjoy my time at the 1980 Colisée Desjardins. It began as I emerged into the arena portion & took in the small size of the rink & the intimacy of the space. That being said, the most-important concourses were wide, allowing you to walk past the slow pokes & the dawdlers.
I enjoyed Drummondville because of the age & character, but Victoriaville warmed my heart in how it enveloped you & brought you into the game.
Something else that warmed my heart was my 2nd QMJHL poutine!
This one would get a 7 out of 10 though, as the cheese curd-to-fry ratio was lower than in Drummondville.
Maybe it would have improved if they had sausage though, but they were apparently sold out & couldn't make me my desired sausage poutine. The poutine girl was really friendly, helpful with my lack of French skills & sympathetic that they didn't have any sausage, so I still left with fries, cheese curds, gravy & a smile on my face.
One thing I love about these QMJHL games is the low cost of seats & the readily-available, quality seats which you can purchase. I'm definitely used to NHL prices & seating, having never came close to being able to put my feet on the glass as I watch a game (which I did in Victoriaville).
Overall, even though I had to watch them play the lowly Halifax Mooseheads, the experience was worthwhile & I'd love to return to Victoriaville. Although I was annoyed with the Ole, Ole, Ole chants, I can't hate a team with black & gold as their colours. In fact, I visited the Tigres shop & now own a bright yellow Victoriaville Tigres t-shirt.
It was dusk as I left the Tigres game & it was dark by the time I passed through Drummondville again. I wasn't staying there though, as I was driving through the night towards Upstate New York.
Stupid me though, I thought it would be unique or funny, or something, to take the rural border crossing 10 minutes away from the busy highway crossing. This was an aggravating mistake, as I was the only other person I saw for the entire 35 minutes I was there - the two border guards were clearly bored out of their skull & wanted some amusement.
After answering questions about lighthouses, whether I've been to the Carolinas to see lighthouses, paper mills on my camera, the history of Corner Brook & a million other things, it was nice to finally enter America. I quickly found the Rip Van Winkle motel & asked the motel proprietor, "is there a Taco Bell in this town?" (Plattsburgh).
30 minutes later, I had made a nice pillow rest & had chili cheese burritos & Big Bear beer in my belly. I watched television & laughed at the sheet of item values in the room (i.e. 'You steal the chest of drawers, $150 will be charged to your credit card.")
Tomorrow it would be time to infiltrate something besides an arena.
Onto Part 2
1 - QMJHL Arena Guide - Drummondville Voltigeurs (for the year that the arena was built).
2 - QMJHL Arena Guide - Victoriaville Tigres (for the year that the area was built).
3 - Wikipedia - Colisee Desjardins
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