Column #62 Ottawa, Canada
September 1, 1998
Ask any number of American grade school children to name the capitol of our friendly neighbor to the north and, undoubtedly, as many will scribble down “Toronto” as will know the correct answer. Considering that nearly as many of these kids think Judge Wapner is a Supreme Court justice and (if you can believe Robin Williams) that it’s Barbara Bush’s face — not George Washington’s — which adorns our one dollar bank note, the common inability to pull “Ottawa” from one’s brain when asked to list the capitol cities of the world is probably just as much a commentary on the failure of the American educational system as it is on the poor job Canada’s done to promote its seat of federal power. Still, whatever the reason for it, the fact remains that Canada’s capitol city is one of the more obscure of the world.
I suppose it was for this very reason, low expectations, that I was so pleasantly surprised at what I found in this former lumber town. Positioned as it is along the banks of the Ottawa River — the former highway of the Algonquin Indians — and smack on the border between French and English speaking Canada, bilingual Ottawa more than makes up in charm for what it lacks in excitement. This is a place where in the winter residents can ice skate to work up the famous Rideau Canal and past Parliament Hill, believed by many to be the most beautiful governmental center in the world. This is a place where in the spring more than a million tulips burst into bloom in a display as resplendent as any to be found in Holland. This is a place where in the summer the streets and parks and intimate night clubs come alive when the Ottawa International Jazz Festival sets up shop.
And this is a place, as unlikely as it may seem, with a long and proud tradition of serious darts. The town is literally crammed with darts bars. Ottawa Pub Dart League Vice President Bob Lanctot provided me a list of no less than forty establishments — and he insists that at least that many more have yet to make it onto his listing. With 62 teams competing in the Pub League alone — and with another six leagues running full-time — this profusion of darts bars seems barely enough to meet the demand.
I descended the stairs and entered the dingy, beer-soaked confines of the Duke of Somerset (232 Somerset Street West) at about dinner time. At the long bar on the right a couple of old guys stood playing cribbage. The blond behind the bar served me a Budweiser which I carried with me to one of the two boards on the far back wall. For the next hour I warmed up — and then gave up. On this night anyway, everyone that walked in the door seemed far more interested in watching a curling match on television than in tossing darts.
So next I trudged up the stairs into the highly recommended Mexicali Rosa’s Upstairs Club (211 Rideau) and went through the same routine. Here I found 16 boards, many of which, remarkably, folded up into the ceiling to make room for tables and chairs. I also found three pool tables, two television sets (both airing the same damn curling match as the Duke), and a crazy little dog incessantly fetching a tennis ball. With another Budweiser I moved to a board near a long window in the front of the club and threw alone while watching patrons dodge snowflakes as they walked in and out of a tatoo parlor across the street. Another hour passed and I gave up a second time. This time for good.
The Ottawa darts scene is entirely alive and well but tonight, I’m afraid, it came in a distant second to a bunch of guys with brooms chasing a fat puck across a slab of ice. As I sit now in my hotel room munching pizza and watching this nonsense on the tube the only thing that mystifies me more is how George Bush managed to get his wife’s mug on the dollar bill.
From the Field,
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