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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


An Olympics not so long ago...

Posted 8/23/16 (Tue)

With the Olympics in Rio De Janeiro just past, it got me to thinking about the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.

It doesn’t seem like it’s been 40 years, but it was an Olympics I had the privilege of experiencing as a spectator and still have a good memory of the first week in August 1976.

At the time I was a 17-year-old teenager. I was away from home for the first time, in a big city for the first time, out of the country for the first time (didn’t need a passport), saved money working that summer so I could make the trip and had connections in Montreal when I got there.

So you can imagine, there was a lot to absorb in a short amount of time, a lot that I still remember, much of it wasn’t even connected to the Olympics.

But then Montreal is a big city by anyone’s standards and there’s a lot to do and see regardless if there is a sideshow called the Olympics.

The bus trip was the first memory. When we got to Toronto, there was a stop and the boarding of a new bus. I got on it and the next thing I knew, we were getting off in Ottawa.

Oops! My ticket was direct from Toronto to Montreal. I didn’t catch it, the ticket taker didn’t catch it, so here I was, in Ottawa without a ticket to Montreal.

After a long discussion with Greyhound officials, they let me board the next bus to Montreal.

My friends picked me up and we went driving through the city. Imagine going from a community of 250 to a city of 2.3 million. It was quite a shock.

One of the first stops was Olympic Stadium. We watched some cycling events and went on to do other things like visit points of interest such as the Royal Canadian Mint, Mount Royal and McGill University.

1976 was also the year of the protest movement of the Parti Quebecois and its effort for Quebec to secede from Canada.

I still remember watching a massive march in the streets of Montreal with Quebec flags flying everywhere with chants “Je suis souverain,” or “I am sovereign.” Since then, that separatist movement has been defeated three times.

It was time to head back to Olympic Village to watch some swimming events. They must not have been as electric as the Americans have been this year because I don’t remember it very well at all.

Instead, my guests, who had a cabin in Dunham, Quebec, near the Vermont border, decided we’d go there to unwind. I could see the Vermont border from the cabin but unfortunately to this day, I have to say I have never been in Vermont.

Hurricane Belle, was another huge memory which struck the Canadian Maritimes while I was in Quebec. There wasn’t any damage to speak of, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen torrential rain like that since. It poured for at least two days without stopping.

While in Dunham, we watched the Olympics on TV and saw Canadian high jumper Greg Joy electrify an entire nation with his effort. Joy finished with the silver medal behind Jacik Wszola of Poland. American Dwight Stones took the bronze medal.

On one of the days it wasn’t raining, we attended a farm festival in nearby Cowansville, Quebec. That was a lot of fun as I was able to participate in the parade, wave to the crowd and throw candy out to the children.

Back to Montreal to catch more Olympics coverage that included judo and wrestling.

Sadly it was time to leave and return to Hazelton where for once, I was the envy of my friends.

The food was fabulous, the accommodations were incredible and the Quebec teens I met treated me as one of their own, even though I was the one with “the funny accent.”

As you can see, there was a lot crammed into 10 days, but definitely worth seeing and doing as something I remember well even after 40 years.

This trip is most likely why I became fond of Canada and Quebec. I was immersed in French culture for almost two weeks and I always felt safe and welcome whether it was Dunham, Cowansville or Montreal.

I learned a lot about the history of Montreal, the St. Lawrence Seaway and Quebec’s role as a Canadian province.

It was all because of a trip to the Olympics that didn’t cost anything, except a $110 round-trip ticket from Bismarck to Montreal.

Had I not gone, I may still be wondering about August 1976. When the 1984 games came up in Los Angeles, I really wanted to go but the National Guard became a higher priority.