Before we delve into the sports part of this column, please allow me to explain a bit of background.
I grew up in Barrie. Born elsewhere, I came here as a toddler when my late father started playing for the Barrie Flyers senior team. The hockey club helped him get a job – he was an engineer – and his occupation kept him (and us) in Barrie long after the Flyers ceased to exist.
Being around the rink as a young boy and remembering my dad and his teammates being covered in the newspaper and on television first planted the seeds to becoming a sports journalist.
Like a lot of people who grew up here, as a young adult I spent a large swath elsewhere. I originally left for university, then travelled internationally, settling in Toronto when I returned to Canada. Soon married with children, my wife and I wanted to give our kids the type of childhood I had here. So, we moved back a little more than a decade ago.
Contrasting my two stretches in my hometown that were broken up by almost 20 years, the biggest difference is not Barrie’s massively increased size but its relationship to Toronto. With so many manufacturing jobs long gone, many more people here seem now connected to Toronto for work compared to when I was growing up. And therefore, have to deal with the big city’s infamous traffic.
And now back to sports.
Toronto’s teams – the Leafs, Raptors, Jays, TFC, Argos, and Marlies – all to varying degrees draw from the outlying suburbs and farther-flung cities such as Barrie, that should be about an hour’s drive away.
As Toronto becomes more gripped in traffic, the ability to attend games in-person becomes much more difficult, especially for people in places like Barrie.
Two weeks ago, the Jays had an important series with the Texas Rangers. The Dome – sorry, I can’t bring myself to call it by its formal name – was half-empty. With the cost-of-living crisis biting into many peoples’ disposable income, it was probably asking too much for the place to be sold out but it was still surprising how many fans stayed away.
School being back played a role as well. However, when the Jays fashioned playoff runs in 2015 and 2016, they played in front of packed houses post-Labour Day, both midweek and on the weekend.
The key difference? Toronto’s gridlock.
It was no picnic eight years ago, but the place seems especially stuck in neutral now, even at non-peak times. I had to attend a media function near the Dome on Thursday night. The drive in from Barrie to park in Etobicoke was fine, about an hour despite a back-up due to the Eglinton Avenue cross-rail project that is threatening to go on longer than the Leafs' Stanley Cup drought.
An Uber from the old York/Etobicoke border, through residential neighbourhoods and eventually the Gardiner Expressway, took 45 minutes.
My wife, kids and I attended concerts in August, both midweek and on the weekend. The experience was all the same: the drive down was fine, navigating the inner city was a nightmare.
Basically, if you want to attend a game or concert and enjoy a meal and a cocktail or two beforehand, you’re taking a chance if you don’t leave Barrie by four o'clock.
The distance between Barrie City Hall and Scotiabank Arena is just 110 kilometres, much shorter as the crow flies. A dedicated rail line should make the trip in about an hour. But public transport is not a viable solution. The GO train is not tailored for people going to, or leaving Toronto at non-peak times, though it’s a little better on weekends than Monday to Friday.
To get from Allandale Waterfront GO to Union Station is about an hour and 45 minutes. If you want to connect to the Exhibition, the logical stop to catch a TFC, Marlies or Argos game, or to go to a concert at Budweiser Stage, you must connect to a different train. That stretches the total trip to the Ex to well over two hours, about half the time it would take to drive.
Catching the subway at the northern-most stops in Vaughan is cheaper, but a milk run of harrowing length. The UP Express from the airport or Weston is the quickest way downtown, but you’ll be double-dinged for the fare and for parking.
In summary, the UP Express, a transportation option designed for airport trips not for those whose feet stay planted on terra firma, is likely the best option.
Is it any wonder why public transportation is not viable here like it is in Europe?
With the calendar about to flip to October and the Jays headed for a likely playoff berth, the so-called cross-over season when all Toronto’s teams could be playing will be particularly busy.
If you can afford it and have access to tickets, an even greater cost may come in your time and patience.
If any of those are in short supply, it’s probably best to enjoy the action from the comfort of your own home. And that’s a shame.