Traffic nearly caused Phillip Ens to miss his first performance of O Canada at a Winnipeg Blue Bombers game in 2001, so you can imagine the precautions he took before Thursday's season opener at the team's new home stadium.
"They had traffic issues back then, too," the 50-year-old operatic singer said with a laugh.
"I came firing in (in my car) and the security guy wouldn't let me park. I was supposed to have a close spot and just walk on and sing. I told him, 'If you don't let me in, there won't be an anthem at this game and your bosses won't be very happy when they find out why.' So they let me in. I made it in there in time to get the mic turned on and they put it in my hand."
Since making his operatic debut in Winnipeg in 1985 with the Manitoba Opera, the Winkler product has performed in many of the world's most prestigious opera houses and concert halls, including the Metropolitan Opera.
He met Bombers' president and CEO Garth Buchko at a dinner a few months ago and when the idea of singing the national anthem at the regular-season opener was put to him, he could hardly agree fast enough.
FP: You have performed the national anthem at a Bombers game, a Jets game back in the 1990s and for the Montreal Expos. Which one was the most memorable?
Ens: The first one at Olympic Stadium. I had just moved to Montreal in 1987 on a scholarship with an opera company. Walking out in front of so many people and hearing the clacks of the chairs as everybody stood up (really stands out). Never having sung for more than 300 people at a time before and standing on the pitcher's mound, that was the most memorable and the most stressful.
The stadium was famous for (the chairs). They made a lot of noise. I was warned by the organizers not to be thrown off by this huge noise. You had to get used to a three-second echo, too. The sound comes back to you in a delay, but you just have to keep singing.
FP: How often do you sing O Canada?
Ens: Not often, because I've been so busy with my career. I haven't sung it in a very long time. I practise it in the shower every now and then, though. I love sports; it's a pleasure for me to do it.
FP: Have you ever forgotten the lyrics?
Ens: Knock on wood, no. It's not hard to sing, it's a nice one to sing. It's only got a one-octave range, it has a nice melody and it's relatively short and sweet. The American anthem is a challenge. It's got a two-octave range and it presents a different vocal approach. O Canada is fun for me to sing. I'm an incredibly proud Canadian. Having been in so many countries throughout my travels, I really appreciate being back here."
FP: What is the most memorable one you've heard?
Ens: I used to watch the Montreal Canadiens religiously as a child, so I remember Roger Doucet. He's still considered the most famous anthem singer in Canadian hockey. (His rendition) was an event.
FP: What is the worst version you've heard of O Canada?
Ens: There's a clip on national-anthem disasters on YouTube. A few of them are Americans forgetting Canadian text. I won't be specific and I don't want to gloat, but I've heard some pretty poor versions.