If there’s one sentence I never imagined myself writing, it would be this: being in Hamilton felt like a dream. The 2021 Grey Cup host town is not a city people tend to describe in such terms, which is one of many things that it and Winnipeg have in common, but there’s no denying that as the week in the Steeltown rolled on, it took on a notably surreal quality.
It wasn’t just a dream in the sense that the Bombers won their second consecutive CFL title, though for the many colourful fans who made the trek from Winnipeg (and beyond) for the game, that was part of it too.
Mostly, it was how the Grey Cup run-up festivities — muted, a little, though not as much as one might have expected — raged at the very same time that Ontario was starting to sound the alarm about the wildly infectious omicron variant of COVID-19.
Bars and pubs were packed; so were the dance floors at Hamilton’s convention centre. Staff at every spot I visited were diligent about checking vaccination cards and IDs, but given what we are learning about omicron, it did feel as if we were watching a pivotal pandemic moment play out in real time.
I can’t lie: for me, always a daughter of the night, it felt incredibly good to be back in a world that came so alive. Yet in the mornings, as I’d reach for my phone and scan the pandemic headlines, I couldn’t help but feel that the Grey Cup was living in a dream from which we were about to wake with a slam and a jolt.
On that note: after a wild ride through November and December — a six-week period that saw me bounce from Europe to Saskatoon and Hamilton, interrupted by a handful of days at home — I am back in Winnipeg now, back at work and, thus, also back writing these weekly newsletters.
But here, a mea culpa: in Hamilton, life was so busy, and seemed to exist so much in its own little Grey Cup bubble, that I became very disconnected from the news back home.
So, rather than do a deep dive through the headlines that stayed with me the most — I’ll be back to that next week! — let’s wrap this newsletter with a brisk round-up of some of the Free Press’s most popular stories of the week.
1. Brenda Sutherland took us to clandestine churches that are popping up to evade public health orders in the Southern Health district.
2. Meanwhile, minor hockey associations are frustrated that unvaccinated parents have been breaking public health rules to watch their children’s hockey games.
3. Fantastic work by Danielle da Silva to show how the province’s presentation of COVID-19 data isn’t giving the most accurate picture of vaccine efficacy.
4. The arts section has been delivering all kinds of fantastic Christmas baking recipes, and these hazelnut lemon shortbread bars look especially delicious. Check out 12 Days of Christmas Cookies for a new recipe every day until Dec. 23, and to see a vast archive of previous years' treats.
5. The family of one beloved Southern Health doctor, who is now 93 and in a care home living with dementia, makes their pro-vaccination plea.
6. Jen Zoratti has a lovely piece speaking to dancers who have played Clara in the classic holiday ballet Nutcracker.
Until next week, friends. Be well and stay warm.
Melissa Martin, Reporter-at-large