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January 15, 1997

  • High and Dry In Blighty
  • In London’s Covent Garden Market exists another example of the decline of Canadian cultural influence in the world. No, Alanis Morrisette didn’t drop in the charts (though that wouldn’t be a bad thing); The UK’s only Canadian pub, the Maple Leaf, is dying.

    The Maple Leaf, about a ten minute walk from Trafalgar Square, exists, according to the mission statement in its menu (a Canadian innovation if ever I’ve heard of one): ‘to promote the centuries-old friendship between Canada and Britain’. In practical terms, it meant it was a pub that had Canadiana lining the walls—from hockey memorabilia to the Group of Seven—a Canadian menu (chicken wings, brunch with pancakes and maple syrup and a bottomless cup of coffee), and, best of all, Canadian Beer. As it was owned by Molson’s Brewery, it was able to import Rickard’s Red in bottles. Apparently, it even showed NHL games as well—which makes sense because Molson’s own that too.

    In a country where Canadians are more apt to be compared to Belgians (polite, boring people—hey, it beats being confused for Americans) and where Ben Johnson (the sprinter) is about the most famous Canadian any resident can name, The Maple Leaf stood as a cultural oasis in a land where snotty irony, football and bad chicken wings seem to be staples. It was a place to escape, stare at the walls with homesickness, and drink beers that were old friends from High School and University. It’s no surprise that ex-pats speak of the Maple Leaf reverentially, as they would about road hockey or Mr Dressup.

    Until now.

    It would seem that Molson’s has decided that it didn’t want to have anything to do with owning English pubs, and got out of it in much the same fashion as the last American chopper out of Saigon—hastily and leaving a bloody mess. The pub was sold to a large Newcastle brewery.

    Overnight, there were no Rickard’s Red in bottles. In fact there was no Canadian beer to be had except for Molson’s Dry. Then came the menu changes. No more all-day Canadian Brunch, the best one this side of Sneaky Dees, and goodbye therefore to one of the only bottomless cups of coffee in London. Hockey games? What are those?

    These days promoting the centuries-old friendship between Canada and Britain involves drinking English ale and watching football on Satellite. One wonders when the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens memorabilia is going to vanish next. It’s doubtful that things will get any better. The pub is still hugely popular, and given it’s packed nature on a weeknight, it’s more due to its location than its Canadian affiliation. The Maple Leaf will become more English, the pictures of visits by Wendel Clark of a bygone era when Molson money backed the place will fade into memory, and most people won’t care.

    It’s funny how a pub can evoke home, and the Maple Leaf used to evoke Canada at its finest—good beer, decent culture, hockey. Now its kind of like how Canada was when I left it—breaking up, losing its distinctiveness bit by bit, and subject to huge, uncontrollable, market forces. At least they still play Sarah McLachlan and the Crash Test Dummies on the stereo system, although maybe next week they’ll be replaced by the Spice Girls.

    This article appeared in a February 1997 issue of eye weekly, a Toronto arts magazine.

    January 1997

    ©1997 Graeme Burk


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