Friday Night in Whitefish

The Canadians are coming.

They’ve invaded America and are taking over our towns and cities one by one. The tiny town of Whitefish, Montana is simply crawling with Canucks. They zip across the 49th parallel to buy up our cheap(er) gas and groceries, and to subvert our peaceful American way of life through seemingly-innocuous cross-border youth hockey leagues. And that oversized pickup truck whose skiwampus parking job kept me from taking the last decent spot at the ice rink? Alberta license plates.

They are everywhere.

From the steel rafters of the ice rink hangs a bold red maple leaf—as if in this refrigerated indoor universe, it’s somehow equal to the adjacent stars and stripes. And out on the ice, those barbaric Canadian high school kids are beating up my poor fellow Americans without a lick of mercy.

The sport of hockey is basically cage fighting on ice, and this Friday night youth league game looks particularly treacherous. “I can’t believe they let minors do this,” I think, fogging up the plexiglass with my breath, listening to the sound of teenage bodies banging into one another like elk and cars meeting on a dark highway.

Collisions and roadkill rule the night. BAM! The guard wall shudders and a body crumples to the frozen white surface—another one bites the ice. I never see any blood, but shoving, checking, throwing, lifting and good old-fashioned punching are featured moves in tonight’s tournament.

The refs are not happy. They whistle and wave and the kids all react with protests, shouts and shoves. It’s the Canadian’s fault—the kid skates into the penalty box, rips off his helmet and sulks with fury.

“I barely touched him!” he yells at his couch. “Dude just fell over!” The disgruntled player slams his stick to the ground, and proclaims himself innocence of the charge: Interference. And yet, his time in hockey prison does little to reform his ways. During the night’s game, the blond athlete exhibits a discouraging rate of recidivism, visiting the box three more times, always for interference.

I may be biased, but it seems to me that the Canadians are playing a bit rough—it’s working for them, too. Already, the score is 5 to 2, and the home team from Glacier High School is getting the blunt edge of the stick. A pack of sweet, gum-chewing teenage girls cheer at the maroon uniforms as they zoom round and round the ice. The padded bodies work up into a frenzy before smashing up into the corner, sending up a spray of ice as the back-and-forth shoving continues.

The bad boys in white are the Canadians of Elk Valley. That’s near Fernie, British Columbia—another sweet little ski town that I visited exactly one year ago. Somehow, my travels have taken me full circle and landed me on the southern side of the border. I have met Fernie’s nemesis and her name is Whitefish.

Despite my fond memories of friendly Fernie, my chips are on the Montana team. As an American, I feel obligated to back the Americans—and as a sucker for underdogs, my heart’s with Glacier.

As the digital minutes tick overhead, I grow more concerned for their overall chance at winning. I consult with the young ladies at the concession stand, but Miracle and Savannah do not show my concern for the battle’s outcome. Indeed, Savannah’s true talents are lost on concessions—she is a makeup artist in hiding, with such lavish eyeshadow, I believe she could stop all this violence just by batting her lashes.

My own eyes fail at ever seeing the puck—the action’s all too quick. I hear only the grunts of hockey players, the slice of blades on ice, the clack of sticks and the random cheers of invested parents from the cold metal bleachers.

An answer to prayers—Glacier scores one goal, then another. The crowd goes wild—all fifteen of us that is. It’s 5 to 4, Montana trailing by just one point. For a few whole minutes, this parochial ice rink in Whitefish becomes the coliseum, filled with hope. Perhaps this night, a crisis will be averted—the local high school will win, parents, coaches and teachers will be glad. There will be accolades on Monday morning and a lifetime of memories about this one Friday night when they won that game.

But no—Glacier Avalanche loses the game.  The buzzer sounds with a mix of Canadian cheers and some exasperated awwwwws from the American side of the rink. I am as disappointed as the other fans. As the players skate through the ritual line of “Good Game” one of the high school spectators yells out to the rink, “Next time, spend a bit more time on your skates, and less on you butt!” Harsh.

The indignity of it all—even as a tourist passing through this small town, I can’t help but feel a sense of revenge against our evil neighbor Canada. Is it not enough for them to humiliate us at every Olympics? Must they also torture our poor children right here on our own turf?

The lost hockey game leaves me feeling blue—oh how I wanted Whitefish to win! Winning always makes a better story. Bothered by the injustice of sports, high school and the wider universe, I wander into the town’s center to check out the music scene. On this Friday night, said scene consists of a single blues guitarist strumming out his pain upon a spotlighted stage.

Matt Andersen sings the blues so well, I swear he’s from New Orleans. I’ve been there, too—I’ve heard real blues. Alas, between sets, the singer opens his mouth and reveals himself to be . . . a Canadian. Had I paid for a ticket, I would have demanded a refund—I did not come all the way to Montana to hear a singer from New Brunswick play the delta blues.

Singer/songwriter Matt Anderson plays the blues in Whitefish, Montana (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)


That’s American music! I insist to myself, and challenging the Canadian on stage (in my mind). The high school hockey loss has turned me into a rabid nationalist, but I soften after a few of his golden songs. For a Canadian, he sure sings well, and his lyrics prod at me.

“Do you ever go walking, just to see how far you can go?” Matt Andersen sings out the question to the crowd, but I know he’s talking to me. I want to stand up and answer him (how did he know?): “Yes, yes! I go walking like that all the time!” I am a traveler—we walk aimlessly for a living.

“Do you turn around when you get there, just to start walking right on back home?” he keeps singing. This man is singing my own personal lullaby and I forgive him his Canadian-ness. I even applaud when he’s finished—gosh, he’s good.

After the music, I head over to Casey’s, which I know to be American because it’s an Irish bar with shamrocks and football on the TV. I am here to soak up lots of local Montana flavor, with hopes of catching a quotable quote in my notebook—some cute quip that captures the essence of Whitefish, Montana, preferably spoken by someone wearing flannel and a cowboy hat. Alas, every witty line I overhear in this happening bar includes the F word—and my blog is a family-friendly publication.

“Probably all Canadians,” I think—and some of them are. They give themselves away by relaying distances in kilometers and pronouncing turquoise turkwaz. The jarring sounds work their way into my writer’s notes, for which I have so little to show—only two scribbled words: Alien Invasion.

I have always remarked upon the vast wilderness and unpopulated expanse of Canada, but on this Friday night in Whitefish, I discovered why it is so. Canada is empty because all the Canadians have been hiding out right here—in Montana.

I don’t blame them. The skiing is good and Montana has no sales tax. Gas is under $3/gallon and the bars are filled with some of Canada’s best singers.

Best of all, there is a steady supply of American hockey players just waiting to be pummeled by their northern neighbors. Next time Glacier—next time you’ll get ’em.


  1. Cara
    January 20, 2013, 4:07 pm

    As a Canadian and a former fan of yours, I am surprised at how off base you were with this article. One hockey game between high school students makes us your “evil neighbour”? (Yes, I spelled neighbour with a “u”. How evil of me.) Did you seriously consider your choice of words here? It’s a hockey game… get over it. Would you have been “bothered by the injustice of sports” if your team had won? Just to let you know, in team sports, some teams win and some teams lose. That is justice. As someone who has travelled the world, I would think you would be more open-minded then to think all Canadians are like a bunch of high school students from B.C. (Just like I know, not all Americans are lying cheats like Lance Armstrong.)

    Sorry that we subvert your “peaceful American way of life.” Just let me clarify, is this the same peaceful way of life that has people entering schools and shooting elementary students? Oh no, it must be the peaceful way of life that has people entering movie theatres and shooting at people. How dare we teach our children to play team sports? Maybe we should be teaching them to play with guns instead. Oh wait, is it unfair to judge all Americans by the few that shoot up schools and movie theatres? Perhaps just as unfair to judge all Canadians by one hockey player who can’t stay out of the penalty box.

    Sorry we came for the skiing and ruined this peaceful way of life. The skiing must not be anything to rave about in any case, given that all you had to write about in your travel blog is the supposed “Alien Invasion” of Canada. Next time, I will happily stay home and enjoy the beautiful Canadian Rockies. I would love to see how Whitefish, Montana fares without its Canadian tourists.

    Also, Matt Anderson: “for a Canadian he sure sings well.” What is that supposed to mean? Is this how you treat all cultures when you travel? Or is your disdain reserved solely for Canadians? If I wanted to hear this kind of bigotism, I would have turned on Fox News. I also want to apologize for all those Canadians saying the f-word in the bar. I wasn’t aware that Americans never use that word.

    After reading your blog entry, it’s become glaringly obvious why, worldwide, people consider Americans to be rude, arrogant and judgemental. For someone who travels the world and strives to represent Americans in a positive light, I expected much better from you. This is the most disgusting and biased piece of journalism I have ever read. You’ve just lost a fan, who will now dedicate her extra time to cheering on the Elk Valley Hockey Team and listening to Matt Anderson who, for a Canadian, really isn’t that bad.

    P.S- I have never heard anyone say “turkwaz”.

    • Andrew Evans
      January 21, 2013, 12:09 am

      Dear Cara,

      I am so sorry that you failed to get the joke of this blog post. I meant no offense–only to highlight the tension of a simple high school hockey game. My true positive feelings for Canada and the Canadians are evident throughout my blog, from celebrating Canada Day to my ongoing love for Quebec. AE

  2. Ken
    January 20, 2013, 4:09 pm

    That was a funny blog. Loved your good natured banter about we Canucks. Reminds me of your great friendship with Canada: Attending Canada Day celebrations in Ottawa, and skiing with the Legendary Senator Nancy Greene.

  3. Lisa (@MsBoice)
    Salt Lake City, UT
    January 20, 2013, 4:57 pm

    My husband who is Canadian (and who also is living there while I–a US Citizen– live in Utah. Long story) just HOWLED when I read this to him over the phone the other night. He has long been telling me that Canadians have been trying to invade the US via Hollywood actors and entertainers, so when you started off your blog with a similar sentiment we couldn’t help but burst out with laughter.

    We totally “got” your tongue in cheek references in your blog. My husband in a proud Canadian and LOVED this piece, as did I. Safe travels!

    • Andrew Evans
      January 20, 2013, 11:44 pm

      Ha, thanks Lisa! Flattered that you would read my blog to your husband over the phone. Yes, America wouldn’t be the same without our Canadian, and it’s amazing to me how many Canadian-American couples are out there–even within my own family! Thanks as always for reading my blog. Best to you & your husband! Andrew

  4. Dustin Falconer
    January 20, 2013, 9:50 pm

    Well written, enjoyed the good humour.
    Albertans love their Montana neighbours for reasons we now all know.

    • Andrew Evans
      January 20, 2013, 11:42 pm

      Thank you Dustin! Yes, I think the feeling between both sides of the border is mutual!

  5. Jeff Johnston
    Cuenca, Ecuador
    January 22, 2013, 12:02 pm

    Well, Andrew, you’ll never see me in Whitefish, even though I’m a Canadian. I can’t take the cold these days. That’s why you’ll find me in Ecuador.

    And I haven’t been a hockey fan since the year after the last time the Leafs won the Stanley Cup (almost 46 years now).

    As for Canadian musicians, many have to go to the US before they’re considered great musicians in Canada. As a traveler, I’m sure you can related to the song and video (on Youtube) called United Breaks Guitars, by an Atlantic Canada group.

    Definitely no “tur-kwaz” anywhere I’ve lived in Canada (too many places to remember).

    As for mixed-culture couples, I met my American wife here in Ecuador. I’m still not used to her North Carolina twang and goofy sayings!

    Thanks for a very entertaining post. I got the tongue-in-cheekiness of it as well.

  6. Roz
    Unfortunately New Jersey
    January 22, 2013, 2:55 pm

    Hi, I read your blog. I received the Nat Geo Tvlr magazine with a wonderful article on the Gaspe in Quebec. The March 2013 “Small Ports”. My Dad is from that region, he suffers from very poor eyesight, (amost 80) so I was trying to find the article online to email to him as he can enlarge the print on his computer. Thanks if you have a way to forward me the link!

  7. Miriam
    United States
    January 22, 2013, 3:54 pm

    As a dual citizen that lives in Whitefish, I want to say we LOVE our Canadian visitors. However, I will reiterate that never ever have I heard tur-kwaz. It’s tur-koys both north and south of the border.
    However, that local team is not a Glacier High or Whitefish team – it is an amalgamation of high school aged kids that play together. I know most of them.

  8. Miriam
    January 22, 2013, 4:21 pm

    Actually – I should clarify what I wrote above – Glacier High school is in Kalispell – don’t say they are from Whitefish and vice versa – trust me – there are those that actually worry about those things! The high school in Whitefish is Whitefish High School. The kids come from a few places around the valley – but I believe, they are primarily WHS kids.

  9. Jackson Wai Chung Tse
    January 25, 2013, 10:39 am

    Hey Andrew!
    First of all, let me say as a fellow Canadian and hockey lover I really chortled at this one. Good writing is always appreciated!
    You know, you’ve probably addressed this somewhere else already, but I can’t find it and I’m hoping to just ask it here: How did you get this amazing job of traveling, taking pictures, and writing, all courtesy of National Geographic? How did you get “discovered”, or was it something you took into your own hands?
    I’m quite interested in your response. I know you are super busy, but I would love to hear from you when you have the chance.

  10. Dwayne
    Sudbury Ontario
    January 31, 2013, 3:39 pm

    Very sad to read how the Canadians are rushing over for cheap gas …cheap this…. cheap that. Remeber that 68 % of your gas in the USA is from Canada. Remeber that 78 % of your paper you read newspapers, books and school writings is made in Canada. Also Hockey was invented in Canada such as Basketball and pavement or ashpalt. And so on and so on.

    • Andrew Evans
      February 2, 2013, 12:30 pm

      Thanks for your comment Dwayne! I love hearing statements of Canadian pride, so thank you for sharing. AE

  11. Babs Wallace
    Ontario Canada (just a rock skip across the lake from Rochester)
    February 4, 2013, 4:08 pm

    Loved your blog Andrew! Interesting, funny, and as a Canadian I loved your little quips about us. True north strong and free! That’s us and as a proud Canadian, farmgirl turned city slicker and freaking proud auntie to a AA teenage hockey player, I just want you and your fellow Americans to know I appreicate being your neighbour and love you all. We have our issues, you all have yours. But when push comes to shove I am very confident we would all stand up for each other in this big crazy world, and that is a good thing. Keep walking, travelling and reporting. I’m your newest fan!

  12. Skiiar
    March 4, 2013, 10:14 am

    I live in whitefish. The canadians come, and we know they come. They know they come too. It gets ANNOYING sometimes. But, hey, they bring business, so what’s so bad? Apart from all of the maple leaf flags everywhere, it’s not so bad. Time to go pay canada a visit in my opinion. Hi ho ALBERTA!!!!

  13. Joe
    March 4, 2013, 10:16 am

    Canadia exists. Deal with it. No, you cannot nuke it.

  14. Heather Lamoureux
    Canadian in Denver
    March 7, 2013, 9:26 am

    I made it a bit further down. No wonder Canadians are made fun of! It seems some don’t know humour (sic) when it is body checked into them! Perhaps the cold has frozen their sense of humour (sic). The invasion continues! (unfortunately gas in the gas rich-state of Colorado is over $3.50/gallon–maybe Montana is my next stop.)

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