Most of my adult life has been spent in two major Canadian cities, Montreal and Calgary. The former is the cultural and financial centre of French-Canada, with a laid-back, fun-loving style. Montrealers play much harder than they work. Hockey and politics have replaced Roman Catholicism as the religions of choice for most of its residents. Montreal is very cosmopolitain and more than a little decadent. If jazz and sex are your pleasure, Montreal is your town. Americans might compare it to New Orleans, with much harsher winters.
Calgary is the home of Canada's oil industry. An island of concrete and suburbia surrounded by a sea of ranchlands and canola fields within sight of the Canadian Rockies. Calgarians play hard too, but they work even harder. Climbing the corporate ladder and owning the biggest, most gas-guzzling, all-wheel drive monstrosity you can buy are what it's all about. Calgarians may be more concerned with padding their portfolios than discussing Sartre over a pitcher of sangria at their favourite terrasse, but their capitalist ways go a long way toward funding the "joie-de-vivre" of Montreal. If skiing and rodeo are your pleasure, Calgary is your town. Americans might compare Calgary to Denver, with only slightly harsher winters.
Both Montreal and Calgary are blessed with truly awesome gaming cultures. French-Canadians love games and there's a fascination with the occult and New Age philosophy that is clearly evident. This is reflected in Montreal's most famous gaming store, the incomparable Le Valet d'Coeur. Though by no means spacious, the gaming mecca of Rue St. Denis is packed to the ceiling with gaming goodness. How they manage to jam in so many titles (in both English and French) is a mystery to me. I'm sure there's a little sorcery involved. In keeping with French sensibilities, they also have a lot of stuff you probably wouldn't find in most gaming stores. Occult supplies, tarot decks, crystal and pewter figurines, puzzles and other odds and ends are displayed throughout the store. Still, role-playing games, collectible card games and miniatures are their bread-and-butter and every trip to Le Valet d'Coeur is a feast for the hungry gamer.
Not to be outdone, Calgary has its own pilgrimage site for gamers, the awesome Sentry Box. Far larger than its Quebecois counterpart, the Sentry Box is unlike anything I've ever seen in Canada. It's inventory of role-playing games, CCGs, wargames and fantasy and sci-fi novels is unmatched. Even more impressive (if that's possible) is the amount of space available for gaming. Weekends at the Box are like mini gaming conventions, with 6-8 tables active at any one time. Miniatures games like Warhammer are particularly popular, making the gaming area a cool place to hang out and watch the proceedings. Workshops on miniature painting are also frequent. Now don't think the Sentry Box is some corporate store with whitewashed floors and immaculate displays, it's not. It's a bit cluttered, the stairs creak, the shelves sag, and dust can sometimes collect on the less popular corners of the place. It is truly a mom-and-pop operation and it's fantastic.
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