November 16, 2012
Georges St. Pierre's hometown stays humble
By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency
Georges St. Pierre has been called one of the greatest athletes Canada has ever produced. Right up there, mixed martial arts fans argue, with Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr and Steve Nash.
But when you drive into Brantford, Ont., Gretzky’s hometown, or Parry Sound, the birthplace of Bobby Orr, there are road signs proudly proclaiming the fact that one of their own made it big on the world stage. Not so in St. Pierre’s hometown of Saint-Isidore.
The drive from Montreal to the small south shore community takes about 45 minutes, but it’s like travelling to a different world. As the city fades in the review mirror, the landscape becomes serene and pastoral, farms soon replace housing developments and commercial centres.
Turning on to route 207 from the main highway towards Saint-Isidore, giant wind turbines turn slowly in the distance on the left. Closer to the town, there is large statue of a Holstein cow on the right and then houses begin to outnumber farms. On opposite corners at the town’s main intersection, just past the post office with the Canadian flag flying out front, there is a church, library, municipal office and sports bar, Le Rendez-Vous de Sportif. But nothing identifying the place as the home of one the biggest stars ever to grace the octagon.
UFC president Dana White got himself into hot water a few years ago when he bragged that St. Pierre was the most famous athlete “in the history of the world” to come out of Canada.
“Let’s fly Georges St-Pierre and Wayne Gretzky anywhere else in the world other than America and Canada. Who gives a s---?” White told The Canadian Press. “I like Wayne Gretzky. Got nothing against him. (But) fly him over to England, fly him over to Asia, fly him to anywhere in Europe, Georges St-Pierre gets mobbed, nobody knows who the hell Wayne Gretzky is.”
There’s some truth to that. It all comes down to the fact that ice hockey is not a huge sport outside of North America and certain nations in Europe and Scandinavia. But GSP, who is out to regain his UFC welterweight belt from interim champion Carlos Condit on Saturday night at the Bell Centre in Montreal, is a huge star in parts of the world who wouldn’t know Wayne Gretzky from Wayne Newton. Yet, in St. Pierre’s hometown, it’s hard to find a sign, a poster, anything, that informs a visitor that the biggest name in the UFC — an outfit that has exploded worldwide in popularity in recent years — is from there, or that his parents, Roland and Pauline, still reside in the small farming community. Even inside Le Rendez-Vous des Sportif, where the locals will gather on Saturday night to watch their hometown hero attempt to regain his title, there is very little evidence that this is GSP’s home, other than a couple of posters on the window and some newspaper articles posted on a bulletin board.
Bartender Lysa Pacquette said people in the town are proud of their world champion, but shrugs when asked why there aren’t any road signs or any prominent facilities named after St. Pierre. Pacquette says that there is a place, down the street, near the outdoor arena and baseball diamond, that is named in honour of the UFC star. And so there is. It’s a small chalet, like a changing cabin. On the outside wall a plaque reads ‘Chalet des Loisirs, Georges St-Pierre’. And that’s it. No grand statues or monuments, no indoor arena named after the hometown boy, who has become a Quebec and Canadian sports icon. But driving through the small French-speaking town and talking to some of the people, one gets the impression that they don’t kick up a fuss for Georges St-Pierre because he wouldn’t want them to. There’s a modest, almost bashful feel to the town. A giant road sign or splashy arena named in GSP’s honour would probably look out of place here.
They’re proud of their homeboy, and he knows it. And that’s good enough.