Sens give fans reason to dig out Canadian Tire money

Photo: Darren Calabrese/CP

Some of it had probably been collecting in a drawer for decades.

It represented a lifetime’s worth of garbage bags and power tools and cleaning supplies and garden hoses. When I was a kid my dad would even occasionally buy me hockey equipment at the old Canadian Tire store on Elgin Street in Cobourg, so it’s reasonable to assume that those purchases contributed to the kitty as well.

Like most people, my father Ian never really had a plan for all of those small denomination Canadian Tire bills that accompanied each purchase. But he was fastidious about one thing: They always ended up in a specific drawer of his desk — a desk that made the move to a bigger house as his family grew and still sits today in the smaller one of empty nesters.

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Over the years, he figures that he made the odd small purchase with his ever-growing bounty of Canadian Tire money. Nothing significant or memorable, though. He also gave some away to his three grandchildren when they came to visit.

What was clear when he sat down at my sister's dining room table in Ottawa on Wednesday to count through the leftover bills is that some were old. Extremely old.

Perhaps they were all that remained of bikes that we had long since outgrown or a tent that would be otherwise forgotten. A BBQ and snow shovels were definitely purchased at Canadian Tire when we were kids. Lots of motor oil and gardening supplies, too.

In fact, it's likely that my dad has spent more time in that store than any other since immigrating to Canada from Scotland in 1968. In a small town, in particular, it was always the first option.

Now -- after all of that meticulous saving, all of the accumulating and paring away of bikes and table saws -- he finally found a reason to get serious about spending his Canadian Tire money. At a hockey rink, no less.

The Ottawa Senators are currently running a unique promotion where they'll accept it throughout their arena during pre-season games and my brother-in-law Alex had invited my dad to Wednesday's split-squad matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The story behind the Sens promotion is awesome in itself: When their arena was renamed the Canadian Tire Centre over the summer fans started joking that they should accept Canadian Tire money.

So they did.

The NHL team doesn't expect to release a total of how much is taken in until after hosting Montreal next Friday. However, given that Canadian Tire money has been around since 1958 and there is more than $1 billion in circulation, they should receive more than their fair share.

For my dad, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. His goal? Purchase some beer during the game.

"It seemed a little bit crazy but I figured why not?" he told me later.

When he and Alex showed up at the concession stand during a TV timeout in the first period, the cashier's first instinct was to call for a supervisor.

Arriving with four stacks of Canadian Tire money held together by rubber bands -- even on a night where the Senators considered it legal tender -- had raised alarm. There was a brief discussion about counting up all of those five-cent bills before it was decided that they would employ the honour system instead.

They took them at their word.

However, before the transaction could be completed my dad encountered one final hurdle that any hockey fan who has purchased a foamy beer in a NHL arena can identify with: The price.

On this night the going rate for two large Molson Canadians was $24, but he had only counted out $20 in Canadian Tire money and left the rest at home. So in addition to handing over the huge wad of bills, a pair of Toonies was added to square things away.

O Canada.