Hamilton

Game on: CFL fans flocking to Hamilton from parts of Canada, U.S., for Sunday's Grey Cup

Waves of fans who are crossing provincial and international borders to watch the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup game on Sunday at Hamilton's Tim Hortons Field.

Local hotels say business from the Grey Cup has been a highlight amid the pandemic

Liza Camacho is flying from Manitoba to watch the Grey Cup game in Hamilton. She hopes the home team loses. (Submitted by Liza Camacho)

She might live in a different province, but regional borders won't stop Liza Camacho from coming to Hamilton for the first time ever to watch the city's Tiger-Cats face the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the Grey Cup on Sunday.

"It's the most excited I've ever felt," said the 53-year-old West St. Paul, Man., woman.

While Hamilton has hosted several times — the last was 25 years ago — Camacho's first Grey Cup was in 2019, when she watched the Blue Bombers blow away the Ticats at Calgary's McMahon Stadium. Last year, there was no Grey Cup game due to the pandemic.

This year, the roles are reversed, with Winnipeg heading into enemy territory — but, unsurprisingly, Camacho wants the same result as last time.

"We want them to defend the cup," she said.

Camacho is among waves of fans who are coming from far and wide to watch the Canadian Football League's (CFL) championship game this weekend at Tim Hortons Field.

A Hamilton Tiger-Cats fan waves a team flag at Bayfront Park on Tuesday, when the Grey Cup arrived in the city. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Some fans will be crossing international borders. 

"This has always been the plan," said CFL fan Reid Johnson.

He's leaving his home in Washington State, and crossing into Canada to watch the big game.

The American is a B.C. Lions fan and began watching the CFL this year. He tried to watch a game live earlier in year, but Johnson said he was turned away at the border because he didn't have a negative COVID-19 test and proof of vaccination.

Now, he said he's prepared, having booked everything in July.

"We've invested so much time in watching the games this year, to see it all the way through is exciting," Johnson said.

Local hotels and motels see big boom in business

With the waves of fans flocking to Hamilton, hotels in the city and nearby cities are all getting big business.

"I would expect most other hotels are sold out or near sold out," said Colin Watson, manager of the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Hamilton.

Watson said his building made commitments with the CFL more than two years ago.

But even for hotels that didn't, business has been booming for weeks leading up to the game — it's a pinch of good news for an industry ravaged amid pandemic restrictions.

Onkar Uppal, owner of Burlington's Cityview Inn, said the rush of customers booking for Grey Cup time started nearly two months ago and is the best business he's had in almost two years.

He said they've been offloading customers trying to find accumulations to other local businesses. And he expects some may take extraordinary measures.

"We usually get diehards who want a place to camp out [in the parking lot] sometimes, we've never had it happen in the winter, but some people might go to that length ... when it's peak [event] season, there's not a room from Niagara Falls to the tri-city," Uppal said.

"It brings a lot of hope seeing an event of this capacity and how it brings, to a degree, southwestern Ontario together."

Jason Mullis said he and his two sons will travel from Quebec to Hamilton for the Grey Cup game on Sunday. (Jason Mullis/Facebook)

While some stay in hotels and motels, others are looking to Airbnb and other rentals.

Jason Mullis, who was born and raised in Hamilton before moving to Quebec, will make the four-to-six hour drive  to Hamilton with his two sons.

"I go back any time I can ... we love our Ticats," he said.

Greg Clusieau, who is travelling from Timmins, Ont., used to watch games with his late cousin Dan Facca.

Clusieau said while he's excited to see the Grey Cup, he's also eager to be in Hamilton with relatives.

"Everybody says, 'why do you watch the CFL?' I love it and I'm not surprised at all the people coming ... and I just love The Hammer. When I pull into the Skyway there, I just take a big whiff and say, 'Ah, it smells like home.'"

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