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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Western chapter.

Pokémon GO: Safari Zone recently came to Canada for the first time and while it may come as a shock to some, I was one of the approximately fifty thousand tickets that were sold. After a sudden and unexpected ticket release, my friends and I spent over an hour on the website’s virtual “waiting room” with our fingers crossed, hoping we would get our chance to be at the front of the queue. Finally, we were able to secure our tickets for the very first day with limited early access to the park. Unfortunately, we had a couple of friends who ended up getting tickets for the second day, but that allowed us to compare what we all got each day.

Before I go full-nerd on everyone, I should clarify how I got to a point in which I would take an entire weekend off work, so that I could attend a Pokémon GO event. Prior to this past summer, I was a casual player who went out occasionally and hoped I would be able to find big enough groups to do the boss raids. However, after joining a gaming app called Discord in an attempt to meet other Pokémon players, I almost instantly made a brand new friend group who exclusively would go out together to play the game. Once I became acquainted with the friends I have now, they introduced me to the bigger London Pokémon GO community. They began inviting me to a weekly meet-up of players that occurs on Wednesday evenings from 6 to 7 PM in the downtown core. 

I quickly went from believing the game was just a phase that would likely see its demise soon to realizing that there are hundreds of people in London alone that play on a semi-serious level. After three months of being introduced to the community, I went from a casual player to a die-hard Pokémon GO trainer who actively plays each and every day. In saying this, when my close-knit group of Pokémon pals found out that there was going to be a Canadian Pokémon GO event for the first time ever, there was no question about whether we were going or not.

With our Airbnb booked, the car packed and our battery packs charged, my friends and I headed off to Montreal on September 19 for the three-day festival that took place from September 20 to 22. The venue in Montreal was Parc Jean-Drapeau, featuring a stunning view of the St. Lawrence River and a picturesque walk from the car to the playing grounds. 

     Photo provided by the author featuring herself and 2/5 of her Pokémon Go! Crew.

If you can imagine walking into the fictional Jurassic World, then you can probably imagine walking into Safari Zone in Montreal. A loudspeaker welcomed us over and over again in different languages and the background music was the same music from the login screen on the game; honestly, it was quite eerie. It was surprisingly warm for September, but we packed light and trekked onward for the eight-hour event. 

While Niantic—the game developer of Pokémon GO—has hosted many Pokémon GO events before, we were quite disappointed by the lack of any purchasable merchandise and the broken promise of being able to do more trades than usual. Moreover, there were very few options for food, barely any shaded areas and the venue itself was essentially a big track that circled around and around and around. In addition, the YouTuber meet-up that was scheduled for Saturday ended up being cancelled, though we still managed to catch glimpses of a few Pokémon GO celebrities as they filmed and vlogged the event. 

     Photo provided by Brandon Decker showing that other people were just as disappointed with Niantic’s decisions for the event. 

Something I can’t complain about, though, was that the shiny rate (which is typically one in every few hundred Pokémon) had definitely increased. In saying this, one of my best Pokémon friends and I are both avid shiny hunters. Between the other four guys I was with, the average number of shinies they caught within eight hours of play was nine. On the other hand, my one friend and I caught 21 and 22 shinies respectively. Additionally, we all caught plenty of a special region-specific Pokémon that is typically only found in Africa, southern Spain and Crete. They were available to catch in North America for the event. Although we were bummed about there being no souvenirs available, by the time the day was done, we each walked away with over 50 special Pokémon that made the $25 tickets definitely worth it. We also got to meet other trainers who made the trip from far and wide, including Texas, Indiana and even some close to home in Kitchener, Ontario. When six o’clock struck and all of the special Pokémon spawns had disappeared, we took pictures with our shiny Pokémon before heading back to our cozy abode.

     Photo provided by Ryan Derek showing the author with a shiny Aerodactyl Pokémon.

This is when the story got so much more interesting. That night, the remaining members of our crew arrived in Montreal and we—of course—spent the night drinking, talking all things Pokémon GO and eventually, exploring the town. Unfortunately, after a long day of walking in the sun, a few members of my squad were far too tired to come out, so just two others and I hit the streets for some Friday night fun. At first, we only pub-hopped in our small area, but eventually realized that the language barrier was going to be an issue and decided to take an Uber to the first nightclub that came up on Google. 

This is how I accidentally brought my two almost-30-year-old male friends to an LGBTQ+ friendly club. Looking back, I probably should have made the connection seeing as the club was located in a part of town that Google entitles “Gay Village,” but nonetheless we had a great time. We actually hadn’t even realized the circumstances until we had been there for over twenty minutes. The bar called “Club Unity” featured three floors all with very different vibes. The top floor was a gorgeous rooftop patio that looked over the Jacques-Cartier Bridge (see below!). Although it wasn’t the experience we had in mind at the time, it made my first time in Montreal completely unforgettable. Plus, I had never felt safer on a dance floor or even in a nightclub, as I didn’t have to dodge a single unwanted advance all night! Much love to the Montreal LGBTQ+ community for making outsiders feel welcomed!  

The following morning, as each of the men awoke from their hungover slumbers, I decided to continue my Montreal adventure solo as I was determined to hike Mont-Royal with or without them. After making a quick pit stop at Schwartz’ Deli, a famous Montreal smoked meat shop, to buy some souvenirs, I began my walk to the base of Mont-Royal entirely on my own. I decided to do the stair route as I was pressed for time and needed to be up and down the mountain in just 45 minutes. When I read 550 stairs, my first thought was “that’s it?” And man, was I ever wrong. I learned after only two sets of staircases that I should probably consider going to the gym and also began to understand the phrase “don’t skip leg day.” I am still not convinced that one of my lungs didn’t give out on me, as I stopped on each and every platform possible and watched as multiple people ran by, happily using the hike as their daily workout. 

When I finally saw the signs for the chalet at the top, I had never been happier. As I watched everyone else take their phones out to snap photos of the view, I stared out quietly, taking it all in—as well as catching my breath after the climb of my goddamn life (and then I took my phone out and snapped a bunch of photos of the view, obviously). I later found out that you can drive up the mountain and let me tell you, I am still mad. However, despite the intensity of what I thought would be a simple hike (I even wore sandals… like what was I thinking?!?), I felt so accomplished to have hiked the mountain in a city I had never been to all on my own. As I walked back down to meet up with my friends, I was so grateful for the experiences I had in Montreal in just over two days time.       Photo provided by author. 

Overall, while we went to Montreal specifically for Pokémon GO: Safari Zone, we left with so many other memories. After sharing a car (and a bathroom) with five of my closest Pokémon Go friends, I guess I would have to admit that they’re probably just my real friends at this point. Pokémon GO used to just be a game to me, but now I’ve seen and experienced first hand that it is so much more than that. It is a community that brings people of different genders, ages, races and experience levels from across the world, tying them all together through one little app. 

Next Pokémon adventure? Pokémon GO Fest: Chicago—June 2020! Until then, if anyone plays the game already, or is interested in joining in the London, Ontario region, please join us every Wednesday from 6 to 7 PM during the warmer seasons (spring to fall) at the north end of Victoria Park. Even if you don’t play, I encourage everyone to come see for yourselves exactly how big and welcoming the London Pokémon GO community truly is.

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Full-time student, part-time librarian, all-time procrastinator. Lover of all animals, drinker of many cups of hot chocolate, and auntie to two super sweet little boys. Angel mom, domestic violence advocate and junior communications executive.
Shauna Ruby Valchuk is HCW's 2019-20 Editor-in-Chief. She's in her fifth year studying Creative Writing, English, Language and Literature. Currently, she is working on her creative non-fiction thesis. She writes in her off days and publishes it on her on days and hopes to one day make money doing the stuff she loves surrounded by as many cats as legally allowed.