Growing up as a tomboyish girl in St. Boniface, Manitoba during the 1950’s and 60’s, I was fortunate in many ways. I am grateful to my father who taught me a number of skills such as preparing the backyard for gardening in the summer and skating in the winter. Soon I was sowing, weeding, and harvesting on my own, and making the perfect skating rink every year.
It took me a couple of years to realize that Dad had essentially passed on all the outdoor chores to me, while he relaxed in the house. My Dad was a smart man.
I spent a lot to time on the rink; however I was never that good at skating.
Dad was an ardent sports fan. His two great loves were boxing and hockey. Boxing was not my taste but I sure took to hockey. Dad introduced me to the Montreal Canadiens, his favourite team, and it was the beginning of a love affair that lasts to this day.
Every Saturday night, I would sit myself down in front of our tiny black and white television and watch the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs were rarely on CBC in English so CBC French was the chosen channel. Dad was fluent in French so he got the whole impact of the games. I just loved to watch them play.
Sunday nights were spent listening to games on CBC radio. Since the NHL had only six teams, I was able to see or hear at least a game a week involving the Canadiens. All my friends and family knew I was not available when Montreal was playing nor was the television.
When the morning newspaper arrived, I would hunt through it and read whatever was available on the Habs. It was especially sweet the day after a game when statistics were there to satisfy my addiction. Pictures were cut out for my album which I stared at for hours on end. I learned quickly it was best to cut the photos out after Dad had read the newspaper.
It seemed just a formality for the Habs to be in the playoffs, with them winning five Cups in a row from 1956 to 1960. During that time, I saw Jacques Plante, Maurice Richard, Doug Harvey, Jean Beliveau, and many others in their prime. Well, maybe they weren’t the Rocket’s best years, but he was still awesome at his game.
With the greatest general manager in NHL history, Sam Pollock, and the best coach ever, Toe Blake, it was an historical era for Montreal Canadien fans, even if we didn’t know it at the time. Sadly the glory years were put on pause in the early sixties.
In 1961, the arrival of Joseph Henri Jean-Claude Tremblay, with his unique style of play, was a welcome delight. His gentle little poke checks, butterfly-like saucer passes and fluttering drop shots made me jump up and scream in admiration. Yes, I know Doug Harvey is a Hall of Famer and considered one of the best defensemen ever in the NHL. But, J.C. Tremblay is my favourite Hab all-time.
In the early 1970’s, Tremblay came to Winnipeg as a member of the Quebec Nordiques to play against the Jets. Tremblay had left the Canadiens for the WHA to start the 1972-73 season. I was at the game and was thrilled to get a picture with him.
I passed that photo to an artist who made an oil painting of Tremblay for me. The next time he was in town, I was there after the game, painting and felt pen in hand asking him to autograph it. He was a little taken aback, but he signed it anyway.
On February 11, 1971, Jean Beliveau scored his 500th career goal against the Minnesota North Stars and, of course, I was parked by the television to witness it. Frank Mahovlich led the rush, dropping the puck to Phil Roberto. Their 39-year-old centre was at the end of a long shift, but Roberto dropped the puck to Beliveau who easily deked North Stars goaltender Gilles Gilbert.
As I scoured the newspapers for any information about the Habs, I noticed a small advertisement for a car dealership announcing that Beliveau would be signing autographs. The chance to meet the Canadiens legend wasn’t something I was willing to pass up. I packed my pen and the newspaper clipping of his 500th goal and headed out on foot for the car lot.
There were dozens of kids and adults waiting in anticipation of the event. When he arrived, Mr. Beliveau took the time to spend a few minutes with each person there. He was not in a hurry, smiled throughout, and showed a genuine caring for his fans.
When he got to me I showed him the newspaper cut out and asked him to autograph it. Of course, he did. I felt very fortunate not only to get his signature but to have the pleasure of meeting a true, humble gentleman. This was a very special moment that will never be forgotten or surpassed in my lifetime.
I would not trade these memories for anything. Hockey, especially the Canadiens, have been an important part of my life despite living many miles from Montreal. I am very grateful to my Dad for giving me the opportunity to become a Habs’ fan.