This brought me back once again to those days when my friend Ron Clarke and I would put on our itchy wool Habs sweaters, play road hockey until the evening got dark and we couldn’t see the ball, and our moms would call us in for supper.
It reminded me of Ron and I trudging up to the arena, duffel bags over our shoulders, ready to be the Rocket and Jean Beliveau and Ralph Backstrom once again.
Hope you enjoy this great 9 minute clip from the 1940s, showing kids, older kids, girls, pros, all playing the great sport of hockey.
Below the clip, some screenshots sent by my friend Ed Wolk.
Shockingly, there was a moment in time when we almost lost the Montreal Canadiens when the train they were on came close to plunging into an icy river.
The Canadiens had fallen to the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-1 in Toronto on December 20, 1950, and hours later were heading back to Montreal. Just 35 miles from the city, in the morning, the train began to cross the Dorion bridge high above the St. Lawrence River, but a cracked wheel bearing caused the baggage car to hop the rails. Quickly the next four cars also left the track, and members of the Canadiens moved to one side of their car to try and keep it from tipping.
Finally, after a few harrowing moments, the rest of the train, with the Canadiens on it, managed to hug the ties and make it across. Barely.
Several passengers were injured although all of the Canadiens players were fine, and everyone was brought back to Montreal by another train and some buses.
But it was as close as can be to losing the entire Montreal Canadiens team.
This was a 600-foot image of Jean Beliveau in a cornfield near Florenceville-Bristol, New Brunswick, from a few years back. I’m assuming it’s gone now.
Florenceville-Bristol is known as the headquarters of McCain frozen foods, which isn’t nearly as important as having a 600-foot image of Jean Beliveau in a nearby cornfield.
If there’s one thing that would cause smoke to billow from Bruin fans’ heads, it would be the idea of Bobby Orr in a Habs uniform. That would just suck.
So several years back I emailed my multi-talented stepson in St. Petersburg, Russia and asked him if he could put Bobby in Habs colours.
Here’s what he sent. And Bobby, dream all you want, but you can’t have number four. It’s taken.
This little card is an ad for a dinner and auction sponsored by Classic Auctions in February of 2008 in support of the Jean Beliveau Foundation, which helps disabled children throughout the province of Quebec.
I have a bunch of old Canadiens sweaters from years gone by, mostly children sizes, and at one time I had about 15 of them. But I’m now down to 6. It’s sort of a childhood memory thing.
The one the boy in the picture is wearing is the type I’ve been looking for, for a long time.
For me, this is the Holy Grail of Habs kids sweaters. It’s from the days when Morenz, Joliat, Mantha, and Hainsworth took to the ice. It also predates the era of Roch Carrier’s “The Hockey Sweater” by about 20 years.
In the back recesses of my mind I seem to think that I found out who this kid was when I was working at Classic Auctions several years ago. I’m unclear, but I’ll keep thinking about it. At least until I can’t remember what I was trying to remember, which could be soon.
He could’ve been the mascot, or the coach’s son, or the stickboy. Whatever he was, he was a lucky kid.
Maybe that’s him in the middle of the 1926-27 Habs.
As we make our way through this endless and pathetic Habs season, I thought I’d tell you my Red Fisher/Jim Roberts story.
I was a kid at the Montreal Forum to see the Canadiens play the Rangers, and when the siren sounded to end the game, my friend and I wandered down to rinkside to look at the big CHs at centre ice.
This is what I wanted to do as much as see the game. Get close to the ice and see the CHs that I had only seen on grainy television. It was magical to me, and I can still feel that exact moment to this day. Funny what a couple of painted logos on the ice can do.
We also saw trainers wheel out the players’ equipment from the corridor near the dressing room, stacked in bags on carts, bags belonging to all the guys from my hockey cards. I can still feel this moment too.
Nearby I spotted Jim Roberts, the all-important defensive forward who sometimes played defence, talking to some guy in a suit, so I sauntered up and asked him to sign my program, which he did and which you can barely see in the picture above, just below Jean Beliveau and Jim Neilson.
Best of all, Roberts was extremely nice to me and asked me where I was from and such, and he had no idea how much this impressed me.
He impressed me so much that I decided to start a Jim Roberts Fan Club. It would be almost like being on the team for goodness sake. What a fantastic idea this was.
The next step was writing Red Fisher, and I informed him of my plan to start a Jim Roberts Fan Club. Red wrote back (I had this letter for a few years I think, but don’t anymore), and he told me that he would mention this to Roberts the first chance he got.
I never heard any more. Maybe Jim Roberts waited all season for his fan club to begin. Maybe Red forgot to tell him. Regardless, it probably wasn’t more than a day or two later that I realized I didn’t want to start a Jim Roberts Fan club. It would be way too much work, and I had school to worry about, hockey to play, Beatles to listen to, girls to think about, public skating to go to on Sunday afternoon, Ed Sullivan and Bonanza to watch on Sunday evening.
I didn’t have time for this. My weeks were full.
On top of all that, where was I going to get stuff to send to members? How could I afford stamps? What would I write about, other than the fact that Jim Roberts was a good player and was nice to me when I asked for his autograph?
I don’t know what I would’ve done if Jim had contacted me and told me he was excited to have a fan club. I’d be stuck.
What the heck was I thinking?
So if Red Fisher forgot to mention it to him, I’m very grateful.
This is my passport photo taken when I was 17.
I was getting ready to go on a big trip, which ultimately would cause me to miss most of the Montreal Canadiens’ 1968-69 season.
I’m unable to talk about watching Rogie Vachon and Gump Worsley in goal and rookie coach Claude Ruel winning the Stanley Cup in his rookie coaching season and most of the other details of that year, mainly because I wasn’t around.
When this passport picture was taken I was working in a factory, having quit school after grade ten, and was saving my money. I worked for a year in this old place, but on November 22, 1968, a month after I turned 18, my friend Robin and I took a train from Orillia to Montreal, boarded the Empress of England, and sailed for eight days and nights until we reached Liverpool, England.
My thoughts weren’t on the Habs at all. They were filled with swinging London, the Beatles, long-legged lovelies in mini-skirts, Carnaby Street, and of course the great British bands like the Stones, the Who and the Kinks. The sounds that had come out of there while I was stuck in Orillia, and all the photos which described to me a special place where kids were cooler than cool, drove me crazy until I knew I needed to go and see for myself.
From Liverpool we took a train to London because that was ground zero of all that was good and cool about England, and we took a room at the YMCA. (A few years later I also stayed at another YMCA in Sudbury, Ontario, and I don’t know about now, but I can tell you, YMCAs aren’t the Ritz).
I had no idea what was happening with my Habs and I’m ashamed to say it, but I suppose I didn’t really care at this time. We were in England and that was all that mattered. While Beliveau and the Pocket Rocket zigged and zagged and the team geared up for the playoff run, I ate fish and chips, rode double decker buses, and wondered if my hair had grown a bit more.
At one point we went to the Beatles’ office on Savile Row, knocked on the door, and asked a lovely young secretary lady if the boys were in. She said no, and to this day, I’ve wondered what I would’ve done if she’d said yes.
We traveled up through the Midlands in the dead of winter, into Derby and Nottingham, hitchhiking from the other side of the road of course, and I recall sleeping standing up in a phone booth one freezing night. We also got beds at a Salvation Army shelter for the down-and-out, and it was the two of us with heavy woolen blankets over top of us, listening all night to old, homeless men snoring and burping and farting and talking drunken gibberish.
We were in Swinging England! Robin bought a Victorian top hat at the Portabello Road flea market which he wore when it wasn’t wet and windy. And we saw John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (with future Stone Mick Taylor on guitar) at a jam-packed Railway Tavern (Klooks Kleek), a place that also housed bands throughout the 1960s like the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Cream, Yardbirds, and more.
Back home, the Canadiens were rolling along to a first place finish, with big Jean Beliveau ending up second to Phil Esposito for the Hart trophy as league MVP. Yvan Cournoyer finished with 87 points, just five ahead of Beliveau, and Tony Esposito, who of course became a huge star in Chicago, was a Hab that year and replaced Gump Worsley in goal when Worsley had some sort of nervous breakdown.
And in the playoffs, the Canadiens first swept the Rangers, beat Boston in six games, and took out St. Louis in four games to win their 16th Stanley Cup.
There’s just not a lot I can tell you about this Habs season. I was busy.
I got on the phone in around 2008 and called Doug Harvey Jr, who’s my age and was living in Charlottetown at the time. I don’t even know why I’d do this phone thing from time to time. I was a lousy interviewer. Sometimes I’d just gap out.
Maybe I should’ve had prepared questions ready before I dialed. Hmm. Never thought of that.
But Doug Jr. told me about how the Rocket, Moore, Beliveau and all the boys would come over to the house., which I thought was neat and slightly different than my dad bringing home buddies from the sign shop.
Doug told me about his ski trips with his wife to BC, his restaurant in Charlottetown, and how being the son of a famous Montreal Canadiens seemed normal, like any other family.
He helped me with my pathetic interviewing. I think he sensed I needed prompting.
What stood out for me was when he said he’d go to games at the old Forum with his mother and they’d have to wait as Doug Sr. signed every autograph for every fan, regardless of how long it took. His mom would get mad at his dad because young Doug had to get up early for school in the morning.
Doug Jr, in the picture above with his dad, is a really good guy. He made my awkward phone call much easier, and I appreciated it. And by the way, I mentioned this picture to him, which is in my scrapbook, and he said it was taken when his dad was building his house, and he often had help from teammates.
I wrote about this chat and not long after a fellow named Peter Galoska sent in a comment, explaining that he lived two doors down from the Harvey’s in Montreal when he was a kid, and Dougie Jr was his best friend.
Here’s what Mr. Galoska wrote.
“I lived at 4560 St. Ignatius Avenue, two doors down from Mr. Harvey, and Dougie Junior was my best friend. Along with Johnnie Beatty, another boy on our dead-end street located between Somerled Avenue and the Loyola campus, we terrorized the neighbourhood. It was typical boy-kid mischief stuff like ringing doorbells and running away, throwing snowballs at city buses, and lighting firecrackers off in the local church (OOPS – I wasn’t supposed to give that one away!).
I will never forget Mr. Harvey’s generosity with his time – he was quite often the guest speaker at our Coronation Park hockey league’s year-end banquet and I would burst with pride being able to tell my friends that I knew him personally!
Dougie Jr. and I were always in trouble for some mischief or other – finally, when I was 11, in 1961, my family moved away from St. Ignatius and out to Pointe Claire – this slowed down the amount of time that Dougie and I spent together and we finally drifted away from each other.
One thing that I do remember about Dougie was that he really did seem oblivious about his dad being a star – he never used it to be better than anyone else and he couldn’t really understand why we thought it was such a big thing!”
Here’s Doug Jr all grown up, with then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper.