Ottawa’s Prescott Hotel in the mid-1980s was still a classic old beverage room with a Ladies and Escorts door and a regular entrance. It was like a lot of bars back then, smelling of stale beer and cigarette smoke, and the trays of beer were served by middle-aged guys in white shirts.
It was also the Wednesday night bowling team’s bar, where the members, a bunch of young guys and one really old guy, got together after a big night out at the lanes.
I had just read in the paper about the bowling team and the really old guy, and when the next Wednesday rolled around, I grabbed my brother-in-law and we went down to the Prescott with one thing on my mind. It’s not every day that you get a chance to drink beer with Aurele Joliat, star player of the Montreal Canadiens in the 1920s and ’30s, and good buddy of Howie Morenz.
In the Prescott, I spotted Mr. Joliat right away, mainly because he was about 50 years older than the rest of the bowling team, and I went over and asked him if I could buy him a beer. He grumbled something and he might have cursed a bit, but he joined us.
For the first fifteen minutes or so, our man was fairly miserable. When I asked what he thought of the Rocket, he said the guy couldn’t lace Morenz’s skates. He complained about today’s players, saying they would would never had cut it in the old days (as most oldtimers say). He scowled and dropped a bunch of F-bombs, but truthfully, I don’t think he minded the attention.
Soon after, Joliat started to change, maybe because he could feel that I was genuinely interested in him and the hockey of his day. He became soft-spoken, and I think he came close to tearing up when talking about Morenz.
He happily signed a couple of things I had brought along, including Claude Mouton’s book “The Montreal Canadiens”, and when I was fumbling about with a cast on my wrist and trying to find the page with his picture, he grabbed the book from me, went right to it, and signed “To Dennis and his broken arm, Aurele Joliat”.
The evening had begun with a testy old man, and ended with a nice, friendly old fellow.
We drove him home (which was cool in itself), and he thanked us and said goodbye, and when I think about it, I wish he would’ve asked us in for a cup of tea. I would have liked to have met his wife (I think she was still alive), looked at some of his old photos, and maybe, if he still had it, touched that little cap he wore when he starred for the Montreal Canadiens, all those years ago.