Exhibit at The Rooms celebrates all things Rocket Richard
Years ago, I was reading aloud to the younger children - it was an English translation of Roch Carrier's children's book, "Le Chandail." It's all about a boy in Quebec who wants to skate and play hockey like Maurice Richard, just like all the other children in his community. They all wear Canadiens jerseys with the No. 9 - the number chosen by Richard in his second season after his daughter Huguette was born nine pounds.
MR_14: The Rocket in action, early 1950s. Courtesy: Club de hockey Canadien
St. John's - Years ago, I was reading aloud to the younger children - it was an English translation of Roch Carrier's children's book, "Le Chandail." It's all about a boy in Quebec who wants to skate and play hockey like Maurice Richard, just like all the other children in his community. They all wear Canadiens jerseys with the No. 9 - the number chosen by Richard in his second season after his daughter Huguette was born nine pounds.
When I read the first three lines of the book, quoted above, Conor, my eldest, blurted out: "Hey, that's what's written on the $5 bill."
"No way," I said.
But sure enough, there it was, in both French and English, along with a drawing of Canadian children skating on an outdoor rink, a prominent No. 9 on the back of one skater's jersey.
If you're reading this article, you've probably already seen the movie, "The Rocket," directed by Charles Biname and starring Roy Dupuis as Maurice Richard. It covers Richard's life from the time he was a teenager to his years as a respected member of the Montreal Canadiens. The climax of the movie is the Richard Riot, which was as much about French-English relations as it was about hockey.
If you enjoyed the movie, you can now enjoy an exhibit at The Rooms on loan from the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull. Like the movie, the exhibit shows Richard as a hockey great but also as a francophone in anglophone-dominated Quebec in the 1950s. It mentions francophones coming to a "realization that things were off balance."
For example, statistics for between 1942 and 1960 show that although francophones made up 81 per cent of the population of Quebec, they only owned 20 per cent of manufacturing firms. The anglophones, however, who made up only 13 per cent of the population, owned double the number of factories and earned $5,918 annually compared with the francophone average salary of $3,880.
The Richard Riot of March 17, 1955 was a culmination of the frustration felt by francophones who "felt like second-class citizens in their own province."
In the 1950s it was common for teams to send one or two players on the ice to do nothing except antagonize Richard, who had been fined and suspended several times for retaliating. On March 16, 1955 NHL president, Clarence Campbell, suspended Richard for the rest of the season and play-offs for hitting a linesman. The suspension, which, at the time, was the longest for an on-ice incident, cost Richard his scoring title and may have cost Montreal a Stanley Cup.
Campbell, an anglophone, was naturally not very popular among French-speaking fans, who believed Richard was a victim of discrimination. The next day when Campbell showed up at the Montreal Forum for a game against Detroit, fans attacked him in his seat. One slapped him in the face while another hit him with a tomato.
Things got really out of hand when someone launched a homemade tear-gas bomb. The game was cut short, and fans took their rioting to the streets of Montreal where they burned an effigy of Campbell and ripped apart a five kilometre stretch of St. Catherine Street causing $100,000 worth of damage. Many Quebecois believe the riot marked the beginning of the Quebec nationalist movement.
By the next day, March 18, Richard made a public plea for calm. The rioting died down, but feelings for Campbell persisted to the point that fans actually boycotted Campbell's soup even though the NHL president had no ties to the soup family.
The Rooms exhibit displays a can of Rocket 9 Soupe aux Tomates with a memorable bleu, blanc, rouge label, produced by Campbell's competition to take advantage of the political situation. There is also Maurice Richard Kellogg's Cereal, Maurice Richard 9 bread, board games and even a puck-shaped Maurice Richard 626 Marconi transistor radio. The 626 denotes his record-setting number of goals scored in his career.
(Note: Detroit Red Wings Gordie Howe - also #9 - went on to score more goals.)
Red Storey, an NHL referee from 1950-9 said: "God put Maurice Richard on this Earth to do one thing: score goals."
It was the Rocket's goals that I was thinking about as I drove to The Rooms, but it was not his goal-scoring record that greeted me when I entered the exhibit. What a shock I got when the first thing I saw was a large picture of the Great Rocket Richard lying in his coffin in May 2000. This was followed by a photo of some of the more than 100,000 mourners lining the streets of Montreal as the hearse carrying Richard's body passed by.
It wasn't until I had worked my way past one of the Rocket's eight Stanley Cup rings (1959), a passport listing Richard as an athlete professionel and a 1950 Eatons Catalogue advertising Daust Maurice Richard skates that I realized I was going in the wrong direction.
If you come in the right way, you'll see the exhibit begins with Richard's famous No. 9 hockey sweater, which, like Roch Carrier's book title suggests, is truly a sweater made of wool. The sweater is followed by a skimpy sequined hockey outfit worn by Shania Twain for the 2003 Junos Awards (www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LmcJ3hSino).
It is things like Shania's outfit and a small Rocket 9 jacket worn by Richard's son that make the exhibit great. If you're a fan, you'll already know the Rocket's history and the records he set, but I'm betting you have never seen "wrist builders" endorsed by Richard - you know those things you squeeze to build up muscles in your grip - that promise to "develop explosive hockey shooting power."
Have you ever heard the various albums recorded with songs about The Rocket? Have you ever seen The Rocket's Hall of Fame ring up close?
The Rocket exhibit continues until Nov. 30. Admission is $12 per adult but includes the cost of admission to The Rooms. The exhibit is well worth it, and at least an hour should be allotted to fully take in all the displays.
Susan Flanagan is a freelance writer who lives in St. John's with five hockey players.
Hockey fun at The Rooms:
Along with the "'Rocket' Richard: The Legend-The Legacy" exhibit, The Rooms will present some special programming 2-4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 2.
The Level 2 theatre will screen a pair of National Film Board hockey shorts: from the NFB:
"The Rocket," released in 1998, shows Maurice Richard on and off the ice. (42 minutes)
In "The Sweater," from 1980, Roch Carrier narrates an animated adaptation of his beloved hockey story. (10 minutes)
At the Level 4 museum, the guys from Maverick Sports and Collectables will drop by with hockey cards and memorabilia and tips on collecting and keeping your collectables safe.
Then design your own goalie mask or challenge your friends to a game of table-top hockey. You can also take a hockey quiz and enter to win memorabilia autographed by Bob Gainey, general manager of the Montreal Canadians, and other neat prizes.