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Letter to my grandson: the Montréal Canadiens in Hemmingford

Denis Bouchard
Translation by Sarah C. Fraser

Dear Gabriel,

It was the summer of 1957 and my friends and I could barely contain our excitement. The whole town was excited! I was 8 years old, and the Montréal Canadiens were in Hemmingford. I walked with my father to the softball field behind the Académie Langlois (it has since been demolished) beside the Saint Romain Church cemetery. A large crowd had gathered, pressed up against the entrance gates. The atmosphere was festive, the mood electric. The Canadiens were in Hemmingford to play softball against our own local team.

Back then, you see, hockey was the centre of our lives. Every Saturday night, we were all glued to our television sets to watch the hockey game. My father and I would sit anxiously in front of our TV and discuss every play, analyze every ruling. We leaped up from our seats whenever the Canadiens scored a goal and we’d slump back into our chairs when the opposing team had the audacity to score. The next day, everyone we met on the street would be talking about the game the night before.

And there they were in Hemmingford. The Montreal Canadiens walking so close you could shake their hands if you were lucky enough. Talk to them, even! It was all so unreal. Imagine, our superheroes in the flesh, in our town!

The wooden stands on either side of the softball field quickly filled to capacity; it was an amazing sight. Released by our parents, who were too caught up in the game anyway, my friends and I (and pretty much every other kid in town) were free to run around. Whenever a foul ball was hit into the cemetery on the left, there was a scramble to be the first over the Frost fence to fetch the ball and throw it back to the players, bursting with pride and to the roaring applause of the crowd.

 

PHOTO Courtesy Denis Bouchard Hockey legend Dickie Moore wearing a Hemmingford jersey

 

The Canadiens had been invited by the Hemmingford Athletic Association and both clubs wore jerseys with ‘Hemmingford’ written on them in big letters. Maurice Richard, in left field, never really had a chance to play because he was forever mobbed by so many people asking for autographs. Maurice Richard was our biggest hero, and he was the most fiery, passionate player. He could literally carry an opposing player on his back in order to score the winning goal!

All I remember about the game itself is that goalie Jacques Plante hit a ground ball, and by the time I looked at first base, he’d already made it to second base. But then we’d heard that Plante was the fastest skater on the team. He was the player who changed forever how goalies would play, not only because he was the first to wear a mask, but because he would skate right out from the crease to make passes to his teammates. It was nerve-racking to watch! But he’d just won the Vezina trophy for the second year running, and would go on to win it four more times.

‘Boom Boom’ Geoffrion was there too, the inventor of the slapshot. He was loud and flamboyant, and he loved to clown around to entertain the crowd.

The only player I dared ask for an autograph was Doug Harvey – a defenceman like me! – and the greatest of all time. He revolutionized how to play defence by playing offensively as well. He’d just won the Norris trophy for the third straight year, and he’d earn the honour another three times.

In 1957, the Canadiens had just won their second straight Stanley Cup. Quite a feat! Little did we know that they’d win five in a row. For the next 20 years, it was normal for the Canadiens to win. If they didn’t, it had to be because something terrible had happened, or the referee had made a bad call. Of the 19 players that day in Hemmingford, 12 would go on to be inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

I remember walking to the canteen near the entrance, with its walls covered in brick wallpaper, to buy 10-cent fries. While I was waiting for my cardboard box of steaming hot fries and breathing in the smell of canteen cooking grease, a man ordered “fries and one of those… sausages.” It was the first time I’d heard ‘France’ French in person, that very strange accent, and the man didn’t even know what a hotdog was called!

What a day. But as for the softball game, no one was really sure of the final score!

This is the first in a series of childhood memories, “Letters to my grandson.”

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