May 3, 2022 § Leave a comment
Guy Lafleur is being laid to rest today at Cathédrle Marie-Reine-du-Monde in downtown Montréal this afternoon. Le Démon Blonde has been granted a state funeral by Québec Premier François Legault (he had to get something right eventually), following in the footsteps of Jean Béliveau and Maurice ‘The Rocket’ Richard. Lafleur was a hockey player. He was the best player of his era. But he was so much more than that.
Québec is not like the rest of Canada or North America. Whether you like that or not, it’s a statement of fact. Québec’s culture has evolved through a separate history than the rest of this continent, in part due to the French colonial era, in part due to the Conquête in 1760, in part due to the continued historical fact of the French language and Catholic religion (despite Lord Durham opining in 1840 that French Canada was a place without a history or culture, or for that matter, future), in part due to the influx of English and Scots Protestants, in part due to the massive influx of Irish immigrants and refugees in the mid-19th century, and the continued influx of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe, from Africa, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and East, South, and Southeast Asia, and everywhere else in the world, and also in part due to the continued presence of the indigenous and their insistence on their place in Québec culture and society be respected and accorded.
And for all of this, Guy Lafleur was not just a hockey player.
It is very hard to explain the significance of Guy Lafleur (or Bélieveau or Rocket Richard, for that matter) to non-Quebecers. Whatever language we speak, whatever our cultural heritage, for Quebecers, we know why Lafleur was more than just a hockey player. Lafleur was a manifestation of the nation (however we define it and who defines it, I continue to maintain that we are all of Québec, whatever our language, national origin, ethnicity, I am fully aware that many, including the current government of Québec disagrees with me).
Lafleur was the best player on the best team in hockey. And he was québécois. That means he mattered more than the other superstars he played with (Ken Dryden, Larry Robinson, including other québécois superstars (Jacques Lemaire, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe). Collectively, the Canadiens de Montréal carried the weight of Québec on their shoulders as they won the Stanley Cup seven times in the 1970s (1971, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1978, and 1979). And Lafleur carried all of this on his shoulder as he flew down the right wing at the Forum, his blonde hair flying behind him, unleashing his vicious shot, making the goalie look like a fool.
Lafleur understood his role, he took it seriously. If it strained him, you wouldn’t know. He was a kind man, a humble man, and a gentleman. He always had time for his fans. But he knew he wasn’t just a hockey player.
He was the next in a long line of québécois superstars dating back to the 1910s: Georges Vézina, Rocket Richard, Béliveau. Lafleur eventually handed the baton to Patrick Roy. Each of these men were the best players in hockey during their era. And they were all gars de chez nous. It is also worth noting that the Habs have not won a Stanley Cup since 1993; Roy left in 1995, and we have not had a replacement in this lineage since.
Richard and Béliveau were men for a different era. They were superstars on the best team in hockey during the Révolution Tranquille, at the peak of their powers in the 1950s (Richard) and 60s (Béliveau). Lafleur was a new man for the 70s, post-révolution tranquille, when the promise of that movement began to bear fruit, as québécois took control of their province/nation, and as the next part of that revolutionary movement took hold: a separatist/sovereigntist movement. The Parti Québécois won the 1976 provincial election, the first time a sovereigntist party won, under the leadership of René Levésque. In 1980, the PQ held the first referendum on Québec sovereignty. And lost. Lafleur was the best player on the best team in the world throughout this period.
I have no idea what Lafleur’s politics were, if he was a nationalist, a sovereigntist, a federalist, a hybrid of the afore-mentioned, or if he was apolitical. In the end, it doesn’t matter. He was us.
November 6, 2018 § Leave a comment
There is a disturbing trend in Toronto sports for the franchises of the self-proclaimed ‘Centre of the Universe’ to brand themselves as the ultimate Canadian franchise. Of course, this should not be surprising, since Toronto hasn’t realized there is a huge country out there, and that, in reality, it only makes up around 16% of the population of the nation. But don’t tell Toronto that.
The Toronto media has a long history of denigrating the rest of the country. I stopped reading the Globe and Mail about 10 years ago when I realized that about the only time there was news about Vancouver, Calgary, or Montréal was when it was bad news or something to mock the cities about (this, of course, coming from a city that once called out the military to deal with a bit of snow and had Rob Ford as mayor).
But to suggest the Toronto sporting franchises as the Canadian teams is, well, ridiculous and insulting. The NBA Raptors a few years ago used the slogan #WeTheNorth as part of its marketing campaign. This, though, feels the least insulting to me in that the Raptors are the only Canadian NBA team, and the only other Canadian NBA team, the Vancouver Grizzlies died an ignominious death in 2001.
And, to be fair, the CFL Argonauts and MLS TFC haven’t seemed to get the memo, but that’s probably because no one cares about either one anyway.
But it’s the MLB Blue Jays and the NHL Maple Leafs who take the cake. The Blue Jays have created a cap that features nothing but the Canadian maple leaf on it. The message here is that any good Canadian must cheer for the Blue Jays. But the thing is, it’s not this simple. Until 2004, Montréal had its Expos. The Expos were killed off by MLB and moved to Washington, DC., so this remains somewhat of a sore spot. But Down East, Canadians are just as likely, if not more so, to cheer for the Boston Red Sox than the Jays. And out West, the Seattle Mariners and the Bay Area teams are also popular. And in Montréal, the Red Sox are the most popular team.
Then there’s the Maple Leafs. Sure, their name and their logo. But those go back nearly 90 years. So they get a pass on that (as an aside, the Canadiens de Montréal are so-known because the peasants of French-era Québec were called Canadiens, or Habitants, thus, the Habs). But EA Sports, Adidas (which makes NHL uniforms) and all of the so-called Original Six teams created interesting new jerseys for EA Sports’ NHL ’19.
They almost all suck and are pointless, but you just know that they will eventually be the third jerseys of the teams, though the Chicago Blackhawks jersey looks like their third jersey already. The Maple Leafs’ however, is a blatant rip off of the legendary Team Canada jersey, made famous by the victorious Canadians in the 1972 Summit Series.
The difference, of course, is that the Maple Leafs’ version is blue instead of red:
So, yeah, this is for a video game and it’s not realty. Yet. And sure you’re thinking I’m getting worked up about something that isn’t important. The thing is, it is. Jerseys, caps, hoodies, etc., these are all part of the marketing campaigns of the franchises and the leagues they play in.
And when Toronto clubs monopolize and capitalize on Canadian images and icons for their marketing campaigns, they are doing several things. First, they are cheapening our national symbols and icons (as an aside, remember when the RCMP licensed its images to Disney for marketing purposes and the outcry it created?). Second, they are changing the national discourse about what it means to be Canadian, just as Molson attempted to in the 90s with the Joe Canada commercials, which suggested to drink Molson Canadian was to make oneself Canadian. That’s what the Raptors, Jays, and Leafs are doing here: to cheer for them is to be Canadian.
In the case of baseball, again, we have divided loyalties. We do for basketball, too. All my friends in Montréal cheer for the Boston Celtics, and out in Vancouver, it’s the LA Lakers, Chicago Bulls or Golden State Warriors. But hockey is something else. There are seven NHL franchises in Canada. Three of them have variations on Canada and our nationality in their names (Canucks, Maple Leafs, Canadiens). One shamelessly ripped of the Royal Canadian Air Force in its marketing and logo (Winnipeg Jets). But none of this reaches the ridiculousness of the EA Sports Maple Leafs’ jersey.
And so we’re back to the idea that to be in Toronto is to be Canadian and to hell with the rest of the nation, you know, the 84% of us who don’t live in Toronto.
March 26, 2018 § Leave a comment
Last Thursday night, the Montreal Canadiens hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins. They lost 5-3. The Canadiens are having a miserable year, this loss, their 48th of the year (including regulation and overtime losses), officially eliminated them from playoff contention. The mood in the city is dour and angry. Fans are upset at management for mismanaging the Franchise, Carey Price. He had some mystery ailment he said was Chronic Fatigue Syndrome bothering him earlier in the year. It wasn’t team doctors who noticed it; it was his wife, Angela. Big defenceman Shea Weber played through a nasty foot injury before being shut down for the season and having surgery.
Then there’s the mistakes General Manager Marc Bergevin made in the off-season. He traded away promising defenceman Mikhail Sergachev for moody, sulky, but very talented forward Jonathan Drouin. And then the team put Drouin at centre, a position he hadn’t played for years. Why? Because the Habs haven’t had a #1 centre since the peak of Saku Koivu’s career in the late 90s/early 00s. Drouin, not surprisingly, has been a bust. Bergevin also let iconic defenceman Andrei Markov walk after he insulted Markov in contract negotiations. Bergevin then had the gall to tell us that the defence was better this year than last. I could go on and on.
Something stinks in the City of Montreal and it is the hockey team. It is a laughing stock.
And, not surprisingly, the Twitter wars have been epic. During last Thursday’s game, a prominent Montreal sportswriter made an idiot of himself. This is also not an uncommon occurrence when it comes to the Habs. He was in a discussion with a blogger, who noted that we Habs fans forget that the team has had 3-100 point seasons in the past 5. This sportswriter noted in response that “Germany had three really strong military years in WWII.”
And then all hell broke loose, as it should. When his interlocutor noted this stupidity, he dug in deeper, noting that “They [meaning Nazi Germany] were winning until they weren’t. It’s not that deep.” Another Twitter user called him out, and our intrepid journalist got his shovel out again: “Notice I said military. Only an idiot would stretch that into anything more.”
Well, maybe I am an idiot. As the second interlocutor noted, this is Nazi Germany we’re talking about. Not some random war. This is a régime that murdered 6 million Jews in cold blood, to say nothing of Roma, LGBT, and disabled victims. The Holocaust is, to paraphrase Elie Weisel, an event that cannot be understood, but must be remembered. There have been other genocides, particularly in the last half of the 20th century (after we, the West, declared “Never Again!”). But, the Holocaust remains beyond the pale in our collective consciousness.
And when this was pointed out to our journalist, that he essentially compared the management of the Montreal Canadiens to the Nazis, he got out his shovel and kept on digging: “No, not every soldier was a Nazi, not every German believed the Nazi ideology. But that’s beside the point, because we all know what I was saying, and it had nothing to do with Nazis.”
To put it bluntly, this is epic stupidity. According to the United States Holocaust Museum,
The German military participated in many aspects of the Holocaust: in supporting Hitler, in the use of forced labor, and in the mass murder of Jews and other groups targeted by the Nazis.
The military’s complicity extended not only to the generals and upper leadership but also to the rank and file. In addition, the war and genocidal policy were inextricably linked. The German army (or Heer) was the most complicit as a result of being on the ground in Germany’s eastern campaigns, but all branches participated.
And sure, maybe the journalist didn’t mean to bring up the Nazis. But words have meanings, and someone who works with words on a daily basis should know better. The Wehrmacht was by-and-large Nazified. Period. And his comparison of the Habs 3-100 point seasons with the Wehrmacht includes the Nazis, whether he meant it or not. And he should know better. I did hit the unfollow button, by the way.
December 2, 2016 § 2 Comments
An interesting thing has occurred in the realm of Canadian sports journalism in the past few weeks. For those of you who don’t know, the English-language Canadian media is centred in Toronto, which every media outlet will remind you is “Canada’s largest city.” The much smaller French-language media is centred in Montréal, which is Canada’s second largest city. Toronto’s got a population of around 4.7 million, compared to Montréal’s 3.8 million. Vancouver is third, closing in on 2 million. And Edmonton, Calgary, and Ottawa are all around 1 million. So we’re not looking at the situation in the UK, where London is the largest city and about 5 times larger than the second city, Birmingham.
But, reading Canadian sports media these days, and you’d be convinced that Toronto is the only city in Canada and that its sports teams are all wondrous, virtuous conquering heroes. Never mind the fact that Toronto teams don’t really win much of anything ever. The basketball Raptors and soccer Toronto FC have never won anything. The hockey Maple Leafs last won the Stanley Cup in 1967. And the Blue Jays last won in 1993. The Argonauts of the Canadian Football League are the really the only continually successful Toronto sports team, having last won the Grey Cup in 2012 (but, the CFL is a 9-team league, so law of averages…).
Toronto FC was engaged in a tense two-leg Eastern Conference final in the MLS Cup Playoffs against the Impact de Montréal, or IMFC. An all-Canadian conference final should be one of those things that grip the nation, or at least get the media to recognize its import. And while Sportsnet, the second of Canada’s sports networks, largely has, TSN, the largest sports network and MLS rights holder, has not. It has openly and blatantly cheered for a TFC victory, and its coverage has exclusively treated IMFC as an interloper in TFC’s eventual, wondrous assent to the top of the North American soccer world. On Wednesday afternoon, in advance of the second leg of the series, to be played at BMO Field in Toronto, TSN posted this article about the five keys to the match as its headline on TSN.ca. Note that it’s all about what TFC needs to do to win. This is just the most egregious example. The rest of the coverage on TSN.ca Wednesday afternoon was all slanted towards TFC: its mindset heading into the match, which players it needs to excel, and so on. Not a word from IMFC’s perspective, except for a feel-good story about the club’s 38-year old captain, and Montréal native, Patrice Bernier.
In the aftermath of the TFC’s victory Wednesday night, in a tense 5-2 match that went to Extra Time, allowing TFC to advance 7-5 on aggregate, TSN’s homepage was a torrent of TFC. And while this is a good thing, and deserved, TFC won, it’s also still one-sided. This was especially true of the headline that said “TFC MAKES CANADIAN SOCCER HISTORY.” Factually, yes, it did. It made the finals of the MLS Cup for the first time and is the first Canadian club to do so. But, it did so after making history in an all-Canadian conference final. And there was not a single story about IMFC and its own very improbable run to the conference finals. TSN has continually picked against IMFC all season. It predicted the Montréal side would miss the playoffs. Then it wouldn’t get past DC United in the first round, or New York Red Bulls in the second round. And so on.
On Thursday morning, TSN.ca’s home page featured no fewer than 12 features and stories about TFC out of the 28 in total. Of the remaining 16 stories and features, 10 were about the Maples Leafs (7), Raptors (2), and Blue Jays (1). One story was about how the Calgary Flames pummeled the Maple Leafs Wednesday night and another mocked Montréal Canadiens winger Andrew Shaw and his bad temper. There’s a reason why Canadians in the Rest of Canada tend to dismiss TSN as Toronto’s Sports Network.
Meanwhile: Hockey. The top team in the NHL right now is the Montréal Canadiens. But, TSN’s coverage is almost exclusively about the amazing, wondrous Toronto Maple Leafs, who have a collection of burgeoning young stars and actually look like they might be a good team again one day. There are also, you might note, five more Canadian teams in the NHL. Sucks to be a fan of one of them: TSN just doesn’t care, other than to note the ways in which they’re failing.
And then Sportsnet. Sportsnet is the rights holder for the NHL in Canada. And while its coverage tends to be more national in nature, in that it notes that there are indeed teams in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, and Montréal, besides Toronto, how about them kids in the T-Dot, y’all? But Sportsnet can even out-do TSN. On Wednesday, the American-based Forbes published its annual list of NHL teams ranked by value. As always, the New York Rangers are the most valuable hockey team. The Rangers are worth $1.25 billion USD. But Sportsnet’s headline reads: “Maple Leafs Rank Third in Forbes’ Annual Most Valuable Team List.” So, you think, well, that makes sense. But, wait, what’s the second most valuable team in the National Hockey League? Chicago? Los Angeles? The New York Islanders? Nope. It’s the Montréal Canadiens.
Now, I know we Quebecers had ourselves a couple of referenda on leaving the country, and we still harbour a pretty strong separatist movement; at any given time, around 35% of us want out of Canada. But, in both 1980 and 1995, we chose to stay. And 65% of us at any given time want to stick around in Canada. And we keep giving Canada Prime Ministers. In my lifetime, five of 9 prime ministers have been Quebecers.
So, in other words, my dear TSN and Sportsnet, Québec is part of Canada. And Montréal remains one of the largest cities in North America, and also remains a major centre of global commerce. And its soccer team isn’t that bad, even if its appearance in the Conference Finals is a surprise. And its hockey team, which is, after all, the most decorated hockey team in the world, is the most valuable Canadian team.
And, if you just so happen to be one of those provincials from the rest of the country, well, as we say back home, tant pis.
December 2, 2013 § 8 Comments
On Saturday night, I went to the Bruins’ game with a buddy. Those who know me know that the only thing on God’s Green Earth I hate are the fucking Bruins. My buddy, John, is a Bruins’ fan. He has no love lost for my Canadiens de Montréal. And everytime he goes on and on about the Big Bad Bruins of the early 70s, the teams of his childhood, I say two words to him: Ken Dryden.
For those of you who don’t know, the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 1970 and 1972. They were a big, rugged team led by Phil Esposito, Wayne Cashman and, of course, Number 4, Bobby Orr. They were far and away the best team in hockey in the early 70s. But in 1971, something happened that disrupted their reign: the Montréal Canadiens. The Habs weren’t that good in 1971. They had won the Stanley Cup in 1969, but in 1970, they were the first Habs team to miss the playoffs since 1948. And the Habs wouldn’t miss the playoffs again until 1995. In 1970-71, they were an average team.
But then, in the spring, a call-up from the American Hockey League took over the Habs’ nets. Ken Dryden was his name. In the first round of the playoffs that year, the Habs took on the Big Bad Bruins. The Bruins finished with 121 points in 78 games, 12 more than the 2nd place New York Rangers. The Habs finished a full 24 points back. But the Canadiens knocked off the defending champs in the first round in 7 games, finally eliminating the Bruins in the hostile confines of the old Boston Garden. The Habs, riding Dryden’s brilliance, went on to win the Stanley Cup over the Chicago Blackhawks.
I wasn’t born in 1971, it would be a full two years until I made my début. My first hockey memories are from 1976 or so, I vaguely remember seeing a game between the Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks on our old black and white TV, and my dad took me to the Stanley Cup parade that spring in Montréal. But. Just as with Paul Henderson’s series-winning goal against the Soviets in 1972, Ken Dryden’s run in the spring of 1971 is burned into my memory.
How does this happen? Alison Landsberg’s 2004 book, Prosthetic Memory: The Transformation of American Remembrance in the Age of Mass Culture, attempts to explain. Due to the onslaught of mass media in our lives, we are increasingly able to assimilate the memory of things we did not experience. Thus, I can see, in my mind’s eye, the incredible artistry of Ken Dryden in the spring of 1971 before I was born, and long before I had any sentient thoughts.
From where we sit in 2013, almost 2014, nearly a decade since Landsberg published her book (and nearly two decades since her argument was made for the first time in an article in one of those 90s books about the “cyber-world” and “information super-highway”), the argument seems rather obvious. But it wasn’t a decade ago.
And yet, whilst Landsberg focuses on the proliferation of mass media, it is also clear that the internet plays a very clear role in the formation of prosthetic memory for her. In the case of Ken Dryden, my memories were made in the 1980s. In 1984 and again in 1986, the Habs had young, hot goalies in net to start the playoffs. Steve Penney carried a pretty lousy team to the semi-finals in 1984 and two years later, Patrick Roy carried a mediocre team all the way to the Cup. Both years, Hockey Night in Canada ran endless Dryden video, and talked about Dryden. The newspapers I read, all the way out in Vancouver, talked about Dryden. The Hockey News, of which I was a dedicated reader, talked about Dryden. I went out and bought Dryden’s book, The Game, with my own money because of the 1986 playoffs and the myth-making. And while, clearly, mass media was central to the formation of my prosthetic Dryden memories as a kid in the 80s, this is long before the internet.
The interesting thing is that, when I taught in Montréal, at both Concordia University and John Abbott College, my students, who were born in the late 80s and early 90s, long after Dryden retired, and at the height of Roy’s brilliance, knew about the legends of Ken Dryden, as if they were born with fully formed prosthetic memories.
I read an article on the BBC’s website today about how memories can be transferred from generation to generation through biology. A study of mice at Emory University in Atlanta has demonstrated how this works. For the study, a generation of lab mice were trained to fear the smell of cherry blossoms. This fear was passed on to their children and grandkids, even though the children and grandchildren had never experienced anything negative surrounding the scent of cherry blossoms.
Maybe the legends of the Montréal Canadiens are passed on this way, from father to son and daughter. Maybe this is why I can see in my mind’s eye Howie Morenz rushing up the ice in the late 1920s, when my grandfather was just a lad?