The Montreal Canadiens: Images of a Team
There is something invigorating about lacing up your skates and stepping onto the ice of your local outdoor rink at -20 degrees in the depths of winter. Sticks divided, lungs burning, the ice ripping as you carve deep grooves with your blades and race for the puck. This is a familiar gift of Canada's harsh winters for anyone who has been brave (or crazy) enough to embrace the elements. Another observation you might make at such a scene is the donning of team jerseys, especially the “bleu, blanc et rouge” belonging to the Montreal Canadiens Hockey team. What makes this image perhaps even more special is the fact that it has occurred for over a century, with local fans and players of all generations sporting their allegiance to the Habs, as the team is affectionately known.
While the origins of modern ice hockey remain a contentious topic, Montreal is often regarded as the inaugural site for organized ice hockey in Canada. After the first recorded game was played under formalized rules at the Victoria Skating rink in March 1875, ice hockey clubs quickly developed and expanded in both Montreal and across neighbouring regions. A decade later, the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada (AHAC) was formed in 1886 to regulate competitions between Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes. This organization was overturned, renamed and reconstructed several times between 1898 and 1910.
John Ambrose O'Brien founded Les Canadiens de Montréal in 1909, in which French Canadian players made up most of the team’s roster. The team was renamed Club de hockey Canadien in 1917, after joining the newly established National Hockey League (NHL), the successor to the National Hockey Association, and becoming one of the founding teams to play in the 1917–18 season. While the team would become one of the most successful sports franchises that gained huge momentum throughout the 20th century, their history has not been without conflict or tension. This was especially true in the earlier days of Anglophone and Francophone team rivalries in Montreal and the team’s position in establishing a cohesive French-Canadian nationality and identity.
In the National Gallery of Canada’s The Globe and Mail photography archive collection men's professional ice hockey is one sport that has received the most photographic coverage. This indicates the sport’s historical importance as news pictures in the illustrated press and its significance to the public, both as a form of entertainment and commercial enterprise. While many NHL teams and hall-of-famers are covered in this collection, there are several photographs of the Montreal Canadiens. These black-and-white gelatin silver prints produced during the analog era by sport and press photographers captured the vigour and spirit of the team in both their successes and heartbreaking losses.
These portraits of Montreal Canadiens legends and Quebec natives include Maurice "Rocket" Richard, his younger brother Henri "Pocket Rocket" Richard, Bernard "Boom Boom" Geoffrion, Jean Béliveau and Jacques Plante, just to name a few. These players shaped the team's reigning glory between the 1950s, '60s and '70s, where they captured two-thirds of their Stanley Cup titles. One image by an unknown photographer illustrates revelry in the team's dressing room as they celebrate their fourth consecutive win of the Stanley Cup title in the 1958–59 season, after defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs in game five at the Montreal Forum. Another photograph, taken by the Turofsky Studio who were renowned for their sensational sports coverage, shows Jean-Guy Talbot racing into the boards as he is pursued by the Leaf’s Sid Smith. Canadien goalie Jacques Plante is seen without his infamous mask. He was the first professional goaltender to wear any form of facial protection in the league. Although it has been a few decades since they last brought the Stanley Cup home, the Canadiens still hold the record in capturing 24 championship titles. Thus, the team's legacy and historic success remain unmatched.
While the game has evolved dramatically, ice hockey and the Montreal Canadiens remain strong symbols of French-Canadian heritage, culture and identity, where Quebec leagues, divisions and players have made invaluable contributions to the progress and popularity of the game. Montreal Canadien's followers also remain one of the most passionate and devout fan groups of any NHL franchise. These archived press photographs offer a glimpse into past eras and dynasties of the team, allowing us to reminisce and celebrate their extensive, rich, and incredibly profound history.
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