I'm on a mission to educate. I was recently in a liquor store paying entirely too much for a bottle of vodka, when the clerk made a statement that was both completely wrong, and somewhat infuriating. I was wearing one of my many Canadiens hats and the clerk said: "Did you know the H stands for Habs?" It doesn't, and this is something I've known since I was three. Naturally, I elected to educate the man. Despite being completely right, by the end of my speech, he said "Yeah, I'm pretty sure it stands for Habs, buddy." In an effort to ensure that this does not ever happen again to anyone, I present this article so that there is a full and complete document on the internet. Because, you know, the internet is never wrong and nor am I.
Most Habs fans will already know everything I'm about to say. The term "Habs" is an abbreviation of "Les Habitants." This term dates back to the 17th century, and refers to the settlers of New France, now known as Quebec. While the Canadiens franchise is very old, it is significantly younger than the term that now refers to it.
When the Canadiens were founded by Ambrose O'Brien in 1909, they were marketed as Montreal's French-Canadian team. The idea was to have them as the Francophone team, and the Montreal Wanderers as the Anglophone team. The idea was that these teams would be rivals, and become a big draw for a sport that was growing in North America. At the time, professional hockey was not anywhere near what it is today and promoters/owners were trying to find ways to build the league into something more substantial.
So where did the nickname — and for that matter the logo — come from? The first iteration of Les Canadiens wore a blue sweater with a white C. Ambrose O'Brien eventually sold the team to George Kennedy (real family name was Kendall), who owned the Club Athletique Canadien. He believed that his ownership of the CAC entitled him to the Canadiens franchise and sued Ambrose O'Brien for ownership. O'Brien, ever the gentleman, had always intended to transfer ownership of the club, so he settled out of court and sold the team to Kennedy for 7,500 dollars; a stark contrast to the price Geoff Molson paid for the club.
When Kennedy got the team, they became known as the CAC. This should explain why you sometimes see throwback jerseys with the letters CAC or even a primitive adaptation of the CH with an A in place of the H. The CH was first used in the 1917-18 season, when the team became the Club de Hockey Canadien. And so, La Sainte-Flanelle was born, and I believe it is the greatest uniform in professional sports. I might be a little biased though....
But why do people call them the Habs? That, my friends is a bit of a trickier question than the development of the uniform. I can't say exactly when it was, or who it was that first used the term 'Habs' to describe the team. Surely it has something to do with the aforementioned settling of "New France," and the fact that the Canadiens were billed as the city's all-French team. According to NHL.com, the first person to use the term was the owner of Madison Square Garden. Tex Rickard, who apparently told a reporter that the H stood for Habs. I don't think he was the first person to use it. I'm not sure that an American would have been familiar with the term 'Habitants,' at least not enough to associate it with the team. I think the term was floating around, he heard about it and assumed that the H in the logo stood for it. I hypothesize that people in Quebec started calling them that and it just began to spread. Kudos to whoever said it first, because I love the nickname. If anyone has some information that I don't, please tell me in the comments.
I hope every hockey fan reads this article. I'm very tired of people telling me that the H stands for Habs when I know full well that it doesn't. The entire article you've just read is a speech I've had to give far too many times. Thing is, I'm an absolute die-hard fan and I have OCD when it comes to people saying, or even thinking, wrong things about my team. I probably come off as a complete assclown, but that's a price I'm willing to pay to educate.
Perhaps I'm a bit overbearing on the whole issue. I guess it's a tough logo to comprehend for some people. I mean, unlike the Leafs, we don't write the entire team name inside of the logo just in case we forget who we are.