The incomparable Red Fisher, the legend, has passed away at 91 years young and it is truly the end of an era. For multiple generations, readers of the Montreal Gazette and now-defunct Montreal Star were spoiled by reading Red’s authoritative coverage of the Montreal Canadiens.
His articles weren’t simply game recaps. Instead he was able to zero in on the true essence of a match. The way he could relate a game to readers was simply unequivocal.
I like to say that I learned how to read by rushing to grab the Sports section of the Gazette as soon as it was delivered to our door. My love for hockey and the Canadiens were nourished by his words, teaching me about the intricacies of the game and its players when I was not allowed to stay up late to watch a full game.
Beyond the daily coverage of the Canadiens, Red Fisher was our bridge to the past. To the days of Maurice “Rocket” Richard, Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion, Dickie Moore, Jean Beliveau, Jacques Plante, Ken Dryden, Guy Lafleur … It was an education like no other. One that we were privileged to be a part of.
I never got to meet Red. There was one day in grade 11 that I was fortunate to shadow Dave Stubbs of the Gazette for career day while he was sports editor of the paper. I remember feeling nervous just at the possibility that I might cross paths with my hero, of what I might say to him. And then I realized that the Canadiens were on the road in Buffalo that day, and while I was disappointed that I would not in fact meet Red, a part of me was also relieved at not having to feel intimidated by being in the presence of greatness.
About seven or eight years ago, I was fortunate to be a guest on Mitch Melnick’s Drive Home show as I was hyping an auction to raise funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada. I recounted my story of growing up reading Red’s words. After the segment, Mitch asked if I knew what Red’s real name was. I admitted that I did not and he graciously told me. I felt like I was being let in on a big secret, even though the information was readily available online.
The last time his byline graced the pages of the Gazette was when he wrote the obituary for best friend Dickie Moore in December of 2015. It was a sharp reminder of his way with words, and how much his knowledge and insight into the game of hockey has been missed since his retirement in 2012.
Yesterday, as I was picking up my younger son from daycare with my near-seven-year-old, I heard Michael Farber recounting stories of Red to Melnick. My heart immediately sank as I realized that Red was no longer with us. That there is no chance of ever seeing Red’s bylines in print again.
I let out an audible gasp and my son asked what was wrong. I tried to explain who Red was, and what he meant to me. How I was sad that he passed but marvelled at the amazing life that he led. My son listened astutely and was of course sympathetic. He has an old soul and a real appreciation of the Canadiens’ greats. Red taught me well.
However, it also made me realize that not only was I mourning the death of Red Fisher, I was also mourning print journalism. It has been years since we had a subscription to the Gazette. Today, my son is about the same age as I was when I started reading Red’s columns. However, he gets his fill of hockey information from the television and listening to the radio in the car.
Somehow, it’s just not the same.
To read the authoritative obituary of Red Fisher, please see Michael Farber’s: