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The CH is not yours to define

An open letter to Réjean Tremblay.

NHL: JAN 13 Flames at Canadiens Photo by Vincent Ethier/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last week, Réjean Tremblay of Le Journal de Montréal attempted to resuscitate his public profile by pulling an old dossier out of his filing cabinet. Unfortunately, in the process, he opened with a lede that is ... no longer present.

Setting aside Monsieur Tremblay’s casual racism for the time being, his baiting screed is offensive for two other reasons.

First, it is deeply offensive to the Montreal Canadiens.

The Montreal Canadiens are a symbol of Québec, but that status has been established naturally through a century of collective history. This struggle has shaped the modern Canadiens: an organization that sings in French, that broadcasts in French, that conducts media and public relationships in French, that even has “LNH” emblazoned on its sweaters instead of “NHL”.

But for Monsieur Tremblay, that is not enough. The French nature of Québec must be pressed. It must be omnipresent — not merely alongside the “other,” but instead of it. To the likes of Monsieur Tremblay, the presence of Anglophones within a symbol of Québec is not only a tragedy, it is a threat. These threats must be neutralized, and the fight begins with forcing Shea Weber to memorize a line of French.

“Et pourtant, ils sont représentés dans la Ligue nationale par une seule équipe, qui elle ne désire plus les représenter. Nous sommes comme ces orphelins qui ont tant d’amour à donner, mais personne pour le recevoir.”

Yet, in their heart of hearts, Monsieur Tremblay and his ilk must acknowledge an uncomfortable truth, one that lies in the very name of the franchise that they claim to adore. The Canadiens have never existed solely to represent Francophone Québec, and they have never ever represented souverainistes. That would be the team that used to be down the highway. The one in blue and white covered with fleurs-de-lys.

But because the Nordiques no longer exist, Monsieur Tremblay must bend the Canadiens to his whims. To do this, he conjures the image of a Canadiens that perhaps never existed in reality.

That brings us to the second offence: Monsieur Tremblay’s utter contempt for his audience.

“Je me souviens d’une époque pas si lointaine où il était impensable que le capitaine et le gardien de but des Canadiens ne s’expriment pas un minimum en français.”

While the reference to the captain may seem natural, the second position called out seems awkward. Why the goaltender of all positions? Why not the top centre or the best winger?

The answer is rather simple: a clumsy allusion to the mid-90s. Monsieur Tremblay makes it even more blatant by his inclusion of Guy Carbonneau by name when listing French Canadian greats over the team’s history. Indeed, it was a halcyon time when the composition of the Montreal Canadiens was more amenable to a nationalist agenda. Once upon a time, the Canadiens were “French.”

Nevermind the fact that the team of the 90s was built upon the foundational work of Bob Gainey, Larry Robinson, Chris Chelios, and Mats Näslund.

Never mind that the heroes of the ‘93 run included Kirk Muller, Brian Bellows, Paul DiPietro, and John LeClair.

Never mind that after Carbonneau’s departure, the next captain was Kirk Muller.

It was better then. “Carbo” was the captain, Patrick Roy was the netminder, and there was none of this Koivu, Gionta, Pacioretty, Halak, or Price nonsense.

Does Monsieur Tremblay expect anyone to believe this mirage?

Does he really think that Shea Weber and Carey Price don’t speak any French? That they don’t go out and greet people with the reviled “bonjour-hi!” that is more authentically Montréalais than anything in Monsieur Tremblay’s lurid fantasies?

No, Monsieur Tremblay here is exhibiting more contempt for his fans than the Canadiens do for theirs. The Canadiens know that forcing Price and Weber to memorize a few token lines of French is a dog-and-pony show that does nothing for any one. In short, they’ve learned from the last 20 years. Monsieur Tremblay on the other hand, lives for said show, eagerly blaring “ils n’aiment pas les francophones” to all who would listen in hopes that some will dance to his tune.

And this contempt brings us back to the third problem.

Certainly, there is a temptation to focus on Monsieur Tremblay’s racism to the exclusion of the rest of the article. It was right there, front and centre, and it is so laughably offensive that one can’t help but notice it. To a Chinese person, “Fang Wong” is the equivalent of “Vodka Drunkenski”. The two phonemes cannot even coexist in one name, as “Fang” is taken from Hanyu Pinyin, used exclusively for Mandarin, while “Wong” is taken from Jyutping, used exclusively for Yue (Cantonese).

But Monsieur Tremblay’s racism against the Chinese is merely the canary in the coal mine for his article. See, for him, it is not possible for “Fang Wong” to be part of the Montreal Canadiens. Monsieur Tremblay’s Canadiens, that supposed exclusionary bastion of Francophone culture, cannot co-exist with a team that employs, as he put it, “20 Fang Wongs.”

But “Fang Wong” is not just a hideous reference to the time of the Yellow Peril and the mysterious Orient, it is also a “more acceptable” extension of what Monsieur Tremblay argues in the rest of his article: that to him and people like him, “Webers” and “Prices” are the same as “Fang Wongs” — in a word, unacceptable.

Unfortunately for Monsieur Tremblay, his Montreal Canadiens are not the Montreal Canadiens.

The Montreal Canadiens include the Richards, the Béliveaus, the Plantes that forged the team into what it is today, but also contains the Reardons, Durnans, and Lachs. It is a team shaped by Roys and Carbonneaus, Näslunds and Koivus, Subbans and Sourays, Plekanecs and Markovs.

It is a team that currently belongs to two kids from British Columbia.

It is a team whose future is held by a “Kotkaniemi,” a “鈴木,” and a “Рома́нов.”

Perhaps one day, the torch will be passed to a “方”, or a “黃”, to a “卢”, “韩”, or “倪”.

They will line up next to Danaults and Drouins, Côtés and Fortins, Roys and Gagnons.

They will all hear the opening strains of O Canada as “terre des nos aïeux,” they will be greeted by the fans screaming both “les Canadiens sont là” and “go Habs go,” they will endure the dulcet tones of Nickelback and Mitsou over the PA in equal measure.

They will be Canadiens — with an e, not an a.

And they will all be sons (or daughters) of Montreal.