The beginning of November features All Saints Day, when we remember those departed and visit their graves to light a candle and say a prayer. It’s an incredibly popular tradition and a national holiday in Poland, where night skies around cemeteries are eerily lit by thousands of candles quietly flickering in the evening chill. It’s haunting but beautiful, and very serene. I’ve taken part in the celebrations countless times at various degrees, but it afforded me a feeling of comfort and familiarity with cemeteries. Perhaps it’s therefore not surprising that for the past year I applied my passion for the study of the history of the Montreal Canadiens by visiting the graves of souls related to the Montreal Canadiens and its rich history. What follows is a pictorial gallery of my journey thus far.
Let’s start with the person who started it all, J. Ambrose O’Brien, the Renfrew businessman who was coincidentally in Montreal for unrelated business, and was convinced to spend $6,000 to apply for a new franchise to play in a nascent new league, the National Hockey Association, in 1909. He’s buried in Notre-Dame Cemetery in Ottawa.
The club was quickly transferred by O’Brien to local promoter and former professional wrestler George Kennedy for $7,500. Upon his passing in 1921, his widow sold the team for $11,500 to the trio of famed businessmen Léo Dandurand, Joseph Cattarinich, and Louis Letourneau, each one successful in their individual endeavours, but also a powerhouse when they combined forces. The group owned the team until 1935, with Letourneau divesting his stake in 1930 to his partners. All three rest at the Cimetière Notre-Dame-des-Neiges in Montréal.
Dandurand and Cattarinch sold the team for $175,000 to a group led by Ernest Savard, but that group ended up being a front for the Canadian Arena Company who also owned the Montreal Maroons and the Montreal Forum, although that connection did not come to light until after the Maroons officially folded in 1938. At the head of this group was Senator Donat Raymond, who rests at the Cimetière Notre-Dame-des-Neiges in Montréal in a large family gravesite. Buried alongside him is former Canadiens player and executive Ken Reardon, who married Raymond’s daughter, Suzanne.
Of course you can’t talk about the history of the owners of the Canadiens without bringing up the Molson family. In 1958, Hartland Molson and Thomas Henry Molson purchased the Canadiens from the Canadian Arena Company and ushered the team into its greatest era. The Molson Family mausoleum at Mount Royal Cemetery is incredibly impressive and vast. It was erected to honour the family patriarch John Molson by his three sons William, Thomas, and John, Jr. Each brother would have their own entrance into the mausoleum for their progeny. It is with their Great Grandfather Thomas where Hartland and Thomas Henry are laid to rest. Current Canadiens owner Geoff Molson is the Grandson of Thomas Henry Molson.
The first player and coach of the Canadiens was Jean-Baptiste “Jack” Laviolette, a famed sportsman in Montreal, having played hockey for the Nationals, the Shamrocks, and the Canadiens, but also lacrosse and car racing. The first superstar player of the Canadiens was undoubtedly Edouard “Newsy” Lalonde, the famed hockey and lacrosse player. He held records for goals and points that would only be broken by the likes of Maurice Richard and Wayne Gretzky. Laviolette rests at the Cimetière Notre-Dame-des-Neiges in Montréal, while Lalonde was laid to rest at Saint Columban’s Cemetery in Cornwall, Ontario among many others who bore the family name. Together, Laviolette and Lalonde won the Canadiens’ first-ever Stanley Cup, in 1916.
The Flying Frenchmen
The Canadiens did not find instant success. They had only won once in the National Hockey Association days, and fared no better in the nascent days of the National Hockey League. It wasn’t until the shocking trade of Newsy Lalonde for the relatively unknown Aurèle Joliat in 1922 and the addition of a young phenom from Stratford by the name of Howie Morenz in 1923 that the team went on its meteoric rise. Their line was completed initially by Billy Boucher of the well-known Boucher hockey family. Together they formed an absolutely unstoppable line, each winning a team scoring title for the first three years they were together, but more importantly the first Stanley Cup since the days of Laviolette and Lalonde, in 1924. Boucher is notable for scoring the first-ever goal at the new Montreal Forum. Morenz lies in Mount-Royal Cemetery in Montreal, while Joliat and Boucher rest in Notre-Dame Cemetery in Ottawa.
Goaltenders are a big part of Montreal Canadiens lore, so obviously it was particularly interesting to seek out the resting sites of some famous goaltenders from the organization’s past. Jos Cattarinich, seen above, was the team’s first goaltender, but there were so many others. Unfortunately I didn’t make it out to Saguenay to see Georges Vézina’s grave, however among the ones I was able to visit were George Hainsworth in Woodland Cemetery in Kitchener, Lorne Chabot in Cimetière Notre-Dame-des-Neiges in Montréal, Wilf Cude in St. John’s Norway Cemetery in Toronto, Bill Durnan in Highland Memory Gardens in Toronto, and Gerry McNeil in Saint Patrick’s Cemetery in Québec City.
Everyone knows that a goaltender’s best friend is a defenceman, the players who sacrifice their bodies to stop the puck from ever reaching the net, for the good of the team, allowing a momentary reprieve for their goaltenders from the onslaught. The Canadiens were blessed with a tremendous amount of legendary defencemen who passed through the organization, and whose work ethic was such that they were named captains of the team.
- Sprague Cleghorn was a feared backstop, but also considered one of the first offensive defencemen who could skate end-to-end for a goal just as easily as wreck an opponent with the butt-end of his stick. Captain from 1922 to 1925, buried at Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal.
- Charles Albert “Babe” Siebert was a star forward with the Montreal Maroons, but over time he slowed down and was traded to the Rangers where his career faded. He was signed by the Bruins in a last gasp for his career, and there he was switched to defense and paired with the feared Eddie Shore. The two hated each other despite their effectiveness, and the Bruins traded Siebert to Montreal in 1936. With the Canadiens, Siebert brought with him immediate respect, and although he was never officially named captain, all players deferred to him in leadership matters. By 1939 he was officially named captain, and was being groomed for a post-playing career to become the team’s head coach. Tragically he drowned in the summer of 1939 before he could fully assume the mantle. He is buried in Woodland Cemetery in Kitchener.
- Emile “Butch” Bouchard is generally credited with being the saviour of the Canadiens, joining a listing team during the difficult days of the Second World War. His star presence began to draw crowds to the Forum, and halted all talk of moving the team to Cleveland. He was captain from 1948 to 1956. He is buried at le Repos Saint-François d’Assise in Montreal.
- The legendary Doug Harvey is perhaps the greatest defenceman in Canadiens history, with his captaincy of 1960-61 bookended by the two greatest players in franchise history, Maurice Richard and Jean Béliveau. He lays in Cimetière Notre-Dame-des-Neiges in Montréal.
There are countless forwards who graced the ranks of the bleu, blanc, et rouge. I was fortunate enough to visit the graves of a handful of them.
- Alfred “Pit” Lepine played for 13 seasons with the Canadiens, and had the unenviable task of replacing Babe Siebert as head coach for the 1939-40 season in the wake of his tragic drowning. He is buried among family at Cimetière Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, including his brother Hector who played for the Canadiens in 1925-26.
- Paul Haynes played for the Canadiens for six seasons during the 1930’s and is buried in Cimetière Notre-Dame-des-Neiges in Montréal.
- Claude Provost played 15 seasons with the Montreal Canadiens and was one of the best defensive forwards the Canadiens ever saw. If not for playing in the shadows of the great Béliveau, his name would be undoubtedly in the Hockey Hall of Fame, but because of his supporting role in shutting down the top opposition he wasn’t as visible, and despite winning nine Stanley Cups and playing over 1,000 games with the Canadiens, he remains unelected, a certain snub which hopefully is rectified soon. He is buried in Cimetière Notre-Dame-des-Neiges in Montréal at his family grave, his name missing from the tombstone, never inscribed.
- Hector “Toe” Blake, great as a player during his 13 seasons with the Canadiens, of which eight were spent as captain, and legendary as head coach for 13 season, of which eight were Stanley Cup winning seasons. The parallel only adds to the legend of Blake as one of the most important figures in the organization’s history. He is buried at Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal.
Le Gros Bill
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord