A final walk through Canadiens Hall of Fame

DAVE STUBBS
MONTREAL GAZETTE

Ten thousand square feet of remarkable Canadiens history is soon to be gone forever.

It was in January 2010, five weeks after the Canadiens turned 100, that the team’s magnificent Hall of Fame opened deep in the Bell Centre, two flights down from Windsor Court.

This shrine first welcomed the public on Jan. 16, 2010, then-president Pierre Boivin describing it as “the closing act to the Canadiens centennial … a permanent legacy for the fans.”

But in this nothing-is-forever world, the wonderful tribute to the storied history of the Canadiens will on Aug. 30 shut its doors for good, not quite six years after they first slid open.

Major renovations at the Bell Centre will claim the space to “enhance the fan experience” at the arena, the team says.

“The Hall of Fame will close in order to offer new amenities to fans and clients during games, though we will be redistributing certain of its displays and assets throughout the building so that they can continue to be enjoyed,” Canadiens executive vice-president and chief operating officer Kevin Gilmore said recently in a statement.

Many individual items and collections on loan to the team will be returned to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, and to Canadiens alumni and fans who from far and wide have offered unique pieces, some of them priceless, to be enjoyed by visitors.

Daily except Mondays until Aug. 30, admission to the shrine is free. If you haven’t yet seen it, invest the hour or so — longer than that if you’re a hardcore fan with a true taste for history — that it takes to navigate a century of the Canadiens.

The Bell Centre’s box office once occupied this basement space, but it was moved upstairs for the centennial season to a more convenient location on Rue de la Gauchetière (now Ave. des Canadiens-de-Montréal).

In concert with the 2009 box-office move and creation of the Hall of Fame, the Canadiens opened a large souvenir store inside the Lucien-L’Allier commuter-train terminal.

This activity followed the December 2008 creation of Centennial Plaza on the west side of the arena, statues of superstars Howie Morenz, Maurice Richard, Jean Béliveau and Guy Lafleur towering above engraved bricks — 100 recalling historic moments in franchise history, many thousands of other bricks purchased by fans to declare their undying love of the team.

The first phase of the Tour des Canadiens, a still-rising 50-storey condo project on that space, gutted the plaza. The redesigned plaza, now under construction on the east side of the arena in the shadow of the Tour Deloitte office tower, will include all aspects of the old as a centrepiece in a new courtyard.

It will include the bricks, tributes to all 24 Stanley Cup-winning teams and each of the 17 players whose Canadiens jersey has been retired, as well as a monument that catalogues every player who skated for the Habs in the club’s first century, with major award winners listed.

There is too much Habs blood in the veins of Canadiens owner Geoff Molson to ever dismiss the history of his club.

We spoke at length in 2010, the day before the Hall of Fame opened to the public, as we walked through the exhibits. Molson seemed as thunderstruck by the history as anyone, profoundly impressed by the scope of it.

Nearly 1,000 artifacts were on display that day and remain so today, a few changed and freshened through the short life of the shrine.

If the team’s Hall of Fame will exist for just a few more weeks, you’ll find a great deal still alive and well — if you hurry.

Every Canadiens player and builder enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame looks down from overhead when you first arrive, from a sort-of illuminated umbrella, and descend past the crossed-stick escalators of the iconic Forum.

You can pose for photos with the life-size, uniformed mannequins of Price, Markov, Subban, Plekanec, Gallagher and Desharnais. Behind glass a few feet away is the equipment that was worn by early superstars Georges Vézina, Aurel Joliat and Joe Malone; there are the crutches used by Howie Morenz before his tragic death caused by a blood clot; a jersey from the 1937 Howie Morenz Memorial Game; player contracts, sticks, torn wool jerseys.

There is a celebration of the Original Six teams; a replica of a rail coach in which a pair play probably gin rummy, another player sleeping in an adjacent berth; a memorabilia-laden tribute to the Canadiens’ great rivalries — Detroit, Toronto, Quebec, Philadelphia and Boston.

There is a marvellous reproduction of the Habs’ 1976-77 Montreal Forum dressing room, complete with jerseys and a soundtrack of player chatter and stockings being taped.

(There is no talk of a loss on this audio loop — that team won 60 games, was beaten just eight times and tied 12 for an NHL-record 132 points. With nine future Hall of Famers, they won the Stanley Cup in 14 games, two over the minimum.)

Nearby, there is a fine display honouring the team’s great goaltenders. This showcase has long been a favourite of Hall supervisor Alexander Séguin, who has worked within these walls almost from the beginning.

“I’ve always been amazed by Ken Dryden’s giant skates,” Séguin said this week.

Indeed, the battered, blade-slashed boots are enormous.

“I don’t really remember the size,” Dryden said when asked. “But I wear size 14 shoes so they’re probably 13s.”

Further on you’ll find a case charting the evolution of championship rings, 13 in all, displayed below a dramatic portrait of Henri Richard, whose league-record 11 championships will never be equalled.

There are celebrations of the Canadiens dynasties of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s and touch screen tours, audio-video clips and a multimedia display; you might be stopped cold when the voice of Jean Béliveau, from an interactive video of the late legend standing in the dressing room, offers to answer a few questions.

Hockey cards, bottle caps, books, programs, record albums, breakfast-cereal premiums, table-hockey games, a life-size wax statue of the Rocket in full rush … so much incredible history.

An estimated 230,000 visitors have wandered through this collection that is unparalleled in hockey.

The Bell Centre turns 20 next March, and now it is undergoing a facelift that will be welcomed in many ways.

Of course, the fan experience is what the modern game is all about, and this Hall of Fame’s very short life is being snuffed out to make room for that.

There is an entire generation of Canadiens fans who couldn’t care less about the sepia-hued history of this club, whose roots they trace to Patrick Roy and the Habs’ most recent Stanley Cup parade in 1993.

This week, for an hour before the doors opened to the public, I walked through this breathtaking collection one last time, listening to voices both piped in and imagined.

It was here, in the words six years ago of Boivin before this shrine opened, that “you could go to immerse yourself in the history of this franchise … a place to go to reconnect with its heroes.”

Time marches on, and perhaps how the Canadiens will next celebrate their rich history will be tremendous. But that doesn’t mean I won’t miss their fabulous Hall of Fame, a living, breathing, time-stands-still tribute to a century.

dstubbs@montrealgazette.com

twitter.com/Dave_Stubbs

The Canadiens’ Bell Centre Hall of Fame is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sundays 12 noon to 5 p.m., closed Mondays. Admission is free until it closes permanently on Aug. 30. Visit hall.canadiens.com

(Photo by Dave Sidaway/Montreal Gazette)

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337 Comments

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  2. Un Canadien errant says:

    New thread.

  3. FenceSurfer says:

    @mavid; 52=sept.7,for moi.

  4. Mavid says:

    52

    Weed Wacker Grandma Smurf

  5. HabinBurlington says:

    ” This will surprise some Leaf fans: Dave Nonis, the fired general manager, had three offers to join NHL teams before deciding to take a senior consultant’s job with the Anaheim Ducks. Among the teams interested in Nonis were the Montreal Canadiens ..”

    From Toronto Sun writer Steve Simmons.
    http://www.torontosun.com/2015/08/15/dombrowski-anthopoulos-combo-could-be-ideal-fit-for-jays

    • HabFab says:

      He has got to be making that up… Simmons is a life long Hab hater.

      • HabinBurlington says:

        Don’t disagree. He made up BS stories about Kessel and was happy to publish as fact.

        • Un Canadien errant says:

          He apparently was wrong about the basic facts on the hotdog cart story, that it was in front of his building every afternoon. Did he ever address that error, walk back the statement, clarify this in any way? Because that was pretty flagrant.

          It ultimately may have served Phil though, in that it delivered him into the arms of Gary Roberts, and it seems to have had a visible effect this summer.

  6. Hobie says:

    Disappointing game for the Jays yesterday. I know a bunch a people who went to the game. What a snooze fest. Not the game you want to see if you’re a casual baseball fan. The crowd was silent from start to finish.

  7. FenceSurfer says:

    Initial post lost in the HIO stratosphere.
    Take deux.
    Why would” CH inc ” drop a heynote of Hab’s history? Mind bending.
    The museum of greats should be spread abouts? Sad.
    I have a red seat from the old forum. My mom’s name on the certificate. Bids are open at $350.00. (Initial cost)


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