Every year when the National Hockey League season gets under way we feel the excitement of hockey lovers all over the country. In Québec, after several months of calm, supporters of Les Canadiens finally have something to sink their teeth into, because the club returns to the ice at the Bell Centre.
The history of this great team is marked by turning points and sporting achievements that have stood the test of time. Furthermore, the Montréal team proudly celebrated its one hundred years in 2009. Still, other smaller events remain significant and are part of the history of the Red White and Blue.
At its inception in 1909, the hockey team sporting the colours of the Canadian Athletic Club was set up to appeal to the French-speaking public. The choice of a name had not been left to chance, since well before the use of the term Canadien-français the word Canadien referred to French-speaking citizens. In 1914, a few years after its formation, people began to refer to the Montréal club as Les Habitants. How can we explain this?
Part of the answer lies in the fact that in 1914 there were two professional hockey clubs in Montréal (the Wanderers and the Canadiens), that both developed within the National Hockey Association and took up residence in the same location, in the Montréal Arena. For supporters of both camps, it was particularly difficult to display the colours of their favourite team when the two played against each other.
To remedy this situation, many francophone fans presented themselves at the Arena partly costumed as Canadians of yesteryear, in woollen tuques, multicoloured sashes and Indian moccasins with beaded embroidery. Proudly wearing this attire, the French-speaking spectators were now able to clearly show their preferences, and from then on the term Habitant appeared in the sports pages.
As an example, an article in the newspaper Le Devoir on February 9, 1914 read as follows: “Les Canadiens dealt the Toronto team a crushing defeat at the Arena on Saturday night before a mammoth audience, as only our team members could, with a final result of 9 to 3. Without question, Les Habitants constantly had the advantage.” Seven days later, the name was used again in the subtitle of an article published in the same paper: “Sensational Match Saturday in Montréal. The Habitants whitewashed the Senators after six minutes of overtime.”
So in the past, when the public chanted the legendary “Go Habs Go” to encourage the Canadians, they did not know that they were referring to our ancestors, the former Canadiens. It is a pity that today the thousands of spectators no longer wear the Habitant’s costume!
Visit The Canadian Encyclopedia for more on the Montreal Canadiens.