Triggered by a tear-gas bomb, frenzied mob violence turned downtown Montreal into a madhouse last St. Patrick’s Night. Was it rage at the suspension of a hockey idol, or did the cause run deeper? A Maclean’s editor presents his findingsSIDNEY KATZ September 17 1955
Triggered by a tear-gas bomb, frenzied mob violence turned downtown Montreal into a madhouse last St. Patrick’s Night. Was it rage at the suspension of a hockey idol, or did the cause run deeper? A Maclean’s editor presents his findingsSIDNEY KATZ September 17 1955
ON MARCH 17, 1955, at exactly 9.11 p.m., a tear-gas bomb exploded in the Montreal Forum where sixteen thousand people had gathered to watch a hockey match between the Montreal Canadiens and the Detroit Red Wings. The acrid yellowish fumes that filled the stadium sent the crowd rushing to the exits, crying, shrieking, coughing and retching. But it did more. It touched off the most destructive and frenzied riot in the history of Canadian sport.
The explosion of the bomb was the last straw in a long series of provocative incidents that swept away the last remnant of the crowd’s restraint and decency. Many of the hockey fans had come to the game in an ugly mood. The day before, Clarence Campbell, president of the National Hockey League, had banished Maurice (The Rocket) Richard, the star of the Canadiens and the idol of the highly partisan Montreal fans, from hockey for the remainder of the season. The suspension couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Canadiens. The league leadership was at stake: they were leading Detroit by the narrow margin of two points. Richard’s award for individual high scoring was at stake too he was only two points ahead of his team mate Bernie (Boom-Boom) Geoffrion. Furthermore, it had been a long tough hockey season, full of emotional outbursts. All during the first period of play the crowd had vented their anger at Campbell by shouting, “Va-t’en, Campbell” (“Scram, Campbell”) and showering him with rotten fruit, eggs, pickled pigs’ feet and empty bottles.
A New York sociologist has defined a mob riot as “a device for indulging ourselves in a kind of temporary insanity by all going crazy together.” This describes what happened in the five hours after the bomb’s explosion. At one time there were as many as ten thousand people—patrons, demonstrators and onlookers packed around the outside of the Forum. Many of them rushed around in bands shrieking like animals. For a time it looked as if a lynching might even he attempted: groups of rioters were savagely chanting in unison, “Kill Campbell! Kill Campbell!” The windows of passing streetcars were smashed and, for no apparent reason, cab drivers were hauled from their vehicles and pummeled. The mob smashed hundreds of windows in the Forum by throwing bricks, chunks of ice and even full bottles of beer. They pulled down signs and tore doors off their hinges. They toppled corner newsstands and telephone booths, doused them in oil and left them burning.
When the mob grew weary of the Forum they moved eastward down St. Catherine Street, Montreal’s main shopping district. For fifteen blocks they left in their path a swath of destruction. It looked like the aftermath of a wartime blitz in London. Hardly a store in those fifteen blocks was spared. Display windows were smashed and looters carried away practically everything portable - jewelry, clothes, clocks, radios and cameras.
The cost of the riot was added up later: an estimated thirty thousand dollars’ worth of damage due to looting and vandalism; twelve policemen and twenty-five civilians injured; eight police cars and several streetcars, taxicabs and private automobiles damaged. “It was the worst night I’ve had in my thirty-three years as a policeman,” said Thomas Leggett, Montreal’s director of police.
But the greatest damage done was not physical. Montrealers awoke ashamed and stunned after their emotional binge. The Montreal Star observed, “Nothing remains but shame.” The Toronto Star commented, “It’s savagery which attacks the fundamentals of civilized behavior.” Canadian hockey was given a black name on the front pages of newspapers as far apart as Los Angeles and London, England. “Ice hockey is rough,” observed the London News Chronicle, “but it is now a matter of grim record that Canadian players are spring lambs compared to those who support them.” A Dutch newspaper headlined the riot story: STADIUM WRECKED, 27 DEAD, 100 WOUNDED.
Everybody seemed to have an explanation for the riot. Psychiatrist John D. Griffin, director of the Canadian Mental Health Association, said, “A lot of people have a latent hostility towards authority and it sometimes suddenly overflows. The riot proves we’re not as stable as we think.” To many observers the riot was the inevitable result of lawless, brutal hockey which had been encouraged for years by team managers and coaches because of its box-office appeal. “Brawling and fighting have grown to the point where the game is more wrestling than hockey,” observed an Edmonton writer, while novelist Hugh MacLennan, who saw the riot, described our national sport as “breeding the insane emotions of the Roman circus.” People outside Montreal condemned the supporters of Richard for putting him on such a lofty pedestal that he felt he was bigger than hockey itself and ought not to have been punished for disobeying the rules. Pierre Gauthier (Lib., Portneuf, Que.), asked the House of Commons to appoint a national hockey commissioner to clean up the game. Driven by the greed of the team owners, he said, players were being pushed beyond their endurance.
The newspapers and radio were blamed for whipping up public opinion against Campbell before the riot. Frank Hanley, of the Montreal city council, said that Mayor Jean Drapeau must accept at least some of the responsibility. Had he not publicly criticized Campbell’s decision to suspend Richard instead of appealing to the public to accept it? Drapeau, in turn, blamed the riot on Campbell who “provoked it” by his presence at the game. To Lucien Croteau, another member of council, the riot was clearly the fault of the police. “They had ample warning of trouble and failed to take precautions,” he said. Frank D. Corbett, a citizen of Westmount, expressed an opinion about the riot which many people thought about but few discussed publicly. In a letter to the editor of a local paper he said bluntly that the outbreak was symptomatic of racial ill-feeling. “French and English relationships have deteriorated badly over the past ten years and they have never been worse,” he wrote. “The basic unrest is nationalism, which is ever present in Quebec. Let’s face it. . . the French Canadians want the English expelled from the province.”
All of these observations contained some germ of truth but no single one of them explains satisfactorily what happened in Montreal on St. Patrick’s Night. There is never a simple explanation for a severe and prolonged outbreak of mob hysteria. Psychiatrists have drawn a parallel between a mob that riots and a person who suddenly goes berserk. In both instances the violent behavior is clinical evidence of mental disease. In both instances, the final outbreak is the end product of many influences and incidents. From the point of view of time, some of the causes are predisposing—they’ve been going on for a long time in the past. Some of the causes are precipitating—they are the immediate factors which rip away the last shr..and self-control.
In the case history of the Richard Hockey Riot, the night of March 13, four nights before the Montreal outburst, is important. On that night, the Montreal Canadiens were playing against the Boston Bruins in the Boston Garden. An event occurred six minutes before the end of the game which set the stage for the debacle in Montreal. Boston was leading 4-2, playing one man short because of a penalty. In a desperate effort to score, the Canadiens had removed their goalie and sent six men up the ice. Richard was skating across the Boston blue line past Boston defenseman Hal Laycoe when the latter put his stick up high and caught Richard on the left side of his head. It made a nasty gash which later required five stitches. Frank Udvari, the referee, signaled a penalty to Laycoe for high-sticking but allowed the game to go on because Canadiens had the puck.
Richard skated behind the Boston net and had returned to the blue line when the whistle blew. He rubbed his head, then suddenly skated over to Laycoe who was a short distance away. Lifting his stick high over his head with both hands Richard pounded Laycoe over the face and shoulders with all his strength. Laycoe dropped his gloves and stick and motioned to Richard to come and fight with his fists.
An official, linesman Cliff Thompson, grabbed Richard and took his stick away from him. Richard broke away, picked up a loose stick on the ice and again slashed away at Laycoe, this time breaking the stick on him. Again Thompson got hold of Richard, but again Richard escaped and with another stick slashed at the man who had injured him. Thompson subdued Richard for the third time by forcing him down to the ice. With the help of a team mate, Richard regained his feet and sprang at Thompson, bruising his face and blackening his eye. Thompson finally got Richard under control and sent him to the first-aid room for medical attention.
Richard was penalized for the remainder of the game and fined $100. Laycoe, who suffered body bruises and face wounds, was penalized five minutes for high-sticking and was given a further ten minute penalty for tossing a blood-stained towel at referee Udvari as he entered the penalty box. There were at least three major factors in Richard’s outburst, He had entered the Boston game tense and brooding because of a variety of recent aggravations he had suffered. In the past fifteen years hockey had become a rough, tough game in which players .. break the rules and escape punishment... on the death of a young hockey player Justice Wells of Ontario recently observed hockey can now be compared only to the ... in the days of Nero when people were injured for the amusement of the Roman (populace).” And lastly, there’s the most —the volatile, mercurial temperament of Maurice Richard himself.
Richard’s emotional ... resistance were at a low ebb on the night (of the) Boston game on March 13. It was near ... a long exhausting schedule. The Canadien ...played Boston only the previous night in (Montreal and) Richard had been hurled against a net (and injured) his back. The back was so painful he hadn’t been able to sleep on the train trip to Boston in spite of the application of ice packs. On the morning of the game he confided to a reporter, “My back still hurts like the dickens. I feel beat.” He never considered sitting out the Boston game. There was too much at stake. With three scheduled games left, the Canadiens’ chances of finishing first in the league were bright. Furthermore, Richard was narrowly leading the league for individual high scoring. If he won, he would receive a cup, one thousand dollars from the league and another thousand from his club.
He was still brooding over an incident that had threatened his winning the top-scoring award. In Toronto, the previous Thursday, he had been in a perfect position to score when he was hooked by Hugh Bolton of the Maple Leafs. Bolton was penalized but it still meant that Richard was deprived of a goal he desperately wanted.
The pressures in NHL hockey are numerous and overpowering. The league itself is fighting for survival in the face of competition from TV and other sports and entertainment. Fans will no longer support a losing club. "There’s no sentiment in our business,” says Clarence Campbell. "Results are what count.”
The league feels insecure because of rising costs and diminishing gate receipts. In the 1949-50 season, attendance reached a peak of 2.15 million; since then it’s gradually slipped to 1.9 million. It now costs twice as much to run a club as it did before World War II. The most successful hockey entrepreneurs have been Dick Irvin, until this year coach of the Montreal Canadiens. and Connie Smythe, owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Irvin says, "People like tough, rough hockey. You’ve got to play that way to please them.” At times, Irvin has put his players in what he considers the right winning mood by impressing on them, "You’ve got to hate the other fellows to win.” Conn Smythe shares this philosophy. Probably his most quoted aphorism is, "If you can’t lick them in the alley, you can’t lick them in the rink.” Once, after a particularly bloody game where half a dozen major penalties had been meted out, Smythe remarked, "This sort of thing has got to stop or people will keep on buying tickets.” To prove that they’ve accurately sized up the taste of the hockey public, both Smythe and Irvin boast that there hasn’t been a single empty seat in the Toronto and Montreal hockey arenas in ten years.
Accustomed to the "win-at-any-cost” brand of hockey, some fans resort to violence of their own. Once, in Boston, a woman jabbed Butch Bouchard, captain of the Canadiens, in the hip with a pin as he was entering the rink. Only a few months before the Richard riot, a Canadien supporter sprinkled pepper on the towels used by the Boston Bruins to mop their faces. Once, after a losing streak, a Canadien fan wrote coach Dick Irvin that if he was on the coaching bench that night he would "burn the Forum down to the ground.” Many observers feel that the Richard riot was merely another example of how lawlessness can spread from players to spectators.
Experienced observers like Vern DeGeer, of the Montreal Gazette, have pointed out that team owners, coaches and trainers have promoted disrespect for law and authority in hockey by their attitude. They complain bitterly when referees apply the rules strictly. Officials are flouted. A few weeks before the Richard riot, coach Jimmy Skinner was using abusive language from the Detroit bench during a game. Campbell left his seat and approached him. "You’ve got to stop talking like that,” he warned him. Skinner turned his abuse on Campbell. "Beat it, you ---,” he is reported to have said. "You’re only a spectator here.” On another occasion, according to a news dispatch from Detroit, Dick Irvin, coach of Canadiens, publicly bawled out linesman Sammy Babcock and referee Red Storey in the lobby of the Leland Hotel. The incident was reported to Campbell but no action was taken.
Every great player in every sport can expect to be guarded closely by the opposing team. In this new brand of hockey which permits rough play and often ignores the rules, the most harassed player in the NHL is Richard. Thirty-four years old, five foot nine in height, Richard weighs one hundred and eighty pounds and is handsome in a sullen kind of a way. His dark-brown hair is slicked back, he has bushy eyebrows, a small mouth and his characteristic expression is dead pan. His intense, penetrating dark eyes seem to perceive everything in microscopic detail. Talking to him at close range, you sometimes feel uneasy.
It’s possible that Richard is the greatest hockey player who ever lived. Because of his playing brilliance and the longer hockey season he has already scored 422 league goals. The second greatest scorer is Nels Stewart, who had 324 goals when he retired fifteen years ago. Richard has scored the most goals per season, the most goals in a play-off series, and he possesses the highest total league points. He also has more "hat tricks” (three goals or more per game) to his credit than any other player. He performed the unprecedented feat of scoring five times in a play-off match. Canadiens were once offered $135,000 for him — the highest value ever placed on a hockey player. Frank Selke, Canadien managing director, refused, saying, "I’d sooner sell half the Forum.”
Opposing teams fully recognize Richard’s talent and use rugged methods to stop him. One—and sometimes two—players are specifically detailed to nettle him. They regularly hang on to him, put hockey sticks between his legs, body-check him and board him harder than necessary. Once he skated twenty feet with two men on his shoulders to score a goal. His opponents also employ psychological warfare to unnerve him. Inspector William Minogue, who, as police officer in charge of the Forum, is regularly at the rink side during games, frequently hears opposing players calling Richard "French pea soup” or "dirty French bastard” as they skate past. If these taunts result in a fight, both Richard and his provoker are sent to the penalty bench. Opposing teams consider this a good bargain.
Because of these tactics, Richard frequently explodes. He explodes because of frustration for he is prevented from playing hockey as well as he is able to. Richard is a rarity among men as well as among hockey players. He is an artist. He is completely dedicated to playing good hockey and scoring goals. "It’s the most important thing in my life,” he told me. In hockey, Richard has found a kind of personal destiny.
"He’s on fire inside all the time he’s on the ice,” says Frank Selke. "I’ve never had a player who tries so intensely.” Even after thirteen years of professional hockey Richard still approaches each game as though he were about to undergo a major surgical operation. He is in a brooding, uncommunicative mood. "I feel nervous the whole day,” he told me. "I feel sick in the stomach. When we are lined up for the National Anthem I pray silently to God that I might play a good game.” As soon as the game starts, however, he loses his queasiness and is unaware of the crowd. "I think of only one thing,” says Richard, "scoring goals.” His concern with perfection is such that he often stays behind to shoot goals at the net after a regular practice session when all the lesser players have gone. He has never been known to miss a practice or to be late for one. He doesn’t want to be anything less than the greatest hockey player. "No one will have to tell me when to stop playing hockey,” he told me. "When I stop scoring, I’ll quit. I wouldn’t be able to take that.”
He suffers mental agony after a game in which he thinks he’s done poorly. He’ll slink quietly into the dressing room and sit on the bench for half an hour before making an attempt to get out of his uniform. On some such occasions he’s been known to burst into tears. "A poor game makes me feel bad,” he explains. "I’ll go home and not talk to anybody, not even my wife. I’ll sit by myself and think, over and over again, about all the chances I missed to score. I try to forget about it but I can’t. I won’t get to bed till about three or four in the morning.” On the road, he’ll sit on the edge of his berth repeating to himself, "I was lousy.” He never offers alibis or blames a defeat on others.
Most veteran hockey players — and other professional sportsmen — adopt the philosophy that you win some games and lose others. Not so Richard. "He honestly believes that you can win them all,” says Selke, "and he tries to go ahead and prove it.” In a friendly game against a team from Johnstown, Pa., the Canadiens were told to take it easy. Richard scored seven goals in one period, explaining, "I can only play one way—the hard way.”
To play better hockey he keeps his body in perfect shape. He seldom drinks or smokes and, during the season, sleeps twelve hours a night.
When he shows up for training in September after a four-month layoff he’s always in condition, from swimming, tennis and golf. Except for part-time jobs he has avoided going into business during the summer. "I might worry about it and that would interfere with my hockey,” he explains. Bill Head, the team’s physiotherapist, recalls that Richard once played a complete game with a bruised knee that would barely bend. "He can evidently forget everything when he’s playing,” he says. Head claims that Richard’s nervous reflexes are the most nearly perfect he has ever seen.
There are better skaters, better stick-handlers, better checkers and better play-makers than Richard, but no better hockey player. He seems to have the power to summon forth all his strength at the very instant it’s needed. "His strength comes all at once like the explosion of a bomb,” says Kenny Reardon, an ex-hockey player who is now assistant manager of the Canadiens. Most of the time this concentrated outburst is channeled into the scoring of goals. But sometimes it is used to strike back at his tormentors —as it was in Boston on Sunday, March 13, when he assaulted Hal Laycoe and linesman Cliff Thompson.
Was Rocket Razzed Too Much?
On the night of the Boston fracas, Clarence Campbell was traveling from Montreal to New York by train to attend a meeting of the NHL board of governors where plans for the Stanley Cup play-offs were to be made. In Grand Central station next morning he read about the rumpus in the New York Times. Hurrying to his hotel, he phoned referee Frank Udvari and linesmen Sam Babcock and Cliff Thompson to get a verbal report. Disturbed by what he heard, he announced a hearing would be held in Montreal to ascertain all the facts and to decide on what punishment should be given to the players involved. The time set was two days later — Wednesday March 16 at 10.30 a.m.
In the intervening time the Boston incident was widely commented on. Dick Irvin was angry at his players. "What kind of spirit have we got on the Canadiens?” he asked. "There were four or five players on the ice and they hardly gave Richard any help!” He suggested that the Richard hearing be televised. "They did as much for McCarthy—why not Richard?” Most of the comments were in a more serious vein. Richard’s supporters contended that because of lax refereeing their hero had been badgered beyond his endurance. On the other hand, the Toronto Star described Richard as "a chronic blow-top and an habitual offender.” Campbell was advised by many out - of - town newspapers to ground the Rocket long enough to teach him a lesson. Marshall Dann, a Boston columnist, said angrily that "if Richard is permitted to play one more game of hockey this season, Campbell should be fired. Richard is the most pampered player in the league. For his repeated misbehavior he has drawn only mild wrist slaps or inconsequential fines from Campbell.”
By "repeated misbehaviour” Dann was referring to the fact that Richard had been involved in more hassles and paid more fines ($2500) than any other player in the history of the NHL. The more recent infractions are these:
In April 1947, during a Stanley Cup play-off game against Toronto, Richard had used his stick on Vic Lynn’s eye (four stitches) and on Bill Ezinicki’s head (seven stitches). He was fined $250 and suspended for one game.
In March 1951, in the lobby of the Piccadilly Hotel in New York, he grabbed referee Hugh Maclean by the throat and cursed him loudly for several minutes. Richard was protesting what he considered a poor decision that was rendered at a game a few nights earlier. He was fined $500.
In January 1954, in his regular column in the Montreal weekly LeSamedi-Dimanche, Richard denounced Campbell as a "dictator” who was prejudiced against the Canadiens and who "gloated when an opposing team scored a goal against us.” He was required to apologize and post a $1000 bond for good behavior.
In December 1954 in Toronto he charged into Bob Bailey with his stick, broke two of his front teeth, then turned and struck linesman George Hayes. He was given two ten-minute misconduct penalties and fined a total of $250.
And now, three months later, came the incident in Boston. Both Richard and Campbell refrained from making public statements until after the hearing. Richard, because of his head wound, spent most of the time under observation at the Montreal Western Hospital which was then located across from the Forum. When newsmen discovered his whereabouts his room was switched. On the morning of the hearing, March 16, he got dressed but did not shave. He looked pale and worried and wore a patch on the left side of his head. He walked across to the Forum where he picked up coach Dick Irvin and assistant manager Kenny Reardon. The three men got into a cab. On the way over to NHL headquarters about a mile away, Richard broke his silence only once to observe ruefully, "I always seem to be getting into trouble.”
The NHL suite on the sixth floor of the Sun Life Building was a beehive of activity. A large group of young people from the adjoining offices, mostly girls, lined the corridors to catch a glimpse of their hockey hero. Reporters, photographers and TV cameramen had overflowed the outer office, sitting on the desks and monopolizing the phones. Richard posed unsmilingly for the photographers, forced a weak grin for the TV cameramen. When he entered Campbell's office with Irvin and Reardon, the other participants in the hearing were already seated around Campbell’s desk: referee-in-chief Carl Voss, referee Frank Udvari, linesmen Cliff Thompson and Sammy Babcock, Hal Laycoe and Lynn Patrick, manager and coach of the Boston Bruins. The hearing was private.
It lasted for three hours. The officials read their reports of the incident and submitted to questioning. Everyone present was then invited to give his version of what happened. On some points there were sharp differences. Campbell took notes busily. At one point the building superintendent had to be summoned for help; the crowd outside in the halls had become unwieldy and people were peeking in through the keyhole and letter slot. In defense of Richard, Irvin said that he had been temporarily stunned by the blow on his head and was unaware of what he was doing. Richard remained silent until asked if he had anything to say. "I don’t remember what happened,” he replied. Later, Richard told me: "When I’m hit I get mad and I don’t know what I do. Before each game I think about my temper and how I should control it but as soon as I get on the ice I forget all that.”
At 1.30 p.m. the men filed out. They refused to comment to the forty newsmen who had now gathered in the outer office. Richard returned to the hospital; Laycoe got in a cab and rushed to Dorval to catch a plane for Boston where he was scheduled to play against Detroit that night. Left alone, Campbell ordered a ham sandwich on brown bread and a cup of coffee and began studying his notes, preparatory to writing out his decision. "I had a hard time making up my mind,” he told me later. By three o’clock Campbell had written out the first page of his decision. As each page was completed it was carried across the office by referee-in-chief Voss to a private office to be typed by Phyllis King, Campbell's secretary.
Clarence Sutherland Campbell, and the man whose future he was now called on to decide, are an interesting contrast in personalities. Richard is a family man who loves his wife’s cooking and who spends a lot of time with his four children; Campbell, at forty-nine, is a bachelor who lives alone and makes his own breakfast. Richard is emotional, quick to anger; Campbell is cool, deliberate and is never known to have lost his temper. Richard was born in Bordeaux, Que., had only an elementary education and heard nothing but French spoken until he entered professional hockey at twenty-one. Campbell graduated from the University of Alberta won a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford, traveled on the Continent and later returned to Edmonton to study and practice law. Both men are courageous. Campbell joined the infantry at the outbreak of World War II and, after a distinguished career overseas which included winning the MBE and being mentioned in dispatches, ended up as a lieutenant-colonel. He had this rank when he acted as assistant prosecutor at the war-crime trial of General Kurt Meyer. During the years 1936-39, Campbell had served as an NHL referee. As a referee he had made thousands of unpopular decisions—but none nearly so unpopular as the one he made public to the assembled newspapermen in his presidential office at four o’clock that March afternoon.
The attacks on Laycoe and Thompson were deliberate and persistent, he found. He discarded the defense made on behalf of Richard that he didn’t know what he was doing because of the head blow. There was little conflict in the evidence as to the important facts. "An incident occurred less than three months ago in which the pattern of conduct of Richard was almost identical . . . Consequently the time for leniency or probation is past. Whether this type of conduct is the product of temperamental instability or wilful defiance doesn’t matter. It’s a type of conduct that cannot be tolerated by any player, star or otherwise.” The room was completely silent as Campbell then pronounced the punishment: "Richard is suspended from playing in the remaining league and play-off games.”
At about 4.30 p.m. Irvin, Reardon, Elmer Lach, a former Richard team mate, and Elmer Ferguson, of the Montreal Herald, were sitting around the Canadien office when they heard the news on a radio broadcast. About ten minutes later Richard came in. He had just been discharged from the hospital. According to Ferguson this is what followed:
Richard asked, "Is the ruling out yet?”
"Are you kidding?” asked Irvin.
"No,” said Richard. "I’ve been over in the X-ray room and I just got dressed and came over here.”
Irvin was silent for a few seconds, then said quietly, "Be prepared for a shock, Rocket. You’re out for the season — including the Stanley Cup play-offs.”
Richard didn’t believe it. "You’re kidding—now tell me the truth.”
Irvin said, "Sorry. That’s the way it is, Rocket. No kidding.”
Richard gravely searched every face in the office. The truth now seemed to sink in. He asked, "And what happened to Laycoe who hit me first?”
Richard nodded his head in disbelief. "I’m sorry my career will have to end this way.”
Elmer Ferguson promptly asked, "Does that mean you’ll retire?”
"There’s been enough snap judgments,” said Richard. "I’m not going to make one right now. But a thing like this doesn’t make you feel like carrying on in hockey. That’s for sure.”
Elmer Lach said, "They’ve been after you for years, Rocket . . . now they’ve got you.” Richard shrugged his shoulders, said good night and walked off to his car. Nobody spoke. A few seconds later Lach said, "There goes the greatest of them all.”
Richard later told me that the decision came as a great shock. "I didn’t expect it to be so severe. I had always been in the play-offs before. I was so disappointed I didn’t know whether I would stay in Montreal or not. My first impulse was to go to Florida. But I changed my mind. I wanted to watch my team play. I didn’t want the fans to get the idea that I was no longer interested just because I was suspended.”
No sports decision ever hit the Montreal public with such impact. It seemed to strike at the very heart and soul of the city. Gerard Filion, editor of Le Devoir, says flatly, "Had Campbell been a Frenchman he would have been killed then and there.” Upon first hearing of the suspension a French-speaking employee in the Gazette composing room broke down and cried. A bus driver became so upset by the news that he ignored a flashing railway-level-crossing signal and almost killed his passengers. The French station CKAC invited listeners to phone in their opinions: ninety-seven percent said that although some punishment for Richard was justified the suspension for the play-offs was too severe. The switchboard became so jammed, the station had to appeal to listeners to stop calling. The sports departments of the newspapers were so besieged by phone calls and visitors that some of the writers had to go home to get their work done. A firm selling butchers’ supplies ran a large display advertisement in all the newspapers offering Richard a job as salesman. It was headlined: "Richard . . . We are with you 100%. We feel that you were the object of a raw deal.” At a social gathering in the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa the Russians extended their sympathy to every Canadien guest present. They blamed the suspension on the English and the Americans.
“Little Pig” and “Big Pig”
There were portents of what was to happen on the night of March 17 in the phone calls received by Campbell. Many of them were taken by Campbell’s secretary, Phyllis King, an attractive, willowy blonde in her early thirties. "They were nearly all abusive and they seemed to grow worse as the day wore on,” says Miss King. One of the first callers said, "Tell Campbell I’m an undertaker and he’ll be needing me in a few days.” Another person said, "I intend to kill you and I already have a hiding place picked out.” Still another announced, "I’m no crank but I’m going to blow your place up.” Many of the callers were so angry they could hardly talk; they said they would never go to another NHL hockey game, nor even watch one on television. There were dozens of crying women on the phone. One of them said that she had the names of one thousand people who would be at the Detroit game on the night of March 17 armed with tomatoes and she dared Campbell to put in an appearance. A forty-year-old secretary from Toronto ran up a twenty-dollar long-distance phone bill pleading with Campbell to call off the suspension. Campbell’s callers used a wide variety of uncomplimentary epithets, including "dictator,” "poor personality,” "sick,” "coward,” "German,” "American,” "snake from northern United States,” "little pig,” "big pig,” "beast,” "face of a snake,” "sloven,” "yellow face,” "large bowl of soup” and "Judas.”
The strong racial feelings engendered by the decision should have sounded an ominous warning. These were reflected in hundreds of letters that Campbell received. One of them said, "If Richard’s name was Richardson you would have given a different verdict. You, Campbell, are not as good as any French-Canadian walking around. I was at a morgue this morning to look at a body after an accident. I only wish that you had been on the slab, but don’t worry—you will be soon.” From Verdun: "You’re just another Englishman jealous of the French, who are much better than you. I am writing you in English because the English have not the intelligence to learn that most beautiful language, French.” From Montreal: "The Frenchmen have always been slaves and suckers and it’s a pleasure for you -to Bee others’ blood run.” Another correspondent wrote: "You British animal! Why did your vile ancestors set foot on our lovely land? Go back to where you came from—England and hell!”
The extreme fringe of the Canadien nationalist element were particularly bitter toward the English-speaking Campbell. They have long regarded Richard as a special champion of their race. Many Canadiens feel discriminated against socially, and exploited economically. In Richard they see a hero of towering strength who smites down his persecutors. By deep emotional self - identification they experience the same surge of triumph themselves.
There’s abundant evidence that Richard holds a special place in the heart of French Canada. When Montrealers were asked by the CBG to nominate three personalities to appear on a special New Year’s Eve TV program, they voted for Richard, Cardinal Leger and Mayor Jean Drapeau. Within three weeks after Richard started writing a column for the weekly paper, Le Samedi-Dimanche, its circulation jumped by eighteen thousand. On a visit to Sudbury, which has a large French-speaking population, sixty - five hundred people greeted him; three days later only half that number turned up to greet Prime Minister St. Laurent. This adulation is not confined to those of moderate or inferior financial circumstances. Once, while Richard was dining in a private club with Kenny Reardon, a group of French businessmen at the next table spontaneously passed a hat and presented him with one hundred dollars. While he was shopping at Dupuis Frères’ department store in Montreal, another customer gave him an expensive hat. When he travels in Quebec he’s almost always given the finest suite in the hotel, frequently with the compliments of the house. It is no exaggeration to say that Richard’s status in Quebec is only slightly below that of a tribal god.
Perhaps ancient nationalist feelings would not have been as important a factor in causing the riot had people in positions of authority urged acceptance of Campbell’s decision in the interests of law and order. Such mollifying statements were not forthcoming in sufficient number to influence public opinion. On the contrary, many prominent people added fuel to the fire. Mayor Jean Drapeau issued a statement castigating Campbell. "It would not be necessary to give too many such decisions to kill hockey in Montreal,” he said. A prominent lawyer, Louis De Zwirek QC, said, "The judgment came so quickly that it must have been preconceived.” There was talk that another lawyer, the brilliant Edouard Masson QC, would head a legal effort to have the case reviewed. Al Irwin, president of the Montreal Basketball League, characterized the suspension as "too drastic.” Dick Irvin shouted, "Injustice!”
The Montreal press, both English and French, reinforced the fans’ feeling that Campbell had victimized them. Le Devoir called the punishment "unjust and too severe.” Le Matin castigated the NHL president for penalizing the public and the fans as well as Richard. One French weekly published a crude cartoon of Campbell’s head on a platter, dripping blood, with the caption: "This is how we would like to see him.” The English press followed a similar line, although somewhat more temperate in tone. Dink Carroll said "it was a harsh judgment” in the Gazette, while Baz O’Meara in the Star found the decision "tough and unexpectedly severe.” Andy O’Brien in the same paper headed a column, "Is this justice?”
On March 17 at 11.30 a.m. came the first sign that Montreal fans would not be content to limit their protests to angry words. A dozen young men at the Forum where Canadiens were scheduled to play Detroit that night. They bore signs saying "Vive Richard” and "A Bas Campbell.” Jack Heath, on daytime guard duty at the Forum, asked them, "Why don’t you picket the Sun Life Building where Campbell is?” They wisecracked back in French and continued their marching. No permits to picket or parade had been issued by the police. Finally the police chased them away but not before a spokesman warned, "We’ll be back tonight.”
At 1.30 about twenty young men arrived, apparently college students. They carried signs, one with a picture of a pig with Campbell’s name on it; another had a picture of a pear which is the French equivalent of "knucklehead.” The police felt they weren’t doing any harm and allowed them to march up and down. At about 3.30 another group of men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five arrived. They were well dressed. Occasionally the demonstrators would go into the York Tavern, located in the southeast corner of the Forum, to use the washroom. The customers drinking beer inside were sympathetic: they treated them with beer and cigars.
An air of excitement and anticipation hung over the city. Newspapers and radio stations headlined every new development. The crucial question now was: Would Campbell dare show himself in public at the game that night? Assistant Inspector Boyle of No. 10 station, in whose precinct the Forum is located, announced: "If Campbell goes to the game there'll be trouble.” So did hundreds who phoned the Forum, the NHL and various newspaper and radio offices. When Campbell announced that he would definitely attend, excitement reached a fever pitch.
At four o’clock station CKVL dispatched a mobile sound unit to the Shell gas station across the road from the Forum and set up a direct line to its transmitter. "We were almost certain that there was going to be trouble,” says Marcel Beauregard, feature editor of CKVL. "It was in the air.” It was at about this time too, according to a Montreal newspaper report, that an attempt was made to buy up a number of tickets near Campbell for the express purpose of tormenting him.
Why did Campbell decide to go to the game? As he saw it, he would be hanged either way. If he failed to go he would be branded as a coward. "I never seriously considered not going to the game,” he later said. "I’m a season ticketholder and a regular attendant and I have a right to go. I felt that the police could protect me. I didn’t consult them and they didn’t advise me not to attend.”
Firecrackers at the Forum
Mayor Drapeau offers a different version. Campbell, he says, phoned the police during the afternoon to announce his attendance and ask for protection. A highly placed officer suggested that he stay away. Campbell replied that he had a perfect legal right to be there. The police officer thereupon suggested that Campbell drive his car to the garage two blocks east of the Forum where he customarily parked it, and wait there for a police escort. Richard, the other central figure in the controversy, was undecided about going until the last minute. His wife finally made up his mind for him. "She told me that she was going so I decided to go along too," he says.
The activity outside the Forum mounted steadily as the hour game approached. Bands of demonstrators moved up and down with signs saying "Unfair to French Canadians." At about 6.30 a number of panel trucks circled around Atwater Park, across from the Forum, a few times and discharged a number of young men in black leather windbreakers bearing white insignia. These windbreakers had special significance for the police. They were the garb of youthful motorcyclists who had been involved in disorders on previous occasions. Other groups kept arriving steadily. By 8.30, when the game started, in addition to the Forum patrons milling around outside awaiting entrance, there were probably about six hundred demonstrators. The Forum loudspeaker announced that all seats were now sold.
A picketer shouted back, "We don’t want seats. We want Campbell!” The cry was taken up and repeated endlessly with savage intensity. At this point somebody exploded a bunch of loud firecrackers.
A few minutes after the Canadien-Detroit game started Richard slipped into the Forum unnoticed and took a seat near the goal umpire’s cage at the south end of the rink. He gazed intently at the ice, a look of distress on his face: the Canadiens were playing sloppy hockey. "Our players were as upset and as excited as the fans,” said Dick Irvin later. "The Richard suspension had taken the heart out of them.” At the eleventh minute of the first period Detroit scored a second goal and the Canadiens saw their hopes of a league championship go up in smoke. It was at this minute that Clarence Campbell entered the arena. He couldn’t have chosen a worse time for his entrance.
An unkind fate had selected this precise moment. That evening Campbell had dined at the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association, which is located about one mile east of the Forum. He was accompanied by Phyllis King, his secretary, her sister Audrey, who is a nurse-in-training at the Royal Victoria Hospital, and a friend named Hilda Hawkes, also a trainee. The dinner and hockey game were a celebration: both girls had been studying for examinations and hadn’t been out of the hospital for weeks. Miss King warned the girls that they might be in for a rough time but they insisted on coming.
Dinner was over soon after eight.
The party then got into Campbell’s 1951 black Oldsmobile and drove into the Chevrolet Motors garage on St. Catherine Street, about two blocks east of the Forum. "We expected to be met there by a police escort,” says Miss King, "but there was nobody there.” Instead, according to Forum officials, a message was sent informing Campbell that the police were busy with the crowd and for him to wait in the garage until they could get away. Miss King’s version of the message is that it suggested that Campbell go ahead to the Forum and enter quietly via the back door. They decided to proceed immediately and through the front entrance, sending Audrey and her friend on ahead. At Closse Street, which forms the eastern boundary of the Forum, they ran smack into the crowd. Campbell approached a constable and said, "Please send me the officer in charge. I want to be escorted to my seat.” The constable appeared to be somewhat stunned by seeing Campbell in the flesh. Recovered, he brought over a police inspector who led Campbell, followed by Miss King, inside the Forum. He went directly to the referees’ room where he deposited his overcoat and then proceeded to his irregular seats in the second row of Box No. 7, down at the south end of the rink.
As soon as Campbell sat down the crowd recognized him and pandemonium broke loose. They shifted their attention from the game to Campbell and set up a deafening roar. "Shoo Campbell, Shoo Campbell” . . . "Vat'en, Va-t'en.” "The people didn’t care if we got licked 100-1 that night,” says Dick Irvin. "They were only interested in Campbell. Evidently our players were too because they paid no attention to their hockey.” In the remaining nine minutes of the first period, Detroit was able to score another two goals, making the score 4-1.
The next forty minutes were to be sheer torture for Campbell. Vegetables, eggs, tomatoes, rubbers, bottles and programs rained down on him. They were thrown from the $1.50 seats and standing section far above. Miss King was wearing a brown otter fur coat and a white straw hat decorated with a large black flower. "It was an unfortunate choice,” she said." "The hat made a clear target.” But it was soon knocked off by a rubber, tearing the veil and smudging her face. Campbell was wearing a dark-green fedora and a dark-grey suit. They were soon smudged by oranges, eggs and tomatoes. At one point Campbell’s hat was knocked off by a heavy flying object and an orange hit him square in the back. "I was afraid to look back for fear of being hit in the face,” says Miss King. Most of the missiles were wide of their mark. To correct this, a well-dressed man, seated about half a dozen rows behind Campbell, stood up and directed the fire of those above him.
Campbell’s ordeal was shared by his neighbors. Jimmy Orlando, an ex-hockey player who sat below Campbell, was struck by a potato. CampbelI’s friends who shared his row— Audrey King, Hilda Hawkes, Mr. and Mrs. Cooper Smeaton and Dr. and Mrs. Jack Gerrie were struck and splattered. (Smeaton is a retired insurance executive and a trustee of The Stanley Cup; Gerrie is a plastic surgeon in Montreal.) A young woman seated nearby was struck in the chest by a pop bottle. A city hall employee who customarily sits near Campbell became alarmed by the violence. "Go home . . . Please go home,” he pleaded with Campbell.
But Campbell stood his ground. He was tight lipped but occasionally managed to smile. He tried to carry on his usual practice of making notes on the refereeing in a black notebook, but had to abandon it as the hail of peanuts, pigs’ feet and programs continued. "I tried to avoid doing anything that would provoke the crowd,” said Campbell. Each time he got up to brush the debris from his clothes, the clamor grew louder. Whenever the Detroit team scored the crowd’s temper rose and the shower of objects on Campbell thickened. His only nervous gesture was reaching for a handkerchief and tucking it in his sleeve. Miss King says, "There was so much going on we didn’t have time to be afraid.” From his rink-side seat, Richard occasionally turned to see what was happening. "This is a disgrace,” he said to physiotherapist Bill Head who was sitting beside him.
Shortly before the end of the first period, a hatless youth in a windbreaker came down the aisle from above and told the usher he was a friend and that he wanted to shake hands with Campbell. He was allowed through. As he approached Campbell he held out his left hand. When Campbell took his hand the youth unleashed two or three blows. Fortunately, Campbell had expected a ruse. He had grabbed his assailant’s left hand firmly and leaned back as the blows fell, thus avoiding their full impact. Grabbed by two ushers and Jimmy Orlando, the youth tried to kick Campbell in the legs. He was promptly turned over to the two policemen who were stationed ten feet away. They let him go and he disappeared. Campbell later asked, wonderingly, "Why did they let him go? I don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine.”
Where Were the Police?
The first period ended. Ordinarily, Campbell spends the intermissions in the referees’ room. Tonight he decided to remain in his seat, believing that this would cause less excitement. His friends in the same row did likewise. A woman going by leaned over and whispered in Campbell’s ear, "I’m ashamed. I want to apologize for the crowd.” She was close to tears. About a minute later, one André Robinson, a young man of twenty-six who resembles Marlon Brando, confronted Campbell. Without uttering a word he squashed two large tomatoes against Campbell’s chest and rubbed them in. As he fled down the stairs Campbell kept pointing at him, signaling the two policement to arrest him. "Had he not done so, Robinson would have got away too,” says Miss King. At that moment, Frank Teskey, of the Toronto Star, aimed his camera for a shot. A grapefruit came whizzing down and knocked the camera out of his hand.
Now, hordes of people came rushing down from the seats far above, surrounding Campbell’s box. The ill feeling against Campbell was growing more intense by the second and there was nobody to help him. Looking around at the sea of hate-filled faces, Miss King had the feeling that they were closing in for the kill.
Where were the police? On hockey nights the Forum is responsible for maintaining order inside the arena; the Montreal police department, outside. Because of the special circumstances on March 17 the police stationed two of their constables near Campbell’s box. Frank Selke, manager of the Canadiens, employed eight plainclothesmen for similar duty, but they had to be rushed to guard the entrances against the demonstrators outside. Ordinarily, the Forum employs three hundred and fifty ushers, twelve policemen and twenty-four firemen; for the Detroit game they added an extra fifteen police—regular constables who were off duty. Ordinarily, the police have twenty-five men outside the Forum; on this night they had double that number to start with.
But at 9.11, when Campbell was being surrounded by a hostile mob, none of them were there to protect him. At that critical moment he was delivered by the explosion of a tear-gas bomb twenty-five feet away. As the thick fumes fanned upward and outward, the crowd immediately forgot Campbell and began fighting their way to the fresh air outside.
Who threw the bomb? This question has never been answered. There is no evidence that the thrower intended to befriend Campbell but that’s what he may have done. Chief of Detectives George Allain later observed, "The bomb-thrower protected Campbell’s life by releasing it at precisely the right moment.”
The bomb, a type not on sale to the public, landed on a wet rubber mat on the aisle adjacent to the ice surface. The people nearby, of course, didn’t know what it was. Some thought that the ammonia pipes had sprung a leak; others that a fire had broken out in the basement. Within a few seconds they were coughing and choking as the fumes clogged their eyes, throats, stomachs and lungs. To protect themselves as they hurried out,they wrapped programs, handkerchiefs, scarves and coats around their faces. Women were screaming. Somebody yelled "Fire!” A middle-aged man got stuck in one of the turnstiles in the lobby and was shouting to be released but nobody could hear him above the din. A pregnant woman fought her way to the fresh air outside and had to be taken to hospital. At the height of the exodus, with tears streaming from everybody’s eyes, the organist high in the loft began playing My Heart Cries For You.
Looking down at the mad scramble in the smoke-filled arena, newsmen in the press box had the sickening feeling that they were about to witness a horrible and disastrous panic.
Panic was averted by the fast work of police and firemen. When Tom Leggett, director of police, saw the bomb go off he immediately assigned his men, who were outside the Forum, to keep all exits open and to keep the crowd moving out. Jim Hunter, the superintendent of the building, hurriedly switched on his thirteen powerful fans to suck the fumes out of the building.
Campbell was surprised when he saw the first cloud of smoke. He sniffed the air and because of his military training he immediately recognized it as tear gas. "Let’s get out of here,” he said, leading Miss King by the arm. He made his way to the first-aid centre fifty feet away under the stands where he found Dr. Gordon Young, the Canadien team physician, Bill Head, the physiotherapist, and Billy Wray, an undertaker who is also a close personal friend of Campbell’s. All these men were accompanied by their wives. Campbell assured everyone that he was unhurt. "What’s happened is most unfortunate,” he said gravely. Richard had also made his way to the first-aid centre but had never come face to face with Campbell because he was in a different room. He was aghast at what had happened. "This is terrible, awful,” he said. "People might have been killed.”
In the next ten minutes the outcome of the Montreal-Detroit hockey game was to be decided. Armand Paré, head of the Montreal fire department, was unwilling to have the game continue. He felt that the temper of the crowd was such that there was real danger of panic and fire. Campbell sent the following note to Jack Adams, the Detroit general manager, after conferring with Selke;
The game has been forfeited to Detroit. You are entitled to take your team on its way anytime now. Selke agrees as the fire department has ordered this building closed.
Since Detroit and Montreal were locked in battle for first place, Campbell was later severely criticized for the forfeiture. He explained, "I had no choice. When conditions prevail which make it impossible to go on with a game it is forfeited to the visiting team no matter which club is ahead.”
‘Richard Makes Me Ashamed”
Back in the Detroit dressing room, manager Jack Adams was in an angry mood. News of the forfeiture seemed to intensify it. "What’s happened tonight makes me sick and ashamed,” he said. He then turned to a group of newspapermen. "I blame you fellows for what’s happened. You’ve turned Richard into an idol, a man whose suspension can turn hockey fans into shrieking idiots. Now hear this: Richard is no hero. He let his team down, he let hockey down. He let the public down." Adams was standing with his feet wide apart, gesturing with his arms, his neck straining at a tight short collar. Richard makes me ashamed to be connected with this game."
Selke brought news of the forfeiture to the Canadien dressing room just after Dick Irvin had finished a rousing pep talk. The players didn’t say much; some of them threw their sticks and gloves on the floor in disgust. It was a crucial game to lose. "Most of our players never got over the forfeit,” says Irvin. "It was on their minds all through the play-offs.”
Until the bomb exploded the demonstration outside the Forum was neither destructive nor out of control. The explosion, however, signaled a change of mood. When thousands of excited, frightened fans poured outside and joined the demonstrators it seemed to unleash an ugly mob spirit which ended in a shameful episode of physical violence, vandalism and looting.
In a mob riot only a small core of people are required to initiate violence. They act as a catalyst on the crowd. Other people are carried away by the excitement and drawn into their activites. In the Richard riot, the core of violence was made up of bands of teen-agers and young adults. There were probably about five or six hundred of them. Like packs of wolves, they moved up and down in front of the Forum, shrieking wildly and inflaming the crowd. They took rubbers off the feet of spectators and threw them at the police. There was soon a high pile of rubbers in front of the Forum. They attacked a side door of the building and tore it off its hinges. They hurled chunks of ice and empty bottles, smashing windows. Dissatisfied with this ammunition, they marched off to where a new hospital was being built half a block away and returned with chunks of brick and concrete.
The police had cleared a wide space directly in front of the Forum, pushing the crowd back to the park across the road. As soon as the rioters discharged their ammunition they sought shelter in the crowd. "It was dangerous to rush into the crowd to get them,” says Chief Leggett. "It was full of women and children—some of them in carriages, some in arms. It was slippery. Had we used too much force, many people might have been trampled. As it was, there were several close calls. Once a child slipped and had to be rescued by a squad of police. The same thing happened to a policeman. By the time he was pulled back to safety he had been stepped on, his clothes were ripped and he lost his hat.”
It is doubtful whether most of the troublemakers were hockey fans. Inspector William Minogue arrested a husky man in a black-and-red mackinaw. He identified himself as a lumberjack from Chalk River. "You must love Richard,” said Minogue. A blank expression came over his face: "Richard? Who’s he?” A miner from Noranda who had to be forcibly restrained said that this was his first professional hockey game. "I never knew that pro hockey was so exciting,” he said approvingly. A newspaper reporter approached a group of destructive sixteen-year-olds and suggested that they go home. "What?” they replied, "After coming all the way from Three Rivers for this fun?”
Across the street CKVL broadcasters were giving the Montreal public a dramatic blow-by-blow description of the riot: "The bomb has gone off! . . . There goes another window. The police are rushing the crowd! This marathon broadcast and others attracted thousands more people to the Forum.
By 11 p.m. the crowd numbered at least ten thousand. It was too big for the police on hand to handle. Chief Leggett kept calling for more men. By the end of the riot there were two hundred and twenty-five men and officers and twenty-five radio and patrol cars on the scene. Another five hundred policemen were attending a meeting of their employees’ association about two miles away. They were never called. The total manpower of the Montreal police force is about twenty-six hundred. Later Chief Leggett explained, "More police would only have provoked the crowd.”
The Forum was now virtually in a state of siege. It was unsafe to wander in the vicinity of the windows. Don Smith, manager of the box office, ordered Violet Trahan and Peggy Nibbs, the Forum telephone operators, to close down the switchboard and leave. Before abandoning the office himself he began to shove everything portable into the vault. As he was emptying the cash register a small rock came hurtling through the window, narrowly missing him and landing in the ten-dollar compartment of the drawer. Eddie Quinn, a wrestling promoter whose office is on the east side of the Forum, invited a friend in for a chat. "Nobody will bother us here,” he said. "Everybody knows I’m a Richard fan.” He was referring to the fact that he employs Richard to referee wrestling matches during the summer. A few seconds later a large rock demolished his office window.
Frank Selke was sitting out the riot in the directors’ room along with other club officials and newsmen. He ordered the steward to make up a large batch of sandwiches and coffee. "Looks like we’re going to be here for a while,” he said.
Campbell remained in the first-aid centre. The trampling and shouting of the crowd and the shattering of glass were ominously audible. Everyone was tense. Did the crowd know where Campbell was? Would they attempt a raid to capture him? Later Campbell said, "I was never seriously afraid of being lynched. As a referee I learned something about mobs. They’re cowards.” From time to time, an injured person was admitted to the first-aid centre for treatment. Chief Tom Leggett frequently looked in.
By about 11.15 p.m. the back entrance of the Forum was fairly quiet. Gaston Bettez, the Canadien trainer, drove Richard’s car up to the door and hastily loaded Richard and his wife into it. "When I got home I listened to the riot on the radio,” says Richard. "I felt badly. Once I felt like going downtown and telling the people over a loudspeaker to stop their nonsense. But it wouldn’t have done any good. They would have carried me around on their shoulders. It’s nice to have people behind you but not the way they did on the night of the Detroit game.” The phone rang all night in the Richard home saying that Campbell got what he deserved. It was answered by the housekeeper. Richard himself retired at 4 a.m. and slept in next morning.
The Mob’s Frenzy Grows
At 11.30 Jim Hunter, the Forum building superintendent, entered the first-aid centre and announced, "I think it’s safe to go home now, Mr. Campbell.” Leggett concurred. There was some discussion as to whether it would be safe for Campbell to spend the night alone at his home. Billy Wray was insisting that Campbell be his guest for the evening. Someone else suggested that he check into a hotel an assumed name. Campbell both suggestions. Led by Hunter and a husky policeman, Campbell and Miss King made their way to the back of the building where Hunter’s dark-blue 1951 Ford was waiting inside. The policeman sat in front with the driver; Campbell and Miss King sat in the back.
Campbell, who lives four miles from the Forum, was dropped off first. As soon as he got home he phoned his father in Edmonton to say that he was safe. Although his phone is unlisted it started to ring incessantly. Most of the callers were abusive and spoke in broken English. He lifted the phone off the hook and went to bed about one o’clock. "I had a fine night’s sleep,” he said. He got up at his usual hour of 7.30.
Miss King arrived home about fifteen minutes later. Her family was relieved to see her. She got to the front door almost at the same time as her married sister from Lachine who, fearing the worst, didn’t want her parents to spend the night alone.
By midnight the frenzy of the rioters outside the Forum became almost demoniacal. They were unaware of Campbell’s departure. They attacked a newsstand at the southwest corner of St. Catherine and Closse Streets, sprinkled it with oil from a small stove they found inside and set it afire. Within a few minutes it was a pile of smoldering ashes. It was a wanton and tragic act. The stand belonged to Auguste Belanger, the fifty-six-year-old father of four children. After a considerable struggle he had only recently managed to set himself up in business. "Why did they have to do such a thing to me?” he sobbed.
The rioters now turned their attention to the firms that rented space on the ground floor of the Forum, facing St. Catherine Street. They heaved rocks through the plate-glass windows of the Royal Bank of Canada. The supervisor and three salesgirls of a United Cigar Store had to barricade themselves in the stock room to escape injury. Patrick Maloney, proprietor of a jewelry store, took refuge in the small windowless room where he repairs watches. His windows and stock were demolished by chunks of rock, metal and bottles. Many objects were stolen including a $490 diamond ring. Maloney passed the time brewing coffee. Occasionally, he would step into the store and pick up a full bottle of beer or pop that had been hurled in and drink it. Debris came flying through the windows of the York Tavern. Benny Parent, the manager, ordered that the building be evacuated. The police continued the hard task of arresting the rioters. Whenever they had a full load of them, the patrol wagon would rush off to the police station with its siren wailing. A young doctor from the hospital across from the Forum stepped outside for a minute to see what was going on; before he knew what was happening he was on his way to the police station in a wagon. A little old lady with fire in her eyes approached Chief Leggett. "Let’s start getting tough with them,” she said, "I’m with you.”
The little old lady was not the only person offering advice to the director of police. Dozens of people urged him to use more forceful methods against the demonstrators. Had he wished to do so the means were at hand. Each constable was armed with a stick and a revolver; a police car stood by with a supply of tear-gas bombs; the firemen had a high-pressure water hose ready. But Leggett withheld the order to use any of these strong-arm methods. "It might have led to panic and hysteria—and that’s when people get killed,” he said. As it was, not a single person was seriously injured.
By midnight some people had left, but even more had arrived, drawn by the radio broadcasts. Finally, Pierre DesMarais, chief of Montreal’s executive committee, appealed to the radio stations to stop broadcasting news of the trouble. He reached Marcel Beauregard, who was at the scene of the riot. "It would help the police if you went off the air,” said DesMarais. Beauregard checked with his boss, Jack Tietolman, the proprietor of CKVL, who agreed. CKVL finally went off the air after more than seven hours of on-the-spot broadcasting. The other stations did likewise.
By one o’clock the crowd had thinned out. About forty policemen, linked arm to arm, formed a solid chain across St. Catherine Street. They started moving slowly eastward, taking the crowd along with them. They felt that at last the riot was on the wane. But they were wrong.
Ahead of them, hidden from view by hundreds of people, groups of demonstrators began smashing store windows and stealing their contents. A heavy safety-zone lantern was hurled through the window of the International Music store; instruments were smashed and looted. The mob noticed a picture of Richard and the Canadiens in the window of Adolph Stegmeier’s photographic studio. To get at it, they hurled a twenty-pound block of ice they found on the road at the window. Before they could reach in and seize the photograph their way was barred by tenants who occupied apartments above the studio. Signs at Red Cross headquarters were torn down. Costly plate-glass windows at Ogilvy’s department store were shattered. When Gilles Rouleau, owner of a florist shop, heard the crowd approaching, he locked his doors, doused his lights and waited. The rioters passed him by. He noticed that the vandals were teenagers but that they were being egged on by older people, many of whom appeared to be drunk.
In the fifteen blocks along St. Catherine Street, east of the Forum, fifty stores were damaged and looted. The stolen goods included kimonos, men’s pants, dresses, high-chair pads, shoes, bracelets, cameras and assorted jewelry. At first it was believed that one hundred thousand dollars’ worth of goods (including windows) had been damaged and stolen. Revised estimates scaled the amount down to thirty thousand dollars or less.
The police now sent out special patrols to find the vandals and recover the loot. They arrested one man who was carrying an armful of alarm clocks. By searching restaurants along St. Catherine Street they were able to pick up three other young men in possession of stolen goods. Only a few items of the pillaged goods were ever recovered. "Most of the stolen objects were mass produced small items not easy to identify.” says Chief Detective George Allain, "and there were no clues to follow.” A few days after the riot A. Jeffries, proprietor of a photo-supply store, received a parcel in the mail containing a camera worth a hundred dollars that had been stolen from him. An unsigned note said, "My conscience has been bothering me ever since I took it from your window.”
“It Must Never Happen Again’’
By 3 a.m. the last rock had been hurled, the last window had been smashed and the last blood-curdling shriek of "Kill Campbell!” had been uttered. The fury of the mob had spent itself.
By the end of the riot the police had picked up seventy people and delivered them to No. 10 police station. Twenty five were juveniles (under eighteen) and were driven home to their parents. The remainder were transferred to the cells at police headquarters on Gosford Street. They talked hockey for an hour or so, then stretched out and went to sleep. At seven in the morning a guard came in and announced (wrongly) that Campbell had resigned. The arrested men roused themselves, cheered, jumped up and down and broke out in a song.
Addressing the offenders in municipal court the next morning, Judge Emmett J. McManamy intended his words to go far beyond his courtroom. "Last night’s riot,” he said, "brings home to the people of Montreal a terrible lesson of the narrow margin between order and disorder. It must never happen again.” Some of the men appeared close to tears as the judge spoke. "All those who participated in the riot are not before the court but those who are must accept the responsibility.” After a remand, the rioters were fined $25 and required to post a bond for one year for $100 to keep the peace.
Who were the offenders? Were they peaceful citizens or did they have criminal backgrounds? Were they caught up in the excitement of the crowd or did they go to the Forum determined to pillage and plunder?
A scientific study of the offenders at the time of the riot might have yielded much valuable information about crowd behavior in a bi-racial province. Dr. J. S. Tyhurst, a McGill University psychiatrist interested in mob hysteria, had the opportunity to make only a few preliminary enquiries. He arranged to interview several of the offenders at the court. He found them "hostile, suspicious and disliking authority of all kinds.” Three or four of them were students. There was no evidence that they were members of an organized gang. They were individuals, he concluded, that were "coalesced,” i.e. molded into a group by the opportunity for violence. There are many people in our society who are "bewildered and uprooted” and carry around with them excessive feelings of hostility. Given an incendiary situation like the March 17 episode and they make "an explosive attempt at self-assertion and self-expression.”
I attempted a study of twenty of the convicted offenders, obtaining the names and addresses from police records. The police claimed they had established the authenticity of all the names and addresses by checking them with the Montreal directory. Using the same method I could locate only seven of the twenty. The offenders had given the addresses of Ys, hospitals and barbershops; in other cases, the addresses given did not even exist.
From police records and from interviews with some of the convicted offenders and on-the-spot observers, some general conclusions are possible. The majority of the offenders were in their late teens or early twenties. All but two were Roman Catholic. They were predominantly French-speaking. None of them had previous criminal records. Most of them seemed to have been the victims of mob hysteria. In a mob, by some strange phenomenon, the individual feels anonymous and protected. He is freed from his usual inhibitions. He doesn’t think before he acts, and he’s liable to act in strange unaccustomed ways.
André Robinson, the twenty-six-year-old man who was convicted for squashing the tomatoes on Campbell’s chest, is a case in point. He’s a rather handsome six-footer who holds down a responsible clerking job with a railway company. He’s never been in any kind of trouble before. As he describes himself, "I’m the quiet type—I never kick up a fuss.” He lives with his parents and two brothers, belongs to a bowling league and likes going to the movies and reading adventure stories in books and magazines. He’s an ardent Canadien fan and goes to all their home games, sitting in the $1.50 seats.
"I went to the game feeling mad at Campbell about the suspension,” he told me, "but I didn’t intend to do anything about it. I was unarmed. When Campbell entered the rink and all the people around me kept yelling and throwing things, something happened to me. I was no longer interested in the game. I could only watch Campbell and get madder and madder. I could see that the things being thrown at him were missing their mark. We were too far away. The fellow beside me had a big bag of tomatoes so I asked him for some. He gave me two. I got out of my seat and started walking toward Campbell. As I walked, I forgot about everything else. I only thought that I must get close to Campbell. I finally found myself standing in front of him. Without saying a word, I smashed the tomatoes against his chest and rubbed them in. He looked stunned. I then tried to run away but they caught me and put me in the police cell.”
Robinson’s subsequent experiences give a clear indication of how strongly many Montrealers felt against Campbell. The next morning at 7 a.m. François Morel, the junior partner in a prominent Montreal legal firm, received an urgent phone call from a French-speaking millionaire client. "Go and find that young man who squashed the tomatoes on Campbell and look after him,” he said. "I’ll pay all costs— even if it comes to a million dollars.” Morel bailed out Robinson for $100 and later pleaded guilty for him. Robinson was fined $25 for disturbing the peace and $10 for assault. This was paid by the millionaire, along with Morel’s legal fees.
Robinson became a hero overnight. He received more than thirty gifts— flowers, clothes, radios, cuff links and other jewelry. He returned all the presents with the exception of a hundred-dollar gold wrist watch, which was given to him by a group of friends for having been designated as a "star” of the Detroit-Montreal game on the sports page of a French newspaper. He received large piles of sympathetic letters, many of them from women wanting his autograph and photo.
When I spoke to Robinson three months after the incident, he seemed to be ashamed of it. "I don’t know why I did it,” he says. "It’s not like me. Now that it’s all over, I have no grudge against Campbell.”
Spotlight on “Saddle Tramps”
Like Robinson, most of the arrested offenders were the victims of hysteria by contagion. Guy Lebeau, thirty, is a well-spoken, neatly dressed clerk who works in a rubber factory. He lives with his mother. He attended the game and, after the bomb exploded, hung around like thousands of others to see what was going on. Everybody around him started yelling and throwing things. "I don’t know why but I started doing the same,” says Lebeau. Jacques Bibeau, nineteen, went to the Forum to buy a ticket but they were sold out. He met a few friends and they were soon part of a rowdy group picked up by police. Bibeau is convinced that Campbell suspended Richard because "he is a French Canadian and the best player on the team. Campbell does not like Richard or the Canadiens.”
One group prominently associated with the riot were "the motorcyclists.” The police refer to them as "saddle tramps.” On the night of the riot their black leather windbreakers with white insignia were everywhere in evidence. It is estimated that there are about two hundred and fifty of these motorcyclists in Montreal between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. They are held together not by any formal organization but by a common search for adventure and excitement. They generally travel in bands of ten or fifteen. They first made their appearance in Montreal after the showing of The Wild Ones, a movie starring Marlon Brando. In this film, a band of reckless young motorcyclists wreak havoc in a town.
The mood of most Montrealers following the riot was a mixture of shame and regret. It was well summed up by the terse opening sentence in Dink Carroll’s column in the Gazette on March 18: "I am ashamed of my city.” Others, like Mayor Jean Drapeau, were less remorseful. He hurried back from Ottawa where he had been attending a reception at Rideau Hall given in honor of John Foster Dulles, the U. S. Secretary of State. At this important event the riot dominated the conversation. Even Governor-General Vincent Massey had strong opinions about it. Back in his office, Drapeau issued a statement which, on the surface, seemed to absolve the public of all responsibility for the outbreak. It came about, he said, because of "provocation caused by Campbell’s presence” and it would have been wiser for him to stay away. City Councilor Adeodat Crompt went even further. "We will seek a warrant for the arrest of Campbell for going to the game,” he said. He was also going to take legal steps "to keep Campbell from ever setting foot in the Forum again.” Executive chairman Pierre DesMarais contributed the understatement of the year: "The riot shows that our populace is enthusiastic,” he said.
Campbell showed up at his office the next morning at the usual hour of 8.30. He refused a police offer of bodyguards. Newsmen were asking him for a statement. He said that he had no intention of resigning, as had been frequently suggested. Indeed, several of the NHL governors had already phoned him complimenting him on the way he had conducted himself the previous night. Later in the day he replied to Drapeau: "Drapeau’s words are a strange and sad commentary coming from a chief magistrate sworn to uphold the law. Does he think I should have yielded to the intimidation of a bunch of hoodlums?”
Richard was still asleep when reporters knocked on the door of his home at eight o’clock. It was answered by his six-year-old son who said, "I hope you didn’t come to talk to him about hockey.” When the reporters returned later, Richard was attired in a white T-shirt and a pair of slacks. His face was lined with fatigue. "This certainly isn’t the time for me to say anything,” he said. "It might start something again.” By three o’clock he changed his mind. He showed up in Frank Selke’s office and said that he wanted to make a public statement. Selke said he could see no objection. At seven o’clock, seated in front of a battery of microphones, he made the following short speech in French:
Because I always try so hard to win and had my troubles in Boston I was suspended. At play-off time (it) hurts not to be in the game with the boys. However I want to do what is good for the people of Montreal and the team. So that no further harm will be done, I would like to ask everyone to get behind the team and to help the boys win from the Rangers and Detroit. I will take my punishment and come back next year to help the club and younger players to win the cup.
As he repeated the speech in English, Richard appeared restless and upset. He rubbed his eyes, tugged at his tie and scratched his left ear. His words seemed to have a settling effect on the city. The question of his suspension was laid aside, at least for the time being. Mayor Drapeau and other leaders followed Richard with strong pleas for law and order. There was to be no further violence for the remainder of the season, despite the fact that the Canadiens lost the championship.
"L’affaire Richard,” as the riot is now referred to in Quebec, stirred up a tidal wave of fear, accusation, ill-will and racial antagonism. But it also achieved one minor happy result which has not been widely publicized. The Canadien hockey club told its patrons they were entitled to a cash refund because the Detroit game had been forfeited. Many fans suggested that they didn’t want their money back. How about giving the money to Paul Meger, a Canadien player who had been in hospital for eight months with a serious head injury? Selke made the suggestion public. There was an immediate response: practically all the fans contributed their money to the Paul Meger Fund.