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“The winters of my childhood were long, long seasons ...”

For the week of Monday, December 21, 2015

On Christmas day, 1984, author Roch Carrier read The Hockey Sweater on CBC Radio. This short story of Carrier’s childhood experiences in Quebec instantly became a Canadian classic.

One of Sheldon Cohen’s illustrations for The Sweater
The Sweater ©1980 National Film Board of Canada. All rights reserved.

Tensions between Francophone and Anglophone Canadians were high in 1979, and uncertainty over the national relationship seemed to be everywhere. Roch Carrier, a young up-and-coming author, was asked to write and present an essay on CBC radio that spoke to Québécois identity. Struggling under a tight deadline, Carrier thought back to his childhood in the small town of Saint-Justine, Quebec.…

Carrier was 10 years old in the winter of 1947 and like many other children in Saint-Justine he idolized Maurice Richard of the Montréal Canadiens. When his own well-loved No. 9 sweater began to show signs of frequent use, his mother decided to order a new one from the Eaton’s catalogue. Unable to understand the catalogue's English order form, Carrier's mother addressed a handwritten note to “Monsieur Eaton” in which she requested a new Canadiens sweater for her son.

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Roch Carrier as a young boy, wearing the Toronto Maple Leafs sweater that inspired his story
© Public Domain. Courtesy of Roch Carrier's family, nlc-1789

However, young Roch’s story took a dramatic turn when the Eaton’s package arrived – with a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater! Unable to convince his mother otherwise, Roch had to face the nine other Maurice Richards at the local hockey rink while wearing the uniform of the enemy.

In a time of tension and uncertainty, The Hockey Sweater spoke to all Canadians. The themes of fierce team loyalty, childhood, sport, and Canadian winter rang true across cultural boundaries and highlighted a shared national identity. The National Film Board of Canada created The Sweater, a short film adaptation animated by Sheldon Cohen, in 1980. An illustrated children’s book followed in 1984. From 2001 to 2013, the Canadian five-dollar bill featured a line from the story and an image of children playing hockey.

The Club de Hockey Canadien, later known as the Montréal Canadiens, was established in 1909, and designated as a National Historic Event in 2009. The Montréal Forum, the Canadiens’ home ice for 71 years, was designated as a National Historic Site in 1997.

For more on the team that inspired Roch Carrier’s classic story, read Hockey at the Forum, Hockey Fans Riot in the name of Maurice Richard!, and The Montréal Canadiens Win Again! in the This Week in History archives.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada. Also, click here to learn about the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

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