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Hockey Fans Riot in the name of Maurice Richard!

For the week of Monday March 14, 2011

On March 17, 1955, thousands of hockey fans rioted in protest of the suspension of Maurice “The Rocket” Richard, the star of the Montréal Canadiens. Today, “The Richard Riot” is remembered as the most historically significant sporting riot in Canadian history.

The Rocket with his opponent in a head lock.
© Montreal Star / Library and Archives Canada / PA-194046
In many ways Richard was a typical French-Canadian of the day. He belonged to a large devout Catholic family and had worked in an English-Canadian owned factory before breaking into the NHL. His skills on the ice made him an icon for Montréal’s hockey fans, but his ability to stand up against adversity made him legendary among French-Canadians. He rarely backed down from a fight.

On March 13, 1955, after an on-ice confrontation with Hal Laycoe of the Boston Bruins, Richard, bloody and dazed, punched an official. As a result, Clarence Campbell, president of the NHL and a pillar of Anglo-Saxon Protestant rectitude, suspended Richard for the remainder of the season and the playoffs. The severity of the suspension was virtually unheard of in the NHL. This enraged Canadiens fans. Some saw their team’s chances of winning the Stanley Cup for the eighth time greatly diminish, while others saw it as another case in a long list of discrimination against Francophones. On March 17, with the Detroit Red Wings in town, protesters began to gather outside the Montréal Forum.

Protestors armed with signs saying “Long live Richard!” and “I'm not going, are you?” gather outside the Montréal Forum.
© Library and Archives Canada / PA-194033

Despite the apparent tension, Campbell arrived late and took to his usual seat at the Forum. Fans pelted him with all kinds of objects. As the situation escalated, a tear gas bomb went off near Campbell’s seat! The smoke sent thousands of fans pouring out into the streets, where they met with protesters outside. Pandemonium took over for several hours.

In the following days, commentators suggested that the riot was a sign of growing nationalism in Quebec. In Le Devoir, prominent journalist André Laurendeau wrote: “We are suddenly tired of always having masters, of having for a long time been beaten down [by the Anglophone establishment].” From this point of view, Quebeckers were defending their cultural and political rights, instead of rioting against the severity of Richard’s suspension. Years later, the riot was, and continues to be, considered the precursor for Quebec’s Quiet Revolution of the 1960s. Richard, for his part, always maintained that he was nothing more than a hockey player.

Le Club de hockey Canadien was designated a National Historic Event in 2008 and the Montréal Forum a National Historic Site in 1997.

For more information regarding the success of the Montréal Canadiens please read: Hockey at the Forum, Hockey’s First Superstar, and Hockey’s Holy Grail.

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