2313 rue Ste-Catherine Ouest
The Montreal Forum, at the corner of Sainte-Catherine and Atwater streets, does not have remarkable architecture but has very good vibes. People who were passionate about hockey before 1996 set foot there for more than 70 years to come and cheer on their team, the Montreal Canadiens. The stands were filled to bursting, the atmosphere vibrating the walls. The forum has not only hosted the glorious team but also concerts, events of the 1976 Olympic Games and major shows.
I had the chance to attend a few games for the Habs, the last game of the Stanley Cup final at the Forum and Guy Lafleur’s last game when he was wearing the Quebec Nordiques uniform. Hockey evenings were a Saturday night rendezvous for many Quebecers. Christmas evenings were lively and my uncles teased each other about the performance of their favorite teams. There has always been rivalry in hockey.
You may have guessed it a little. I am one of the nostalgics of the Forum, a place that reminds me of a glorious period of the Montreal Canadiens hockey team filled with victories and trophies.
After the move to the Bell Centre, it seems that my frenzy and my enthusiasm for the team are less and I’ve realized that the Forum site has lost its color and its vibration. Do you know that some say that there are “ghosts of the Forum”? It’s an urban legend that revolved around the spirit of the team’s former players helping the team to win, reasoning that was supported by the fact that the team had very glorious periods over time in this place.
The Forum was not the first arena of the club of the Canadiens. The team evolved/moved to the Jubilee arena, the Westmount arena and the Mont-Royal arena before taking up residence in the Forum in 1924.
The very first season of the Canadiens in 1909 was played at the Jubilee Arena in the Hochelaga district, some 5 km from the Bell Centre. The 3,000 seat venue had a natural ice rink.
In the next season (1910), the Westmount Arena, built specifically for hockey in 1898, was chosen for its standard capacity of 4,300 seats. In addition, it was possible to increase to 10,000 people during major events. Surprisingly, it was just across the street from the Forum. The matches of Montreal Canadiens and the Wanderers (an English-speaking team from Montreal) played their matches there. In 1915-16, an artificial ice surface was installed at the Westmount Arena to compensate for the upheavals of Mother Nature. This improvement had astronomical costs. The Canadiens won their first Stanley Cup there in 1916. In 1917, the two teams were among the 4 teams to enter the NHL circuit. The building was unfortunately destroyed by fire on January 2, 1918.
The Canadians then returned to the Jubilee Arena but the Wanderers, already in financial difficulty, did not survive and eventually participated in only 4 league games. We should remember that the student surpassed the teacher since it was the English community who introduced the sport to the French. In April 1919, the Jubilee Arena was also engulfed in flames.
At the corner of Mont-Royal and Saint-Urbain avenues, an opportunity was arising, an arena to welcome the French-speaking NHL team, the Canadiens. They quickly built this natural ice rink and obtained a 5-year agreement with the Montreal club (1920 to 1926). The arena had a capacity of 6,000; 10,000 if you count standing. Despite efforts to improve, differences between the entities brought the Canadiens to a new arena, the Forum.
The Forum was built in 1924 to accommodate another Montreal club, the “Maroons”. Few people remember the Montreal Hockey Club called the Maroons because of the color of their jerseys. Since the teams in the league have a designated territory, an agreement with the Canadiens to accept a second team in the city was reached. Coming from former Wanderers, they wanted to once again ensure a place for English speakers and create a local rivalry.
Although the Forum was for the Maroons, it was the Montreal Canadiens who inaugurated the rink on November 29, 1924. The natural ice surface of the Mont Royal arena was not ready for the season. The Maroons’ first game at the Forum was a few days later, on December 3rd and a week later, the first meeting between the Canadiens and the Maroons took place.
It was in 1926 that the two formations cohabited at the Montreal Forum. With a capacity of 9,300 spectators, the Forum is the site designated to meet the growing demands of the public to attend the matches of their favorite team. The still insufficient capacity was revised to 13,550 seats in 1949 and again in 1968-9 to reach 18,200 seats. The Bell Centre, the current home infrastructure has 21,300.
The Great Depression got the better of the Maroons and, after two Stanley Cups, they had to cease their activities in 1938 for financial reasons. The Canadiens remained faithful to the Forum and held their games there until March 11, 1996, winning 22 of their 24 Stanley Cups, not to mention the many other trophies won over the years. A brief ceremony took place to close this temple of hockey and turn to a new arena, that of the Molson Center, now the Bell Center, since 2002.
The Forum has 115 years of history on skates. In 1908, the site was an indoor complex for roller skaters and an outdoor skating rink. We refer to the Forum because it was a very popular gathering place. The complex was transformed in 158 days to become a historic arena.
The forum vibrated during the victories, not only of the tricolor but also concerts. Several big stars have presented impressive shows. Some have recorded “live” versions. The first to perform dates back to 1967. Here came: the Beatles, the Bee Gees, Journey, Queen, AC/DC, Elton John, Phil Collins, Metallica, Sting, Madonna, the Beach Boys, Bryan Adams, Aerosmith, Tina Turner, Bruce Springsteen, ABBA, Bob Marley, Kiss, Rob Steward, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, the Rolling Stones and there are many more. In short, the Forum was a place of emotions but was aging and over the years could not make the NHL machine as lucrative.
After its move to the Bell Center in 1996, there was, for some, a detachment. The site has been put aside for a while but it has been recognized for its historical value. The Forum is now an entertainment center with, among other things, a cinema, a restaurant, a bowling alley and humorous events. The “arena” style has been retained. At the entrance there are commemorative plaques of all the years when the Montreal Canadiens emerged victorious from the Grand Finals by lifting the Stanley Cup at arm’s length.
The bleachers were dismantled and sold individually, but the revitalization of the forum bears a discreet trace of its festive past. A mini-platform was installed there with the Canadiens logo in the middle of the old skating rink. The journalistic footbridge is still there as well as the scoreboard, and old benches here and there have been preserved.
On the second floor, a small alley serves as a place to commemorate the victorious years with team photos. Hanging from the ceiling, jerseys that have been retired from the team are replicated. A section dedicated to the events of this amphitheater is also remembered.
I learned that the gymnastics competitions of the 1976 Olympics were held in this arena. It is, therefore, here that Nadia Comaneci had her year of glory. On the other hand, it is in the Olympic Park that a square bears her name.
The Bell Center has a lot more to offer for spectators but sometimes you may hear references to the Forum instead of the Bell Centre. After all, the Forum has given nearly 70 years of service to Montrealers.
For your information, some nicknames given to the Canadian team:
- The “Canadian Hockey Club” is the official name. At the beginning of the jersey it read CHC
- The diminutive “Canadian” is used in the singular to refer to the Club;
- “Canadians” is used in the plural to refer to players;
- “Bleu-Blanc-Rouge” (“Blue-white-red”) refers to the colors of the team uniform;
- the “Tricolore” because the uniform has three colors;
- the “Glorious” because the team has a string of victories and Stanley Cups;
- the “CH” because of the logo on the jersey (the H refers to Hockey and not Habitants);
- the “Habs” used to encourage “Go Habs Go” short for “Inhabitants”
- the “Habitants” pseudonym which would refer to the French speakers of Quebec – a nickname which sticks to their skin to the point where the “H” of the sweater is incorrectly associated with Habitants instead of Hockey;
- the “Sainte-Flanelle” As strange as it may seem, refers to the old fabric (Flannel) from which the players’ jerseys were made. Perhaps we hoped to give a sacred spirit to the uniform at a time when the French-speaking population were strongly practicing Catholics by adding “holy” to it.