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A Fitting Fight for St. Pat
Stan Fischler
April 22, 1968
Hockey's worst riot occurred on St. Patrick's Day 1955, but it had nothing to do with any Irishman
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April 22, 1968

A Fitting Fight For St. Pat

Hockey's worst riot occurred on St. Patrick's Day 1955, but it had nothing to do with any Irishman

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At long last the siren wailed, heralding the end of the first period. Normally, Campbell would have returned to the referee's room, but his time he remained seated, on the premise that it would be less provocative to the crowd. It was a mistaken premise. Soon dozens of fans from the bleachers were charging toward Campbell's unprotected seat, while the president remained exposed and unguarded by either constables or ushers. Normally a police guard would have surrounded him. but the demonstration at the barricades outside the Forum had become so threatening that all available cops had rushed down to guard the doors.

At 9:11 p.m. Campbell's party was completely encircled by a mob that observers contend was bent on killing the president. "The ill feeling," reported Maclean's Magazine, "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."

Suddenly an explosion shook the vast arena, and thick fumes curled their way roofward from an aisle at the lip of the ice surface. A tear-gas bomb had landed 25 feet from Campbell, sending a surge of panic among the spectators. The cry of "fire" was heard in every section of the Forum as onlookers began choking and rubbing their eyes and throats.

That a full-scale disaster didn't develop can be attributed to the police and firemen, who somehow managed to open up all exits and move the panicked crowd into the streets. Campbell seized Miss King by the arm. "Let's get out of here," he said, and they threaded their way to the first-aid room, where Campbell learned that Fire Commissioner Armand Par� had refused to permit the game to continue.

As the frightened spectators poured from the Forum to the fresh air outside, they were greeted by a mob of about 600, mainly composed of young adults and teen-agers. Some of the mob rushed at the emerging fans, removing their rubbers to throw them at the police. Others hurled chunks of ice at the Forum windows, and still others found bricks and concrete chips to throw at the Forum wall. "It seemed." said Montreal General Manager Frank Selke, "as if an angry sky had suddenly fallen on the city."

Police estimated that the crowd had swollen to at least 10,000 by 11 p.m., when they called for reinforcements. Like soldiers in a besieged fortress, Forum employees sought cover where they could find it. Wrestling impresario Eddie Quinn thought he was safe in his office on the cast side of the building until a rock crashed through his window.

Throughout it all, Clarence Campbell the stoic Scot, maintained his poise as he waited in the first-aid room. "I was never seriously afraid of being lynched," he insisted. "As a referee I learned something about mobs. They're cowards."

By 11:30 p.m. the noise had abated. A police inspector led Campbell and Miss King to a car in the back of the Forum and drove them home. Unaware that Campbell had escaped, the mob continued to chant for his skin at the front of the building until they realized that he might have eluded them. The sudden realization infuriated the rioters even more, and hundreds embarked on fresh destruction. By early morning, when the rioters finally had dispersed, the total loss was estimated at $100,000.

When Campbell awakened the morning of March 18 he heard rumors on the radio that he had resigned. He promptly reported to his office at 8:30 a.m. to deny them. He also denounced Mayor Jean Drapeau, who said the riots occurred because of "provocation caused by Campbell's presence." The president replied, "Does he think I should have yielded to the intimidation of a bunch of hoodlums?"

In the afternoon Richard drove down to the Forum, where he delivered a public address in French to the press, radio and television pleading for law and order. "So that no further harm will be done," he said, "I would like to ask everyone to get behind the team and help the boys win from the Rangers and Detroit."

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