The official word is that the Canadiens would take the ice without a single Frenchman, if necessary. Well, just let them try. After coaching the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup in 1971, Al MacNeil was sacked, partly because the local French-language tabloids, vigilant in such matters, made an issue of his inability to speak French. Scotty Bowman, the present coach and a Montreal anglais, is bilingual, but when he benched popular Defenseman Pierre Bouchard for a time last season, the tabloids were enraged by his treachery and diners at the steak house run by Pierre and his father, onetime Canadien star Butch Bouchard, grieved over their bifteck. "Hey, Butch, that's terrible how they're treating Pierre." somebody would sympathize. And the elder Bouchard would shrug and say, "Pierre is a big boy—he can take care of himself." Restored to Bowman's favor, Pierre played a more or less regular shift in the playoffs.
But there is a danger, in sport, anyway, of making too much of the French-English business. The teen-age girls who gather outside the Forum would no doubt squeal Il est beau (He's so handsome) when Ken Dryden passed, even had the Ontario-born goaltender not bothered to make himself fluent in French. Similarly, when Maurice Richard says today, "I'd feel bad if the people stopped recognizing me," he is not just thinking of French people. At any rate, Richard need scarcely worry. At 54, with graying hair and a bit of a paunch over his belt, he is part owner of a fuel-distributing firm and runs a small fishing-line business. And when he makes the rounds with the fuel trucks or delivers his fishing tackle, he is mobbed by admirers, both French and English, who want to shake his hand and get his autograph.
Some of them also want to talk about the Richard riot. Social historians have suggested that the disturbances at the Forum on St. Patrick's Day two decades ago were a precursor of Montreal's later separatist upheavals, pitting the aggrieved hockey fan against that Anglo-Saxon authority figure, Clarence Campbell. But Richard, a plain, direct man who has always felt in his heart that Campbell's action was too severe, has news for the heavy thinkers. "Eve heard that stuff and it's nonsense," he said recently in the living room of his ranch-'style home on the North End. "I bet there were just as many English boys outside the Forum making trouble that night as French boys."
"Then they didn't riot because Campbell was the anglais oppressor?"
Richard's features darkened. "They rioted because he suspended me."
Mark Twain once said it was impossible to throw a stone in Montreal without breaking a church window. Montreal does indeed abound in steeples and stained glass and the city has further seen fit to name 126 streets after saints, reflecting a piety that prompted an early mayor to call it the Rome of the New World. And throughout Montreal's history, no individual traditionally exercised more authority than the local parish priest.
But Montreal is also the onetime bailiwick of Camillien Houde, a homely 250-pound bullfrog of a man whose see-no-evil tenure as mayor in the 1930s and 1940s was interrupted by four years spent in federal internment camps during World War II for agitating against conscription. Reelected upon his release, he later told a convention of doctors, "I feel close to you fellows. I was an intern once myself." During Houde's early years, booze trickling down from Montreal lubricated Prohibition-parched American throats and his postwar regime found truck drivers from New England comparing the wide-open city not to Rome but to Gay Paree and even Tijuana. But Montreal was never wholly godless: many of the 100 brothels that flourished in those days closed on Good Friday.
Nowadays construction workers find it convenient to drop off for breakfast served by the topless waitresses at Giustini's, a restaurant nowhere near any major building site. But Montreal's bordellos are gone and public morality comes under the scrutiny of Jean Drapeau, who, during a conversation not long ago in his oak-paneled office in Montreal's 50-year-old rococo city hall, declared, "It may be impossible to do away with sin, but it is possible to suppress the commercialization of it." Drapeau's views on the subject are of interest because it was he, as a reform candidate first elected mayor in 1954, who cleaned up the town. In place of now-forbidden pleasures, Drapeau offered cultural and sports events; in the absence of old spiritual comforts, he preached the 20th-century gospel of Tourism and Leisure Time. His regie de grandeur was also motivated by nationalism, the need to show that French Canadians could build their own sphinxes and Eiffel Towers.
Drapeau is a complex man. He can preside with overbearing solemnity at city council meetings in one of his somber, vested suits, yet he can also leave the chauffeur behind to drive the mayoral limousine to Quebec City at 100 mph, arias from the tape deck engulfing the car. Always a caricaturist's delight—horn rims up here, bit of a chin down there, slapdash mustache in between—he became even more of one with his evocative promise, uttered just after bagging the Olympics for Montreal in 1970, that the Games "can no more have a deficit than a man can have a baby." That line, while justly famous, has unfortunately obscured other splendid Drapeauisms.
To critics griping about Montreal's vanishing green spaces: "If you want to see the country, you go to the country."