The Mystique: Memories of the March 17 Richard Riot
Glengarry has gained the reputation – and deservedly so – as one of the most historic regions in Canada.
Accordingly, it should come as no surprise that every once in a while a local denizen is witness to, or part of, a significant historical event. Sixty years ago next Tuesday, the late Gary Shepherd – a well-liked and wellrespected, long-time Alexandria town and North Glengarry township councillor and local businessman – found himself in such a situation. As a young boy, Mr. Shepherd, who passed away in April 2013 at the age of 68, was at the scene of one of the most infamous off- ice events in National Hockey League history – the Richard Riot in Montréal on St. Patrick’s Day, 1955.
“That was quite a night,” Mr. Shepherd recalled during an informal chat in November 2010, following the inaugural meeting of the group – of which he was a member – that would ultimately put together a book about the history of the now- defunct Glengarry Gardens arena, published in the spring of 2012.
“They had told (NHL President Clarence) Campbell not to go to the game (against the Detroit Red Wings) because he had suspended (Maurice “Rocket”) Richard, but he came anyway, and the fans at the Forum started throwing stuff at him. “I had egg (thrown by a spectator towards Campbell), on my hat... Things got pretty stirred up, then somebody let the tear gas off and everybody cleared out.” The Richard Riot occurred four days after “Rocket” Richard had punched linesman Cliff Thompson during a game at the Boston Garden. The official had got in the middle of a vicious stick-swinging incident involving the Canadiens star and Hal Laycoe of the Bruins, and when he tried to restrain Richard, the fiery Habs forward broke free, slugging Thompson twice – knocking the linesman to the ice, unconscious. “The Rocket” was consequently penalized, and upon further review, suspended by Mr. Campbell for the remainder of the 1954/ 55 season – including the playoffs – a decision that infuriated Canadiens fans, and led to the violent outburst at the Forum a few nights later.
Mr. Shepherd, who was 10 years old at the time, remembered some of the looting and hooliganism that took place during the uproar, with memories of smashed store windows, overturned cars and people running amok in the streets near the Forum still vivid in his mind more than five decades later.
As things turned out, the riot actually shared top billing that evening, at least for the young Gary Shepherd, who was accompanied by a group of family and friends at the game, including another local resident, Johnny Grant, whom, Mr. Shepherd recalled in the fall of 2010, claimed to have known one of the Red Wings’ star players – Alex Delvecchio – much to the incredulity of many of his acquaintances, at least until that night. “We got to the Forum early, before the game, and we were standing outside... when this car pulled up, and in it was (Gordie) Howe, (Ted) Lindsay, (Alex) Delvecchio and Marcel Pronovost,” he said.
“They got out of a taxi, went to the trunk, and got their stuff out... a little different than how things are done today... And Delvecchio looked up and said, ‘Well, Johnny Grant. You old son of a gun...’
“You see, Johnny had worked with Delvecchio on the railroad (CPR) putting tracks in during the summer ( in Northern Ontario)... He was making money for university, and Alex was doing it to keep in shape for hockey in the fall, like players used to do before they made the big money.” What happened next was almost magical for young Gary. “We got to shake hands with all four of them and that was the thrill of my life,” he said. “Gordie Howe was my idol.” Years later, Mr. Shepherd had another encounter with his hero, one with an astonishing result. “It would have been in the ‘80s... He (Mr. Howe) was at a show in Montréal, representing one of the sporting goods companies,” said Mr. Shepherd.
“He was talking to people and signing autographs... and after a while, I went up to him and said, ‘Mr. Howe, you probably don’t remember me, but I shook hands with you on the night of the Richard Riot.’ “And he said, ‘Yes, you were with Delvecchio’s friend.’
“He remembered that! I couldn’t believe it.”