The Mys­tique: Mem­o­ries of the March 17 Richard Riot

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - BY SCOTT CARMICHAEL News Staff

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.”

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