Aylmer native cherished years with Canadiens
Léo Gravelle’s life came first circle, leaving the Ottawa region to play professional hockey and then returning to run two hotels in the area, GORD HOLDER reports.
When Léo Gravelle was invited to a 2009 luncheon honouring him and four others who played in the National Hockey League and with the Quebec senior league’s Ottawa Senators, he gave a framed photo of himself to organizer Jim McAuley.
“He was just so thrilled to see all those people all those years after playing with the Senators,” McAuley says.
Gravelle, an Aylmer native who played parts of five NHL seasons with the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings before spending five more years with Ottawa, Chicoutimi and the Montreal Royals of the Quebec league, died Oct. 30 at age 88. His funeral is Monday at 10:30 a.m. at Gatineau’s St. Joseph Cathedral.
Denys Gravelle, one of seven children of Léo and Yolande Gratton, said his father was hospitalized in Hull between late June and late August because of heart trouble and made only two recent outings in September: dedication of a statue to 1970s Canadians star Guy Lafleur at Thurso; and the funeral of Ottawa’s Howard Riopelle, his linemate with the Royals and Canadiens.
Before joining the Royals in 194546, Léo Gravelle spent one season each with Ontario junior teams in Port Colborne and Brantford and with the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors, for whom he was league scoring champion and scored a Memorial Cup-winning goal against the Moose Jaw Canucks.
Gravelle had 21 goals and 21 assists in 34 games with the Royals, earning him an NHL opportunity. He counted 43 goals and 32 assists in 205 games with the Canadiens, interrupted by some stints with minor-league affiliates, before being traded to the Red Wings for Bert Olmstead in December 1950.
“My first three games with Detroit, I played between (Gordie) Howe and (Ted) Lindsay and scored a goal and two assists. I was scoring,” Gravelle told The Citizen in 2009. “(Coach and general manager Jack) Adams sat me on the bench for the next 15 games and then said, ‘You will never play again in the NHL,’ and shipped me to Indianapolis.”
After that season, Gravelle returned home and joined the Senators, producing as many as 86 points in 6ô games in 1953-54. However, that team disbanded in December ’54, so he joined the Chicoutimi Saguenéens before ending his career back with the Royals in 1955-56.
Also in 1955, Gravelle and brother-in-law Wilfrid Simonson bought what is now Auberge sur le Lac at StPierre-de-Wakefield. They sold it in 1961 and Gravelle bought an establishment he called Hðtel le Canadien at Bouchette, north of Gatineau, before selling that in 1966.
Gravelle and his wife continued to live at Bouchette, though, until relocating to Gatineau in 2004.
Gravelle treasured his Canadiens memories and for many years attended alumni gatherings, highlighted by a 1970s trip to Europe.
“They were received as kings at the army and air force bases at Baden-Baden and the other one in Germany,” Denys Gravelle says.
The younger Gravelle said his favourite moments included accompanying his father to a Canadiens alumni event near Quebec City.
“Most of them that he played with, I sat down and chatted with them, so it was an opportunity for me to get with my idols,” Denys Gravelle says. “For my dad, he was just one of the guys.”
Léo Gravelle received the Gil-O Julien Trophy as top French-Canadian athlete in Ontario-Quebec in 1954, and he was inducted into the Outouais Sports Hall of Fame in 1996. The Aylmer Hockey Association presents the Léo Gravelle Award to a deserving alumnus annually.
Besides his wife and children, Léo Gravelle is survived by 12 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.