When I attempt to think of a quintessential Canadian, my mind blanks. There are so many demographics in Canada that converging all of them into one would be an injustice to the unique cultures and experiences of the many groups and representations. Therefore, I decided to instead delve into the rich and colourful history of French-Canadians. French culture in Canada is prominent, even more so in Quebéc, and exploring that through the engaging story of Maurice Richard was an amazing decision. Without further ado, I present my passages from Charles Foran’s Maurice Richard.
“He is, matter of fact, recognizably the same intense, nervous young adult who, though skilled at hockey, trained as a machinist during the Depression in the hope of landing a job in the Canadian Pacific Railway yards, just as his father had done, and who then tried three times to enlist in the army to fight Hitler in Europe.” (3)
The way Foran has introduced Richard is remarkable because although walking into this I know Maurice Richard is one of the most renowned French-Canadians to live in Canada, a new level of depth is brought to his persona that makes him seem not only more human but a hardworking part of his community. The determination he must have had to try “three times to enlist in the army to fight Hitler in Europe” and train so hard to get the job his father had had shines through Foran’s words. There’s no need to read between the lines because the author represents Richard’s character so clearly with just a few lines.
This passage reveals the hardworking nature of Canadians everywhere. As a nation, we’re no stranger to working hard in life to achieve our dreams and make better lives for ourselves and our families, and Richard was no difference. Canadians were acutely aware of international affairs, and willing to fight to make things right outside of their own country. This sense of internationalism is what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke of when he declared Canada the first post-national state. We still hold the same passion when it comes to international affairs and incorporate worldly perspectives into our day-to-day lives.
“Back in 1962, in the early days of the la Révolution tranquille [the Quiet Revolution], the novelist and melancholy separatist Hubert Aquin went public with his own bitterness about being a French-Canadian intellectual by declaring that in Quebec you were a nobody unless you were Maurice Richard.” (15)
This quote caught my eye because this book does a great job of juxtaposing the many facets of Richard as a person, a hockey star, and a nationalistic hero. It expresses that though Maurice was loved by many in the height of his career, there became a time when his old-time values weren’t the norm anymore. To put it frankly, he fell out of style. He became the face of French-Canadians for many reasons, but people came to resent him for the very things they’d once praised him for. They believed that people saw Quebec and only saw Richard. What if they were justified in their apprehension? In Venezuela, the current president Nicolas Maduro is being put under fire because people no longer support his perspectives and want to push him out of office. Like Richard, he had once been exalted and stood for what the people wanted in a leader and hero. Unlike Richard, his descent from grace is much more violent.
As Canadians, we’ve always struggled and will continue to struggle with our identity. When people look at Canada, what do they see? Do they see the attractive Trudeau, considered as more a meme and pretty face than a legitimate leader by the youth of the country? Or do they simply see a bland, polite nation of moose-riding, pelt-wearing people? French-Canadians during that time were lost and desperately trying to find their voice in the nation, and today that search has escalated to the entire country. Each one of us still asks ourselves what it truly means to be a part of the nation.
“Told they were a ‘small people’, a helpless minority cast adrift by history in a vast sea of North American difference, they denied what their own eyes and ears reported.” (21)
This passage really opened my eyes. There was oppression in the world of not only indigenous peoples of the land at the time, thrown aside and branded as savages by colonizers, but of these true foreigners by their own kin. Reading this book has brought to light the overwhelming power of Britain and the quintessential European mindset. These French-Canadians, who took pride in their language and heritage, were made to seem less than they were to keep a bottle on their power as a nation of people. This brings to mind the referendum in Quebec to leave the country of Canada and the sheer closeness of the vote. French-Canadians can be truly powerful when they band together, and the referendum is a demonstration of that nationalistic pride.
In Richard’s time, religious beliefs were a powerful tool for those in authority. Quiet, unquestioning servitude was rewarded, and thus, an entire nation of people lay dormant under the leadership of Church dictates and autocrats. At that period in time, to rebel was so out of the norm that even the French-Canadian revolution was labelled a quiet one. Now, as perspectives and religious beliefs become more diverse, people have found their voices. However, as a country, we’re still perceived as polite push-overs compared to our much rowdier neighbours to the South.
“Richard is upright, meeting the goaltender’s gaze despite his evident discomfort. Henry returns the eye contact while literally bowing before him, his expression one of humility and respect.” (55)
When I first saw the image being described in the passage, I felt something akin to awe and a sense of justice finally being served. The passage describes a moment when Richard, a French-Canadian player typically spat on by his English-Canadian opponents, is literally being bowed to after showing the full extent of his talent and determination. It doesn’t matter that this is in a hockey rink or that they may just be players of a game, because the image symbolizes so much more, only affirming the fact that it’s become such an iconic memoir of Richard’s legacy.
French-Canadians in that time period were not looked well upon anywhere. They were seen as “less than” by not the majority, but the people in power. Thus, that mentality spread over the people. The moment in time captured by the photograph marks one where an English-Canadian acknowledges the strength of his peer without the prejudice and discrimination so often targeted towards the Quebecois. Today, French-Canadians have a strong sense of pride and identity, but the people we still have to continue mending relations with are First Nations. The injustices done towards their people have yet to be fully remedied.
“Had a friend or, heaven forbid, a psychologist proposed to him that he was actually struggling with the loss of purpose, of the only identity he had known, he would have dismissed the idea as nonsense.” (133)
Richard’s story is headstrong and charming, but often very lonely. The falling action in the story arc of his life as a French-Canadian hero sees Richard fade quietly away from the public eye and the world of hockey, struggling with a sense of identity and the age-old question of “what now”? Going from becoming Maurice “the Rocket” Richard to simply Saint Richard, the idealized figurehead of French-Canadian protest, was a struggle for the hockey player. John A. Macdonald would face a similar problem if he were still alive to this day. As norms and values changed around him, he’d struggle with new perspectives of his character, and may also search for a concrete self-identity as Richard did in the years following the end of his hockey career.
Canadians back then were a lot more static than they are today. The Liberal Party of that time’s slogan was C’est le temps que ça change? [Is it time that we change?] and was not widely celebrated do to its more progressive viewpoints. Today, we do still struggle with change but we’re putting more effort into evolving as a country. Canada’s joining of the coalition with Japan and other smaller world powers is a step in the right direction.