Qu’est-ce qui fait un héros?
What makes a hero?
It’s a question the Quebecois of the 1940s answered when they looked to television screens and saw a human rocket skating on ice with a hockey stick in hand.
In Charles Foran’s Maurice Richard, the author explores the story of a man born like any other, who rose above his status quo to become a symbol of pride for French-Canadians all over Canada.
The biography of Maurice Richard highlights the nationalistic pride and bravery he demonstrated throughout his career in hockey and his refusal to roll over in the face of American adversity. He proved to the world of sports that being Canadian means standing up for your heritage.
The son of a blue-collar French immigrant, Richard learned early on in life that in a province dominated by American influence, he’d have to work three times as hard to achieve his dream of a future in hockey. By 18, while studying to become a machinist to support his future family, Richard was playing on multiple hockey teams, using aliases to get away with the act. He was special even then, scoring 133 of the 144 goals scored by the entirety of the team. It was only the beginning of his career, but people began to see that beyond Richard’s unassuming, quiet nature was a talent and passion none could replicate.
Working steadily towards a spot on the Canadiens, an underdog team in the NHL, Richard faced bigotry and slander at every turn from anglophone players, referees, and even superiors. It was his refusal to take these insults lying down, often even turning to violence to get his point across, that awoke the slumbering spirits of the French majority in Quebec.
March 17th, 1955
On that fateful day, they took to the streets. Tear gas bombs, overturned cars, and over a hundred people arrested.
Some say the riot broke out because the President of the NHL, Clarence Campbell had suspended Richard in the peak of his season for a fight instigated by an anglophone player. But others saw the passion behind the eyes of those rioters and knew they were protesting more than just a hockey player’s unfair treatment. Those few saw the fire in Richard’s eyes, the passion he had for his culture and country, catch on. The people in the streets were the Quebecois. The French, the English. And they refused to be ignored.
Richard’s career had become a microcosm of Canadian identity.
His dark, brooding eyes hid the soul of a simple man who worked his entire life to become something greater, for the benefit of his family. He never meant for his career to mean anything more than a blue-collared man who’d lucked out in joining the NHL. Every time he stepped onto the ice, however, he brought his French-Canadian roots with him.
“I am just a hockey player.” Richard would say. Yet he grew to become so much more. Struggling with identity is something most Canadians are familiar with. Richard knew he was more than just the son of a French immigrant. But was he “Saint Richard”? A man to be exalted as the defender of his people, both on and off the ice? Regardless of the labels stuck on his legacy, Richard made a difference for his people. In a time when no one was listening, he made the French heard.
I ask again:
Qu’est-ce qui fait un héros?
In the words of Gerard Way,
Heroes are ordinary people who make themselves extraordinary.