THE MONTREAL HOCKEY WALK OF FAME: THE DREAM
The Montreal Hockey Walk of Fame is the brainchild of Montreal jazz musician Billy Georgette. Georgette envisioned a walk of fame using bilingual commemorative plaques embedded in the sidewalk leading from the site where the Victoria Skating Rink once stood, to the Bell Centre.
In February of 1992 our late friend, cherished columnist, City Councillor, and likely one of the proudest Montrealers that ever was. Nick Aufder Maur introduced the idea of a Montreal Hockey Walk of Fame in a column he wrote for the Montreal Gazette. Entitled “Speaking of the Stanley Cup, let’s tout our hockey history”. Nick imparted little-known facts dug up by Georgette and other hockey researchers. (Try the HWOF Trivia Quiz for a challenge!). A friend and a fan of Billy Georgette’s, Nick wrote:
Billy is a hockey enthusiast, and his enthusiasm is infectious. He’s a member of the Society forInternational Hockey Research, associated with the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association Hall of Fame in Kingston, Ontario. He’s been waging a campaign to have Montreal recognized as the real birthplace of hockey as we know it. In the early ’40s, the CAHA designated Kingston as the birthplace, based on report of [a] game of shinny (or bandy or hurly) played there by military men in 1855. … Georgette’s argument is based on historical accounts of the first real game of hockey played on March 3, 1875, at Montreal’s Victoria skating rink, and the first rink shaped like the modem hockey rink. The Victoria rink, which was the first public building in Canada to have electricity, basically defined hockey. It stood where the Tilden [now. National Car Rental] garage is today, between Stanley and Drummond streets. Because of the distance between Stanley and Drummond, the rink was about 202 feet by 85 feet, the approximate NHL standard today. …
Molson, Canadian Pacific and the Canadians should build an appropriate memorial plaque at the old Drummond Street site. The sidewalk leading down to the new Forum should be turned into a sidewalk of hockey stars, with embedded bilingual plaques commemorating all the hockey greats who made Montreal hockey, including all Stanley Cup winning teams. We must recapture our hockey history and celebrate it. It is one thing that all Montrealers can take pride in. … Billy Georgette and I urge readers to write to the proper authorities demanding they carry out these very sensible recommendations. It is our history and it deserves to be told.
The following June, Nick re-visited the subject to bring forth yet more little-known hockey facts. “The response to [the Feb. 26,1992] column was quite interesting” he wrote,
I received letters from a number of people who, quite separately, have been enthusiastically researching our hockey history. Michel Vigneault, a [then] PhD student in sports history who is doing his thesis at Universite Laval on the development of hockey in Montreal, writes that, in fact, Montreal teams have won the Stanley Cup 40 times, not 38 as stated in various references. “The trophy was competed for on a challenge basis before 1914,” he writes. “Some seasons saw two winners of the Cup. […]’ ‘(The Montreal Gazette, June 3, 1992)
If Billy’s enthusiasm for hockey history was infectious, then so was Nick’s. Some time after he wrote the February column. Nick found himself chatting away on the subject with an old friend of his, Montreal lawyer Allison Turner. “Do you know where they got the dimension for the standard ice hockey rink?” he asked. “No,” she said. “The length of the ice is the distance between Stanley and Drummond Streets down near Rene-Levesque, approximately 220 feet.” Incredulous, Turner didn’t believe it. “It’s true!” Nick insisted. “There is so much hockey history right here in downtown Montreal that hardly anyone knows about.” Nick was referring to the site of the Victoria Skating Rink. Built in the late 19th Century (behind where the Sheraton Hotel now stands) this oblong indoor skating rink was the first of its kind. At the time, all other indoor rinks were round. They were used for carnivals and other festive occasions, not competitive sports – although speed skating was developing quickly…
After Nick’s passing, his friends successfully lobbied to have a lane on Crescent Street named after Ruelle Nick-Auf-der-Maur and published “Nick: A Montreal Life” (editor, Dave Bist). The latter, a collection of Nick’s columns organized by subject, is a gem. In 2001 when she was reading the sports columns Nick wrote. Turner came upon the subject of the Victoria Skating Rink and the walk of fame. The walk of fame, this “outdoor museum”, so smacked of realism that Turner wondered why the idea never took off. Perhaps with her experience _and background…
Turner then contacted Billy Georgette, Michel Vigneault and Earl Zukerman of the Society for International Hockey Research to enlist further support. After speaking to other Montrealers, she soon realized that the hockey walk of fame was a natural that drew broad public support and was sure to win over potential sponsors.
Hockey Heritage Montreal was recently accorded charitable status by the federal government. Through HHM, Turner is determined to make the Montreal Hockey Walk of Fame a reality. Upon receipt of official approval from the City of Montreal, the project will then be able to move forward and promote project awareness to raise the necessary funds. With the current wave of our beloved Habs’ success, the timing couldn’t be better!