The Montreal Forum under construction in 1924 photo: The McCord Museum
It’s hard to believe that 85 years ago, the most storied building in hockey history was built, and it wasn’t even intended for the Montreal Canadiens.
The Montreal Forum was actually built for the new Montreal Maroons franchise, owned by the Canadian Arena Company.
The creation of the Maroons was granted by Canadiens manager Leo Dandurand, who saw the potential of a rivalry between the two clubs.
For $15,000, Maroons president Jimmy Strachan was able to share the Canadiens territorial rights in Montreal. The Canadiens had the French followers, and the Maroons would have the English.
“I assumed that an English team competing against the mostly French-Canadiens would turn into the biggest rivalry in the NHL,” Dandurand said. “And it did.”
The idea to build the Forum in 1923 is credited to Sir Edward Beattie, president of the Canadian Pacific railway.
At the suggestion of Senator Donat Raymond, William Northey originally developed a plan for a 12,500 seat capacity rink, but the size was reduced for financial reasons.
Finding financing for a smaller sized Forum was still difficult to find until H. L. Timmins stepped in with $500,000 towards the project.
In the meantime, in the fall of 1924, the Canadiens, fresh off a Stanley Cup victory the season prior, were still under contract to play their games in the Mount Royal Arena.
Dandurand watched over the summer if 1924 in envy as the then state-of-the-art arena, designed by architect John Archibald, was being constructed and completed in just 159 days.
After all, the $1.5 million rink, that sat 9,300 people, had an artificial ice making plant as well.
The Canadiens were set to play their home opener of the 1924-25 season, against the Toronto St. Pats, on November 24.
The mild weather in Montreal however, had other plans. The Mount Royal Arena ice was nothing more than a puddle of slush, despite it’s ome new ice making equipment, and Dandurand needed to find a suitable location, or forfeit the game.
He was able to secure the Forum and it’s new technologies and move the game to the corner of Atwater and Ste. Catherine.
Mount Royal Arena officials fought the move to no avail, and over 8,000 people witnessed the Canadiens first ever game in the Forum, a 7-1 win over Toronto.
Billy Boucher scored the first goal ever in the Forum and also registered the first hat-trick.
The Canadiens played the Maroons, in the Forum, for the first time on December 27. Imagine, the Canadiens were the visiting team in the Forum!
Eleven thousand people packed the building, setting a new attendance record along the way.
The game ended in a 1-1 tie that included two 10-minute overtime periods.
The Canadiens would move into the Forum permanently in 1926, sharing the building with the Maroons. Their first game as permanent tenats was a 2-1 loss to Ottawa.
One could only imagine how heated and intense the rivalry of these two teams could have been, let alone sharing the same ice. It would have made the Nordiques-Canadiens rivalry look like a tea party.
Brian MacFarlane wrote it this way in his book “Brian McFarlane’s Original Six: The Habs”:
Today’s hockey fans have never seen anything like the rivalry that existed between the Canadiens and the Maroons.
Heated? It was explosive. When the English-backed Maroons met the French-supported Canadiens, the on-ice battles were often overshadowed by skirmishes in the stands.
Emotions became so feverish that a missed goal or and “undeserved” penalty would trigger a rash of pushes and punches, with police and ushers rushing in to keep English and French fans apart.
The damage was usually minimal: a torn jacket, a hat yanked off and thrown away, the occasional black eye, and enough ‘20’s-style “trash talk” (in two languages) to shock fans ten rows away.”
Despite two Stanley Cup championships (1926, 1935) the Maroons could not keep up with the financial stress of the Great Depression to the point that the Forum was nearly sold to the city, with plans to became a streetcar barn. The Maroons withdrew from the NHL in 1938.
The Canadiens now had the Forum to themselves and would win 22 more Stanley Cups (12 on Forum ice) during their tenure.
The Montreal Forum after it’s second renovation in 1968.
After two renovations in 1949 and 1968, the Montreal Canadiens played their last game in the Forum on March 11, 1996.
It was then completely gutted and converted into a downtown entertainment centre called the Pepsi Forum, consisting of an AMC multiplex theater, shops and restaurants.
Centre ice has been recreated in the centre of the complex complete with a small section of the grandstand, along with a statue of a fan leaning forward in delight, while original seats are used as benches throughout the complex. A statue of Maurice Richard can be found next to the grandstand.
The Atwater Street entrance has a large bronze Montreal Canadiens logo surrounded by 24 bronze Stanley Cup banners cemented into the sidewalk. Inscribed in French are the words "forever proud".
Theres is also a Canadiens logo in brick tiles on the sidewalk on Atwater Street.
The entire building remains themed after the Forum's storied history with special emphasis on the Montreal Canadiens.
Just a Few Other Forum Facts and Figures
The Forum had two renovations. The first came in 1949 at the cost of $600,00. Upon taking over as GM of the Canadiens, Frank Selke cited, “Clean the toilets. Nettoyez les toilettes!” He spent over $100,00 alone upgrading the plumbing alone.
Four thousand more seats are added bringing capacity to 13,551.
Longest game ever: At 8:24 p.m. on March 24, 1936, the puck was dropped to start a playoff game between Detroit and the Maroons.
It took until the sixth overtime period, making it the longest game in NHL history (176 minutes and 36 seconds), before Mud Bruneteau scored the game's only goal for a Detroit victory.
It was 2:25 a.m. and some fans in the Forum were reportedly reading newspaper accounts of the earlier action.
Habs first Cup in the Forum: Howie Morenz scores the game-winning goal on April 3, 1930 in a 4-3 win.
A farewell to The Stratford Streak: On March 11, 1937, a centre ice funeral is held for Morenz, who died from complications of a leg injury. An estimated 50,000 people pay their respects.
Prior to the start of the 1937-38 season on November 2, a benefit auction and all-star game in tribute of Morenz is held. NHL All-Stars defeat a team on Canadiens and Maroons 6-5 and help raise $20,000.
Maroons/Canadiens Rivalry ends: The Canadiens defeat the Maroons in the final game between the two teams on March 17, 1938 as the Maroons fold operations at the end of the season.
“Hello Canada”: The CBC broadcasts the first live television hockey game on October 11, 1952 as "Hockey Night in Canada" makes its debut as the Habs play host to Detroit. Canadiens win 2-1.
The first non-Montreal team to claim a Stanley Cup in the Forum: Many will say the Calgary Flames in 1989, but actually that claim belongs to the New York Rangers in 1928.
The circus kicked the Rangers out of Madison Square Garden so all five games were played in Montreal. The Rangers won the series 3-2 for their first Stanley Cup. They were also the first American NHL team to do so.
Origin of the name: The site of the Montreal Forum was on an old roller skating rink, also named the Forum. The CAC decided to keep the name when the new building was constructed. An early photo is shown below.
A great list of many more dates of importance, pertaining to the Montreal Forum, can be found on MontrealCanadiens.ca
Sources and references for this article:
Denault, Todd (2009): Jacques Plante: The Man Who Changed the Face of Hockey. McClelland and Stewart
Jenish, D’Arcy (2008): The Montreal Canadiens: 100 Years of Glory. Doubleday Canada
McFarlane, Brian (2008): True Hockey Stories: The Habs. Prospero Books
Mouton, Claude (1987). The Montreal Canadiens. Key Porter Books
HabsEyesOnThePrize.com (2008): The Forum and Two New Rivalries
Doucet, Paul (2004) MontrealCanadiens.ca: The Montreal Forum