On March 8, 1937 the hockey world lost Howie Morenz.
Deemed “The Babe Ruth of hockey”, the Montreal Canadiens star suffered a broken leg after a collision with Earl Seibert on January 28. Confined to a hospital room, “The Stratford Streak” would never recover from the devastating blow.
Having numerous complications from the injury, Morenz had his up and down days. One day would find the 34-year-old optimistic that he would return, and then thinking his career was over the next. It was diagnosed that suffered a nervous breakdown at St. Luke’s Hospital on March 5.
Despite a successful examination just hours earlier, a coronary embolism, caused by blood clots in his leg, finally caught up with him that Monday morning in March. Longtime line mate and friend Aurel Joliat said he died of a broken heart, and was probably right.
The hockey world was stunned by his loss as word made way across Canada and into the United States. Tributes poured in from former opponents and officials from the NHL.
“He had a heart that was unsurpassed in athletic history and no one ever came close to him in the colour department. After you watched Howie you wanted to see him often, and as much as I liked to play hockey, I often thought I would have counted it a full evening had I been able to sit in the stands and watch the Morenz maneuvers. Such an inclination never occurred to me about other stars.”
- Eddie Shore
“It is a terrible loss to the game, and a terrible loss to the Canadiens themselves. I certainly sorry for his family, for Howie thought a lot of his young boy, who will sorely miss him.”
- Conn Smythe
“He was one of the all-time greats of the game and it was only for the good of the game that the Rangers let him return to the Canadiens he loved so well.”
The funeral would be held at the Montreal Forum on March 11 at 2:30 p.m. Morenz’s casket would arrive hours earlier and was placed on a bier adorned with wreaths, flowers and crosses.
Friends, fans and family made their way past the bier to pay respects to the fallen hero. Young, old, rich or poor, the number was estimated as high as 50,000 people.
The assortment of flower arrangements was extensive, 150 in total. There were several No. 7 floral arrangements, but the one that stuck out the most was made of of lilies and roses with a card that read, “To Howie from Aurel.”
One of two hockey stick shaped floral arrangements came from “The boys in the balcony at the Boston Garden”, fans who jeered him yet cheered for him on the inside.
His No. 7 jersey, skates and his last stick he played, covered in a wreath, were laid alongside the casket.
Clasped in Morenz’s hands was a bunch of roses, placed there by his widow Mary Morenz, with a note from this three children, “To Our Daddy”.
The pier was placed at center ice, where one Forum usher stated, “Right under the coffin, there’s the blue circle where Howie faced the puck. He’s back again in his old position.”
Honour guards consisting of his Canadiens teammates and friends would rotate every half hour leading up to the service.
The first true superstar of the NHL, Morenz always filled the stands in Montreal and anywhere else he played. Even in death he could do the same, as well as filling rows of chairs on the wood covered Forum ice while close to 15,000 people waited outside.
The NHL came in full representation, led by president Frank Calder. Owners and GMs from all teams and numerous referees were all in attendance. Former Canadiens owner Leo Dandurand made the trek from Louisiana.
The funeral was broadcast on Montreal radio station CFCF and had a simple format consistin of a prayer and hymn. Presbyterian minister Rev. Dr. Malcolm Campbell presided over the ceremony, delivering a brief eulogy.
“He was a hero in the true sense of the word. He never knew what is was to quit. Howie Morenz was not only the idol of thousands upon thousands of fans who went to see him weekly play hockey, but he was above all the hero of his teammates. It was his spirit that appealed to every player to do his best.
He chose hockey as a profession and he made an unqualified success of it. He was the fastest skater, I am told, in the business, a star, a superstar, a star on the ice and a star off the ice. He came into the dressing room whistling and singing, the cheering spirit of all his teammates. Everyone loved him, opponents as well as supporters. It is commonplace to say that no single player ever won such publicity as did Howie Morenz and yet it left him the same gentle, unassuming, plain man.”
- Reverend Dr. Malcom Campbell
Six of Morenz’s teammates (Babe Seibert, George Brown, Armand Mondou, Georges Mantha, Paul Haynes and Pit Lepine) would be pallbearers and carry the coffin out of the Forum, where thousands waited to catch a final glimpse before the motorcade made it’s way to Mount Royal Cemetery for burial.
In a time before television, there is little video footage of the funeral, but the CBC archives has this brief clip.