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Canadians or Les Habitants?

Over the past few weeks, the hockey public has watched the unbelievable story of how the workhorse Montreal Canadiens pounded their way into the Stanley Cup Final – a place no one thought they would ever be again. Today all eyes are on Montreal. Through the wistful odes to the timberland’s pastime, to the sounds of silly Americans trying to figure out what “Les Habs” means, it seems like everyone is Canadian (or is it, Canadien?) these days.

Except for Canadians. They are a fractured bunch up there. The French-Canadians are mad as hell, and they don’t want to take it anymore, as the famous line goes.

So .. let me back it up with some background here, so you understand the perspective..

Recently, Montreal General manager Marc Bergevin ruffled some feathers of the US and some Canadian media by answering some reporters’ questions in their native French.No big deal, right? Wrong. Steve Dangle, the noted YouTuber who drinks Maple Leafs Kool-Aid by the gallon, just cannot stand that his team got ousted by these guys. And it was a colossal failure, as the Maple Leafs took a 3-1 lead in the seven-game series only to watch it wither away to a disappointing 4-3 round one series loss. Oh, our man Dangle wasn’t pleased.

That Leafs’ loss to the upstart Canadiens divided Canada, and many Americans are oblivious to it. Canadians were up in arms, for instance, when a Toronto public official ordered a famous Toronto landmark to be lit in red to commemorate the Canadiens moving on. That did not sit well with the Toronto fans who went to Twitter to unleash scorched earth on the official who made this decision.

The Bergevin answers in French also stoked the fires on Twitter. Dangle complained that since over 78 percent of the reporters spoke English, it was bad mojo to only offer sound bites in Francois. Of course, that lit the other side of Twitter – the French-speaking fans – to decry Dangle and ask for his journalistic head on a platter. Then offered that Bergevin – and other players, coaches, and team officials, are bilingual and can comfortably answer media inquiries in French. If they can, why shouldn’t they?

Photo by the Montreal Gazette 

The entire exchange revealed a long-simmering feud that speaks way deeper than neutral zone entries or shot percentages, or goals-against averages. It revealed a chasm that exists in Canada between the French-Canadians and their Anglo (English-speaking) neighbors.

Let me first offer the disclaimer that I know very little about Canada’s culture, its people, its history, etc. Please understand I would never claim to be an expert on everything in Canada. I spent a few days in Montreal in the early 2000s and was enamored

By its beauty, its European feel, with all the big-city dynamics. Similarly, I enjoyed the Windsor Ballet and took in the sights and sounds of Victoria, BC. That’s the extent of my Canadian knowledge.

I recently began conversing on Twitter with several Montreal fans and fan groups. They are a hoot. They are so passionate about their team. They are critical like we are of our teams, but they applaud excellent play and playing it to the whistle. I respect that. They call BS when BS exists, and they know when they’ve been beaten by a better opponent. You cannot take away the franchise’s wonderful storied history. I could never do justice to the great Habs players over the years and many have been legendary. Rocket Richard, Jean Beliveau, Guy Lafleur – those are my top three Canadiens – and I am sure that would get a candid debate among my Canadian friends.


The Rocket

The conversation on Twitter started innocently enough – or in my Twitter world, goofy as hell. I jokingly said I was going to start reading the French tweets so I could learn to speak the language. Ha Ha. It was a novelty to me. Again, I was pretty sheltered growing up and did not know there was a world beyond the three blocks around my childhood home.

Growing up, I was a sports magazine junkie. I loved Sport magazine, The Sports News, and of course, Sports Illustrated. I can still vividly remember the glory days of the Habs with Guy Lafleur, who made the cover of SI many times. The team, the players, the city enamored me. To go there on a spontaneous trip was really something special for me.

Josh Anderson scored a huge goal in the 3rd round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs

Back to the controversy. The French-speaking fans feel as this is part of their heritage and is an important piece of their French-Canadian culture. To act like it doesn’t exist or to just speak over it with no regard is pure arrogance. It is stunning to me this is still happening. I felt we as a society were inching to go beyond the limitation and start becoming a more open and free society. This is not just arrogance, it is racist, bigoted behavior. Why aren’t we hearing about this more?

What is even more disappointing to me is that it is just generally accepted as a way of life in many corners of Canada. If you ask any French-speaking fan in Montreal if they have experienced negative reactions from the Anglo fans, you surely will get an earful.

I have no answers, as I am just learning about this on a deeper level. I guess we think little about French-Anglo relations because it doesn’t affect us here in the States. However, for our neighbors up north, it is becoming just a dirty little “hidden” secret – a wink-wink type of thing.

Bergevin, in his situation, offered that his answer was in the reporter’s native language because that is how he asked it. 

So as you watch the Habs claw their way through yet another tough series as the underdog, know that not all is rosy in Anglo-French relations north of the border. Some of it is downright mean.

Thanks for reading!

Rob Staggenborg

A St. Louis Blues blogger, NHL podcaster, and writer, and contributor for the STL Fan Report.



Twitter @realBrockBanne1