The following is an account of the Montreal riot from the book, “The Reluctant Virgin.” Readers see the event through the eyes of the fictional characters.
Two rows in front of Jim and Samantha, a flurry among the spectators indicated that someone of importance was entering the Forum. Samantha realized that it was Clarence Campbell, president of the National Hockey League. Within a few moments, the crowds in the stands also recognized the VIP visitor, and great waves of booing and catcalls erupted.
The previous Sunday, in a NHL game in Boston, Montreal’s star wingman, Maurice Rocket Richard, had engaged in a stick-swinging duel with Boston’s Hal Laycoe, and in the melee, Richard had punched lineman Cliff Thompson in the face. Though both players had been hospitalized, several days later Richard had appeared in Campbell’s office, where he was to be disciplined for his participation in the brawl. The NHL president suspended him for the remainder of the season, including the playoffs. His ruling placed the Montreal team at a severe disadvantage, as their top scorer was missing from the lineup.
On this evening of Saturday 18 March, Jim and Samantha were unaware that they were about to observe a momentous event in the history of the city’s famous arena—the Montreal Forum.
At eight o’clock, the referee dropped the puck for the face-off to commence the first period of play. The Forum was electrified with action. Despite the foul mood of the crowds, resentful that Maurice Richard was absent from the lineup, the hockey game proceeded without incident. Each time Detroit scored, the displeasure of the fans increased. The boiling point occurred when the opposing team scored its fourth goal against the Habs, who only had one goal. A roaring chant from the upper sections of the arena floated down to the rows of seats below.
“We kill Campbell. We kill Campbell…”
A few moments later, chunks of ice from the soft drinks pelted down on the section where Campbell sat, some of them landing on Jim and Samantha. Then, from out of nowhere, someone tossed a teargas bomb and it exploded near Campbell. The spray from the canister, along with acrid smoke, spread instantly to those seated near the NHL president.
A mad rush to the exits of the arena ensued. People were choking, their eyes stinging from the biting fumes of the chemicals. Within seconds, the mobs started throwing everything possible in the direction of their hated foe—Clarence Campbell. Shoes, galoshes, rubber footwear, programs, and hats littered the lower rows of seats and the ice surface.
Jim removed his suit jacket and placed it over Samantha’s head as he steered her toward the nearest exit. Their eyes were watering profusely, and it was difficult to find their way, their problems compounded by the flood of debris reigning down on them. Something heavy hit Peersen on the back of the head, delivering a smack that almost caused him to lose consciousness. Next, several eggs hit him on the back of his shirt, their messy globs dribbling down over his pants and shoes. He heard Samantha whimper as a shoe struck her shoulder.
People on the far side of the arena were now also clambering toward the exits, as the smoke was quickly drifting across the ice surface toward them. An announcement blared over the PA system, clearly audible despite the noise of the throngs.
“Please depart from the arena as orderly as possible.”
The next few words from the announcer added to the anger, increasing the level of pandemonium.
“The game has been cancelled, with Detroit declared the winner.”
No further spark was needed to ignite the fans into a flaming frenzy. The crowds poured out of the Forum, their numbers adding to the masses outside the arena that were already rioting. Along St. Catherine Street, they smashed store windows and looted many of the shops. Everything not nailed down was either thrown or toppled. Bottles smashed against walls, lampposts, and street-signs. Phone booths were pushed over and many set afire. A newsstand was sending flames high into the night sky. Wires were cut, and streetlights shattered with rocks. The rioting crowds flowed along St. Catherine Street for a distance of almost twenty blocks. The scene resembled a war zone, the badly out-numbered police helpless to stop the invading army.
Jim guided Samantha cautiously along the street, careful not to trip over the debris that was strewn everywhere. During the next few hours, the police gradually restored order, although in a few of the laneways and alleys off St. Catherine Street, some of the fires burned until the early hours of the morning. Over a hundred rioters were detained by the police, and they laid formal charges against about sixty of them. The remainder melted into the darkness, some of them clutching stolen loot from the broken store windows.
The information quoted above is from the second book of the Toronto Trilogy, “The Reluctant Virgin.” The novel is a murder/mystery that occurs in Toronto during the 1950s. A serial killer is on the loose in the laneways and ravines of the city, and one of detectives assigned to the case visits Montreal for a police seminar, taking his girls friend, who is involved in the sex trade, with him. They witness the riot in the Forum. The book deals with many of the social issues of the decade, and relates the history of the period, while telling a chilling murder/mystery. The book contains many archival photographs of Toronto.
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