Roch Carrier's story, The Hockey Sweater, is a tale of childhood, hockey, and a very disappointing mail-order mix-up. Discover the story behind this account of life in the small village of Sainte-Justine, Quebec, in 1946. What was it like to be a fan of Maurice Richard and the Montréal Canadiens in the winter of 1946, and why did Roch Carrier write about this period of his life?
Roch Carrier's story, The Hockey Sweater, is a tale of childhood, hockey, and a very disappointing mail-order mix-up. Discover the story behind this account of life in the small village of Sainte-Justine, Quebec, in 1946. What was it like to be a fan of Maurice Richard and the Montréal Canadiens in the winter of 1946, and why did Roch Carrier write about this period of his life?

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Colour photo of the Hockey Sweater

Maurice Richard's hockey sweater. Maurice "Rocket" Richard's famous number nine hockey sweater inspired Roch Carrier both as a child and as a writer.

Photo : Claude and Stéphane Juteau.

© Canadian Museum of Civilization, Maurice Richard Collection


Audio of Roch Carrier speaking about life and hockey in rural Quebec

"Sainte-Justine is a very small village. I believe the population was below 2,000. It was a problem for the priest because the next village was 2,500 and the priest was having better tax revenue than our priest. Our priest was certainly campaigning for our parents to produce more kids. But when I was there I don’t think they ever reached more than 2,000, so it was very small. There was one main street. The village is built on a hill. And, on top of the hill, like in many villages in Quebec, there was the church. So, to go to the skating rink, we had to put on skates down the hill, climb the hill on the street - in those days they weren’t cleaning the streets during winter time - and in front of the church we would recite a very short prayer, ’Let’s hope we beat them, thanks God.’ And then we would slide down the hill to the skating rink. So it was a big adventure, every day after school."

— Roch Carrier interview

Canadian Museum of Civilization

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation


Black and white map of Saint-Justine in Quebec

Sainte-Justine is located 85 km southeast of Québec, near the border of Maine. In 1946, this village had fewer than 2000 inhabitants.

Photo : Andrée Héroux.

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation


Audio of Roch Carrier speaking the meaning of hockey

"In a way, I think the hockey rink was more important than the school. I can say that even if I was not a good player, I was a very bad player. In fact I was the worst player on the team. I was perhaps the one who was trying harder than anyone else, and I kept trying, but I was the worst player. When I think of that, and even if I was successful in school, the real experience was taking place on the skating rink. Competing, asserting yourself, finding tricks to go through the defence, trying again and again and again to improve yourself. That was part of growing up. And then having the girls around to watch you, it was a good feeling. So you were learning something about yourself, and about the girls, and about the world, and what’s there. And you have dreams also. Some of us were dreaming of playing on the radio. Playing on the radio, that’s how we knew hockey …

"In those days, there were not three hockey games every night, there was no television, there was almost nothing. So the hockey game on Saturday, it was something as big as the news from the war. It was bigger. On Sunday morning at the Mass, on the balcony of the church, hockey was much more important than anything that was happening in Europe at the war at the time."

— Roch Carrier interview

Canadian Museum of Civilization

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation


Colour cover of Eaton's Fall-Winter Catalogue 1948-1949

Eaton's Fall and Winter 1948–49 catalogue, Toronto edition, cover.

Young goalie, Eaton's Fall Winter 1948-49, cover. "In a way I think the hockey rink was more important than the school . Competing, asserting yourself, finding tricks to go through the defence, trying again and again to improve yourself. That was part of growing up."-Roch Carrier interview.

Used with permission of Sears Canada Inc., Library and Archives Canada

© Used with permission of Sears Canada Inc., Library and Archives Canada


Audio of Roch Carrier speaking about Maurice Richard

"Maurice Richard started to play in ’42, so I was five years old. My grandfather was following hockey. I heard the name Maurice Richard at this age from my grandfather. And then we started to listen to the games on the radio. Maurice Richard was in any conversation. We’re going to the barbershop; we’re going to the general store. Maurice Richard was there …

"Maurice was a simple man, a man like anybody else, tough, not terribly well educated, somebody who was not blowing his own horn. He had himself children so he was a family man, very simple; he was a French Canadian like all of us. And he was tough. And he would never fear anybody, so we were very sensitive to that. And he became the best hockey player, so that was something. And he was one of us. He was very close to our French-speaking community. And we didn’t know at the time that all over Canada some people were thinking the same way and they were not like us. We didn’t know that."

—Roch Carrier interview

Canadian Museum of Civilization

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation


Colour photo of Maurice Richard with the Stanley Cup

"Maurice was a simple man, a man like anybody else, tough, not terribly well educated, somebody who was not blowing his own horn. And he was one of us. He was very close to our French-speaking community."-Roch Carrier interview.

Photo : Alain Brouillard.

© Canadian Museum of Civilization, Maurice Richard Collection


Audio of Roch Carrier speaking about hockey equipment

"I wrote in a book about Rocket Richard and I tell about me getting some new felted pads at Christmas time and not only they were felted but they were leather and not only they were leather but they were sticks, wooden sticks. So the perfect pads at the time. And I wore those pads and somebody shot the puck at my legs. It was very painful and I just put the pads aside and I went back to my Eaton's catalogue because the catalogue was thick. It was a bit heavy I must say …

We cut pieces of the tube (from inside the rubber tire of a car) and this rubber would attach and keep tight the catalogues on our legs. Those were the best pads, a little bit heavy I must say, but they were the best pads ever.

—Roch Carrier interview

Canadian Museum of Civilization

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation


Audio of Roch Carrier speaking about The Eaton's Catalogue

"There was Eaton's catalogue. They were the best, based on the feeling, the culture and the family. There was nothing like Eaton's. Level two, it was Simpson's. But I will explain, I never understood that, but Simpson's was not as good as Eaton. That was the feeling in my family and my grandmother would say so. And then there was Dupuis. Dupuis was third position. But they were French speaking and they deserved some kind of support, help. We had to do something. But they were not the best one. The best one in my family was Eaton."

—Roch Carrier interview

Canadian Museum of Civilization

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation


Audio of Roch Carrier speaking about writing the Hockey Sweater

"If you go back to history books describing the seventies, you will discover that there was a question that was all over Canada, and the question was, "What does Quebec want?" It was nationalism getting very high. There was a lot of push for separation from Canada, and Canada did not understand what was taking place. And the classical question was "What does Quebec want?"

"So I was invited by CBC to write an answer to that question, and I worked really hard for three, four weeks to write something, and the result was something I didn't like. It was a flat essay, it was as dull as an editorial in a newspaper. I didn't want to put my name on that. I was a young writer with a great future. I was very proud. So I said, "No I cannot do it, I don't do it." And CBC told me, "Yes, you must do something because we have some time reserved for you, and we already announced you so you have to give something." I said, "No I won't do it." They said, "Write about whatever you want to write about." So, having prepared myself to answer that question, "What does Quebec want?"

"I went back to my table and I started to think when was it when I felt that I was little me, little Roch, not my mother's son, not my father's son, not my brother's brother, not my big brother's brother, all that. When was it that I felt I was really myself? And I remember it was when I put on my skates and my Eaton catalogues on my legs, and I stood up, and I was taller than my mom, and I had a stick in my hands, so I was stronger than my brother, and I felt that I was little me. So I started to write about that and it turned into the Hockey Sweater story."

—Roch Carrier interview

Canadian Museum of Civilization

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation


Black and white photo of Roch Carrier as a child

It may seem surprising that young Roch is smiling in this photograph. As he recalls, his mother had asked him to smile for the camera, even though he did not feel like it.

Photograph of Roch Carrier's family
c. 1947
© Downloaded from Archives and Library Canada


Audio of Roch Carrier reading an excerpt from The Hockey Sweater

I remember very well the winter of 1946. We all wore the same uniform as Maurice Richard, the red, white, and blue uniform of the Montréal Canadiens, the best hockey team in the world. We all combed our hair like Maurice Richard, and, to keep it in place we used a kind of glue - a great deal of glue. We laced our skates like Maurice Richard, we taped our sticks like Maurice Richard. We cut his pictures out of all the newspapers. Truly, we knew everything there was to know about him.

On the ice, when the referee blew his whistle, the two teams would rush at the puck. We were five Maurice Richards against five other Maurice Richards, throwing themselves on the puck. We were ten players all wearing the uniform of the Montréal Canadiens, all with the same burning enthusiasm. We all wore the famous number 9 on our backs.

How could we forget that?

One day, my Montréal Canadiens sweater was too small for me and it was ripped in several places. My mother said, "If you wear that old sweater, people are going to think we are poor."

Then she did what she did whenever we needed new clothes. She started to look through the catalogue that the Eaton Company in Montreal sent us in the mail every year. My mother was proud. She never wanted to buy our clothes at the general store. The only clothes that were good enough for us were the latest styles from Eaton's catalogue. My mother did not like the order forms included in the catalogue. They were written in English and she did not understand a single word of it. To order my hockey sweater, she did what she always did. She took out her writing pad and wrote in her fine schoolteacher's hand, "Dear Monsieur Eaton, Would you be so kind as to send me a Canadiens' hockey sweater for my son Roch who is ten years old and a little bit tall for his age? Docteur Robitaille thinks he is a little too thin. I'm sending you three dollars. Please send me the change if there is any. I hope your packing will be better than it was last time."

Monsieur Eaton answered my mother's letter promptly. Two weeks later, we received the sweater.

That day I had one of the greatest disappointments of my life! Instead of the red, white, and blue Montréal Canadiens sweater, Monsieur Eaton had sent the blue-and-white sweater of the Toronto Maple Leafs. I had always worn the red, white, and blue sweater of the Montréal Canadiens. All my friends wore the red, white, and blue sweater. Never had anyone in my village worn the Toronto sweater. Besides, the Toronto team was always being beaten by the Canadiens.

With tears in my eyes, I found the strength to say: "I'll never wear that uniform."

"My boy," said my mother. "first you're going to try it on! If you make up your mind about something before you try it, you won't go very far in this life."

My mother had pulled the blue and white Toronto Maple Leafs sweater over my head and put my arms into the sleeves. She pulled the sweater down and carefully smoothed the maple leaf right in the middle of my chest.

I was crying: "I can't wear that."

"Why not? This sweater is a perfect fit."

"Maurice Richard would never wear it."

"You're not Maurice Richard! Besides, it's not what you put on your back that matters. It's what you put inside your head."

"You'll never make me put in my head to wear a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater."

My mother sighed in despair and explained to me: "If you don't keep this sweater which fits you perfectly I will have to write to Monsieur Eaton and explain that you don't want to wear the Toronto sweater. Mr Eaton understands French perfectly but he's English and he's going to be insulted because he likes the Maple Leafs. If he's insulted, do you think he'll be in a hurry to answer us? Spring will come before you play a single game, just because you don't want to wear that nice blue sweater."

So I had to wear the Toronto Maple Leafs sweater.

by Roch Carrier

© House of Anansi Press, 1979.


Colour cover of The Hockey Sweater

We laced our skates like Maurice Richard, we taped our sticks like Maurice Richard. We cut his pictures out of all the newspapers. Truly, we knew everything there was to know about him." -Roch Carrier Interview.

©House of Anansi Press, 1979, illustration ©Sheldon Cohen 1984, from The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier, Tundra Books, 1984.

Illustration: Sheldon Cohen

© House of Anansi Press, 1979, © 1984 Sheldon Cohen


Colour catalogue page of hockey jerseys

Eaton Automne hiver 1950-51, pp. 540-41.

"Instead of the red, white, and blue Montréal Canadiens sweater, Monsieur Eaton had sent me the blue and white sweater of the Toronto Maple Leafs."-Roch Carrier, The Hockey Sweater.

Used with permission of Sears Canada Inc., Library and Archives Canada

© Used with permission of Sears Canada Inc., Library and Archives Canada


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • observe and identify the characteristics of early 20th century lifestyle;
  • compare the evolution of the Canadian and Quebec society over several decades;
  • explain the similarities and differences between past and present society;
  • discuss the main events of the 20th century (economic crisis, World Wars, unionization, feminist movement) and the impact that they had on Canadian and Quebec societies.

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