I am writing late about it, because it’s a milestone I really didn’t care to recall. It was an emotional and painful moment 20 years ago when they closed the Montreal Forum.
But because it was a such milestone – that move from the Cathedral of Hockey at Atwater and Ste. Catherine to the Molson Centre (now called the Bell Centre) downtown next to the Old Windsor Station – attention must be paid.
It was on March 11, 1996 that they closed up the Forum, home to hockey since 1924 when the Maroons opened the place (Canadiens would move in as well in 1926).
That night the evening started with the late Roger Doucet’s rendition of O Canada being posted in on the giant video screen. Montreal won the game that night (against Dallas) – nice but insignificant.
It was after the game that tears were fought as fans, former players, those associated with the club and folks to whom the building meant a lot shared an emotional farewell ceremony. Dickie Moore, Gump Worsley, Jean Beliveau, Butch Bouchard, Henri Richard, Yvan Cournoyer, Jacques Lemaire, Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, Scotty Bowman were but some who participated. And, who does not remember the strirring 7 minute ovation given to a clearly touched Rocket Richard ?
The day came and went I tried not pay attention.
But then, a new book caught my attention.
Montreal documentary filmmaker and photographer Ezra Soiferman was a college graduate at the time, and just so happened to be in attendance at that final game at the Forum. Armed with his camera, Soiferman decided to shoot a photographic chronicle of the Forum’s swan song. However, while most of the media assigned to cover the event opted for the action on the ice between the Habs and the Stars, and the emotional closing ceremonies immediately following the game (including the memorable standing ovation given to Maurice “Rocket” Richard), he decided to photograph the final game at the Forum from the point of view of the employees, the vendors, the action behind the scenes, and the fans in the stands. As Soiferman says, he was “more interested in the building’s soul than the building’s show.”
After he shot more than 250 images of what went on during this sad hockey milestone, they ended up being stored away in his garage. In the spring of 2014, during the Habs’playoff run (losing in the Stanley Cup Semi-Final, tyhese days called the Eastern Conference Finals), Soiferman decided to dust off those photos he took at the Forum and turned them into an impressive book.
The end result was Last Game at the Forum, an 72-page limited edition hardcover book that features 65 of those images he shot during that March 11, 1996 game (in black & white and colour). The book was officially launched last March 11, exactly 20 years to the day that famous final game was played. And to coincide with the book’s release, an exhibition featuring some of the photos from the book was opened at Le Frame Shoppe’s Art Victoria Park exhibition space, which is located in the lobby of 376 Victoria Avenue in Westmount, which runs until March 25.