CBC Digital Archives

Death of Howie Morenz

Three colours, 24 Stanley Cups, over 3,000 victories, millions of fans – and 100 years. In 2009 the Montreal Canadiens celebrate their centennial as one of hockey's most legendary teams. The Habs have made Montrealers proud, but they are beloved far beyond their hometown for their star players and impressive records. CBC Digital Archives pays tribute to the bleu, blanc et rouge with 14 remarkable moments in Habs history.

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In an era before television, only a lucky few hockey fans ever got to see Howie Morenz play. To hear his contemporaries tell it, the Canadiens forward played the game with a flair and skill perhaps only matched by Maurice Richard. But in January 1937 it all came to an end with a vicious leg injury that broke the bone in four places. Seven weeks later, on March 8, 1937, Canadiens fans were devastated to hear Morenz was dead. In this retrospective CBC-TV clip, mourners line up around the block to pay their respects.
• Morenz, a native of Mitchell, Ont., is often called the first genuine NHL superstar. He first joined the Habs in 1923, and his speed, puck handling wizardry and ferocious body checking helped bring three Stanley Cups to Montreal, including the first in Canadiens history. He won three MVP trophies and dominated the Forum ice, but after his production and speed began to decline, the team shipped him to Chicago in 1934. • Returning to Montreal for the 1936-37 season after three dismal years in Chicago and New York, the Canadiens Comet seemed rejuvenated, notching 20 points in 30 games.

• Morenz's leg injury was sustained in a game against Chicago. Tripped, he fell to the ice and his skate blade caught between the boards. Chicago defenceman and future hall-of-famer Earl Seibert fell on Morenz's leg, breaking it in four places. Morenz was rushed to hospital with a compound fracture, his career finished.

• Newspapers reported he suffered a heart attack, but some romantics suggested he died of a broken heart, knowing his playing days were done. In an obituary that appeared in the Toronto Star the next day, sportswriter Andy Lytle wrote that "it was as if the fibre of the man slowly disintegrated as he faced the uncertainties of a hockeyless future." He was 34 years old.

• Three days later, the Montreal Forum became a shrine to Morenz as an estimated 50,000 tearful fans came to pay their respects to their hero, lying in state at center ice. Tens of thousands more lined the streets as the funeral cortege made its way to Mount Royal Cemetery. Elsewhere, fans who could not be there in person listened in to the funeral service broadcast on radios across the country.

• Tributes flowed in from his heartbroken teammates and rivals alike. Earl Seibert was consumed with guilt over the tragedy. "I was the guy who killed him," he said. "I didn't mean to hurt him but I gave him the bodycheck... I was stunned when I heard he'd died. I simply couldn't believe it. He was the greatest all-round player in the game."

Medium: Television
Duration: 0:49

Last updated: February 8, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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