Jean Béliveau funeral: Thousands bid Habs legend a final farewell
Guests include Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and former Habs legends
Hundreds gathered outside Mary Queen of the World Cathedral to pay their final respects to Habs legend Jean Béliveau, despite the ice pellets and blowing snow in downtown Montreal.
The funeral cortege arrived just before 2 p.m. ET.
The Béliveau family, including his widow Élise, arrived first, followed by Montreal Canadiens alumni, and players and management of the current team.
There was silence as the hearse pulled up to the doors of the basilica — then a round of applause as the casket was carried out.
The casket — draped in a blue, white and red Montreal Canadiens flag — was carried by pallbearers who wore the CH on their chest at one time: Guy Lafleur, Serge Savard, Yvan Cournoyer, Jean-Guy Talbot, Phil Goyette and Bobby Rousseau.
Inside the cathedral, thousands of people filled the pews for the funeral.
Four Habs legends who skated side by side with Béliveau gave eulogies.
Dickie Moore won six Stanley Cups.
"I was lucky — lucky to have been with Jean for many glorious years with the Canadiens. Lucky to share many amazing moments together, lucky to have him as a friend. What would you rather be: good or lucky? I was lucky, he was good," Moore said as guests at the funeral mass laughed.
He made every occasion better. Unlike many other great stars, his presence didn’t diminish others — it made others better— Former teammate Ken Dryden
"We have all been lucky to have Jean Béliveau in our lives. God bless you Jean, our teammate and friend forever."
Former Habs goalie Ken Dryden recalled how Béliveau was his first roommate when he joined the Canadiens.
"He got the double bed, I got the single," Dryden said, adding that he no longer saw Béliveau as a great star but as a captain and a leader.
"No place was too small or remote, because no fan or no person was unimportant.… He treated everyone with such respect. He said the right thing, in the right way — in French and in English— because that’s what he believed and that’s what he was. He made every occasion better. Unlike many other great stars, his presence didn’t diminish others — it made others better."
Cournoyer, a captain for the Habs who won 10 Stanley Cups — just like Béliveau did — said he always considered Béliveau his captain and leader.
"Given our age difference, we developed a relationship almost like father-son," Cournoyer said. "We feel a big empty space in our hearts. You will never be forgotten. Oh captain, my captain, bon voyage."
'Best of Canada'
Guests in attendance at service at Mary Queen of the World Cathedral on René-Lévesque Boulevard included Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
"Just being in his presence was special," Bettman said as he arrived at the cathedral just after 1 p.m. "He is revered. He was the epitome of elegance and class. He believed so much not just in the game but in the community. He will be sorely missed."
He was the epitome of elegance and class.— NHL commissioner Gary Bettman
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he remembers being a little boy who looked up to Béliveau.
"We obviously lost a great citizen...somebody who was admired and respected by everyone in the country. I have admired Mr Beliveau since I was a little boy. He was already part of the Hockey Hall of Fame and now he’s become part of the history of our country,” said Harper.
Former Quebec premier Jean Charest said the late hockey great “represents the best of Canada, and what we are and what we aspire to be. A very noble man. His life on the ice was exceptional but his life afterwards was a continuation of that — was even better. So he is the ideal Canadian."
Federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair also praised Béliveau, saying he "represented the best of ourselves: leadership and respect for his adversaries."
The funeral was standing room only. Crowds of fans were already waiting outside at noon local time despite poor weather including high winds and ice pellets.
Hank Gigandet was among Montrealers who came to pay their respects.
"He was a first-class hockey player, a first-class gentleman. One in a million," Gigandet said.
Two large TV screens were set up outside the church and workers were busy Wednesday morning clearing snow from the church steps after an overnight storm.
Béliveau wore No. 4 for the Canadiens for 21 seasons, and inspired players in subsequent generations with his prowess on the ice and his gentlemanly nature everywhere else.
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The hockey legend — a lifelong ambassador for his beloved Habs — died Dec. 2 at the age of 83.
Thousands of Habs fans paid their respects at the Bell Centre, where his body lay in state Sunday and Monday. Some waited in line for more than an hour to sign the book of condolences or shake the hand of Élise, Béliveau's wife of over 60 years.
On Tuesday evening, before the Habs first game on home ice since Béliveau’s death, the Canadiens honoured him with a pre-game ceremony. Historic images were projected on centre ice, fans observed a moment of silence and the empty seat next to Béliveau’s wife was decorated to look like the back of a Habs jersey bearing No. 4.