Thunder Bay

Jean Béliveau remembered by Thunder Bay sports historian

The executive director of the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame said she'll pause today to remember hockey great Jean Beliveau.

Thunder Bay had connection to late hockey legend through scout and coach Mickey Hennessy

Montreal Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau passes a torch to a young skater. Béliveau died on Tuesday, Dec. 2. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

The executive-director of the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame says she'll pause today to remember hockey great Jean Béliveau.

Diane Imrie said the late Mickey Hennessy, a former Montreal Canadiens' scout who also worked as a hockey coach in Thunder Bay, was one of the first to recognize Béliveau's potential.

She said Hennessy took note of the future great's talents in the late 1940's.

"He actually followed a young baseball player after a game and suggested he wanted to talk to him about hockey. And that young baseball player was Jean Béliveau."

Imrie continued, "Mickey took him in for some soft drinks–actually Jean recounted it in his book–and started peeling off the 10-dollar bills, and said he was authorized to pay him up to $200 if he would sign the famous C form which would have tied him to the Habs. He wisely–I think he was only 16 at the time–said "No, I have to talk to my dad about that."

Imrie said people got to know Béliveau through his years with the Canadiens, but she believes the outpouring of affection after his death is a tribute to who he was as a person.
Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame executive director Diane Imrie says Jean Beliveau was beloved not just for his hockey skills, but for his empathy as a person. (Cathy Alex/CBC)

"When you listen to the interviews of the people lining up to pay their respects to him and to his family, every single person recalls the kindness that he had, the class that he had. So many stories about meeting him and the way he treated them with such respect."

Imrie said she was at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto when Béliveau made a surprise visit to see the Stanley Cup.

"There was this reverence. As people started to realize he was there, you could hear that whisper go throughout the room. And the kindness he was exhibiting to people. People came up to him. He signed autographs. He spoke to them. And a woman fell over a ramp that was there, and the first person that went to her was Jean Béliveau."

Imrie said Béliveau's death has spurred people to look back at what she calls "the golden age of hockey".

"It's sort of a time of reflection of loss for the greatness he was both on, and off the ice and for the greatness of the game, which has changed."

CBC News Network and CBC.ca will carry Béliveau's funeral live beginning 1 p.m. ET, starting with the arrival of the guests. The service is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. ET.

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