NHL Playoffs: Canadiens Graffiti Has No Place in Montreal

Tim ParentSenior Writer IApril 12, 2008

If you have ever planned on visiting Montreal, now is the time.

The city is fired up as if the streets and sidewalks have been juiced with 50-thousand  volts of pure energy.   

Mini-Canadiens flags snap in the rush of air, flapping from the windows of just about every car that passes by the Bell Center and weaves in and out of traffic along highways across the province of Quebec. 

Habs fever has gripped this city, infecting the masses and leaving a blue, white and red rash on the skin of the inoculated and most wouldn't have it any other way.

Only, it appears the mayor of Montreal is trying to put a damp facecloth on the foreheads of the Habs faithful and, in particular, the Montreal Fire Department. 

Fire Station Five is a two-story, brown-brick building, home to more than a dozen of Montreal's bravest.  It's captain is a big man with massive hands, the kind you'd expect to see on a boxer or wrestler, obviously someone who is used to grappling with a high pressure water hose while staring down the flames that scorch homes and destroy lives.

He and his men decided they would paint the three garage doors on Station Five in the blue, blanc et rouge of the Montreal Canadiens, with heavy emphasis on the CH logo and the slogans of the team: GO HABS GO! and LA VILLE EST HOCKEY! For good measure, the boys painted a Stanley Cup in the center of the second garage door. 

This is the kind of fanaticism you see in Montreal these days.  

The city of Montreal - or rather the administration running it - sees it differently and ordered the paint job removed, saying it puts the public at risk as the paint covered the garage windows. That meant citizens could not see inside to view the fire trucks that assured they were protected should fire strike their home. 

When prodded, the mayor of Montreal, Gerald Tremblay, called it vandalism pure and simple, saying the city would not tolerate graffiti on its fire station doors.  He promised to send cleaning crews to wash it all away and that's exactly what he did. 

Less than a day after the Canadiens defeated the Boston Bruins 4-1 in game one of the opening round, the paint was gone, the CH logo washed away in a stream of blue, white and red tinged water, coursing through the gutters and into Montreal's crumbling underground water system. 

It's important to know that the city and its firefighters have been involved in a bitter labour dispute for months.  There's been a lot of back and forth, plenty of insults and no headway in negotiations.  As far as city hall is concerned, the paint job was a pressure tactic to sway public opinion to the side of the firefighters. 

A dejected fire captain said the Montreal Canadiens "graffiti" was a way to lighten the mood after what has been a difficult winter in the city.  Negotiations have been fruitless, the city has only just shoveled out of one of the worst winter's on record and now that it's united under the Habs flag, he felt showing some team spirit for the both the Habs and the city would be good for everyone.

Instead if firefighters want to submit to Habs fever, they should put Habs flags on the fire trucks because paint on the garage doors will result in suspensions.   

The captain has apologized to the city, its citizens and the mayor if the artwork offended anybody.  Still, he wonders aloud, if the city is hockey, why is it not for the firefighters?

It's a question that may come back to haunt the mayor when he seeks re-election in a couple of years.  When it comes to the Canadiens, Montrealers have long memories. As one radio talk show host in London, Ontario put it, the mayor has all but committed political suicide by poking the hockey gods in the eye. 

In the meantime, the burly fire captain says all of this kerfuffle over "graffiti" hasn't cured him of his Habs fever, reiterating in his French-Canadian accent, "Go Habs Go!"