“It is a great temptation to say too much about Bob Gainey.” That was Ken Dryden, in The Game (1983), just before he launched into the quite-a-lot he had to say about Gainey and his place as a player on those sublime Montreal Canadiens teams of the 1970s. He’s right, Dryden: the temptation is great, especially now that Gainey has left the team that he captained, coached, managed, and — at the last — special-advised. That was his role until Thursday — special adviser to general manager Pierre Gauthier — when the man he was counselling was fired. Gainey wasn’t, Montreal owner Geoff Molson went out of his way to explain: his departure was by “mutual agreement.”
It’s sobering time for those of us who loved the quiet honesty of Gainey’s game as a player, his — this is Dryden again — “relentless, almost palpable will.” I was going to lament the link to those ’70s Habs that was breaking, given what Molson told his Thursday press conference: “We felt that the direction of the club needed to change from a hockey standpoint.” Except that the man Molson has brought in as his new special adviser in the search for the next GM is Serge Savard. And who was the man not named Patrick Roy that Hockey Night in Canada was touting last night as a possible (if apparently unwilling) candidate for the job? Scotty Bowman. Jacques Lemaire’s name has been tossing in the media, too, and before it’s all over Dryden’s will at least to have been dismissed. Gilles Lupien, anyone? Rick Chartraw?
Molson said that Gainey will forever remain a part of the Canadiens family. Which is the same way those of us from Gainey’s hometown of Peterborough, Ontario, feel about him too, as family. It’s why we feel the sting of his departure even more deeply than his regular admirers.
It’s hard for outsiders to understand what Gainey means to us in Peterborough, which is why, for the most part, we don’t even try. We know, and that’s what matters. Put it this way: if you’ve hiked the timeline of the city’s history that’s been blazed by Peterborough’s Centennial Museum, you’ll know that Paleo-Indians peopled the geography between 9000 and 5000 BC. Also that they were followed by the Laurentian people, then the Woodlands and Mississaugas, who forced out the Iroquois. Samuel de Champlain came along Chemong Road around about 1615 or so and, in a phrase that makes it sound like he was visiting his in-laws, is reported to have “stayed for a short period of time in Bridgenorth area.”
1818, the town was “set aside.” 1830, Peterborough got its first post office. Catharine Parr Traill came along two years later. Things were moving fast, now: the first brick house went up in 1848. Phones were in by 1879. Busy times! In 1901, Winston Churchill dropped by. 1904 was the year fire destroyed Roy Photography Studio (“many early images lost!”). Bob Gainey was born in 1953. In 1954, the Fire Department ran civil defense drills “in preparation for possible atomic war.” Former Peterborough resident Lester Pearson won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1956. In 1969, Old Ashburnham Town Hall was “sold by City, demolished and replaced by Becker’s convenience store.”
You see? Those are our milestones in Peterborough, our monuments, and we hold them dear. Gainey is an eternal Peterbravian institution, so towering a symbol of our city that the idea that he could ever be sold, let alone demolished and replaced, is absurd.
Is that enough?