Émile Joseph Bouchard died on April 14, which is to say Butch Bouchard: that’s what everybody called him. A titan of the Montreal defence for 15 seasons, he captained the club between 1948 and 1956, winning four Stanley Cups along the way. Four times he was voted to the NHL All-Star team. A fond farewell is in order for the Habs’ Hall-of-Fame stalwart and best-known beekeeper, along with a few further notes:
1. September 4, 1919 he was born, a Thursday, in Montreal, in the parish of St. Arsène, on rue Boyer, near Beaubien, about eight kilometres from the Forum.
2. Unless it was a Saturday in 1920, September 11. That’s what Ron McAllister, among other writers, committed to print. Bouchard’s own mentor and first hockey coach, the sportswriter Paul Stuart, went as far as Sunday, September 11, 1921.
3. His parents were Régina Lachapelle and Calixte Bouchard, who was a carpenter and a house painter who also may have wielded his brush on CPR passenger cars. Bouchard told Dick Irvin that in the mid-1930s his father only worked in the wintertime, so the family was poor. He had two brothers and a sister. Through his father, Bouchard could trace his blood back to Eva Bouchard, who may have been the model for the heroine of Louis Hémon’s quintessential Quebec novel Maria Chapdelaine (1916).
4. For school he attended L’Académie Roussin, Saint-François-Xavier, St-Louis-de-Gonzague, and Le Plateau.
5. Paul Stuart was the one who got him playing hockey for Le Plateau. The team’s hand-me-down sweaters included one that had belonged to one of Bouchard’s idols, Cliff Goupille (a.k.a. Red), it bore his name on the back, and Bouchard wore it with pride for two seasons.
6. About his skating, one of his early coaches remarked that he was always getting in his own way with those huge feet of his. Sloppy but effective is how Andy O’Brien later described this phase in Bouchard’s development.
7. He didn’t get his first skates until he was 16. Sometimes the number given is 17, but mostly the accounts converge on 16. There’s a further twist on this, where he never skated, not at all, ever, until he was 16 and then five years later — incredible! — he was working NHL bluelines for the Canadiens. Which may be the case. It sounds to me like a fairytale, though. Or if not a fairytale, maybe have the facts been smudged over time? That happens.
8. At The Hockey Hall of Fame, the website, the skates frame Kevin Shea’s “One-on-One” feature on Bouchard. “Without the money to buy skates,” he writes, “the young man didn’t even begin to skate until the age of sixteen, and that was only when he could scrounge up the nickel it cost to rent skates on the outdoor rinks.”
And later, wrapping up:
In 1966, Emile ‘Butch’ Bouchard was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. It was almost incomprehensible — a man who had only started skating at the age of sixteen was four years later, playing with the Montreal and proceeded to be acknowledged as one of the greatest players in the game’s history.
9. Red Fisher had it in his report from the funeral in The Gazette: started skating when he was sixteen.
10. I suppose it’s possible. Though none of the early profiles I’ve seen mention anything so specific and remarkable. Le Petit Journal from 1944 says he first skated at L’Académie Roussin, his first school, which would suggest a younger start. Also, that he “was raised and grew up in an atmosphere of hockey,” which adds to that impression. What I think may be the case is that he didn’t own his skates until he was 16. Doesn’t that sound more likely? His brother — not sure which one — lent him the money with which bought his first gear: $35.
11. Bouchard did knit his own hockey socks, as a kid, on his mother’s sewing machine. “I broke so many needles!” he said. And he didn’t know how to do the knees properly, so they ended up kind of tight.
12. He played a lot of softball, and hurled the shot-put. He was on the tug-of-war team.
13. Paul Stuart recommended him to Arthur Therrien who, as well as running a bowling alley, managed the Verdun Maple Leafs. In 1938-39, after winning the Quebec championship, they went to the semi-finals of the Memorial Cup. Therrien gets credit, too, as the man who plucked Maurice Richard out of the rough. He also took him to the dentist to fix his teeth.
14. In Verdun he played with Paul Bibeault and Frank Eddolls. Dave Stubbs says it was another teammate, Bob Fillion, who gave him his nickname there, possibly because Bouchard sounds like butcher, to some ears. Though Paul Stuart and Ron McAllister say he got it all the way back at L’Académie Roussin. Also I’ve read that it came from his English-speaking teammates on the Canadiens and/or had to do with his shoulders reminding someone of those belonging to a stout butcher and/or because of the hard blows he administered with his shoulders.
15. He married a painter, Marie-Claire Macbeth, and together they had five children: Émile Junior, Jean, Michel, Pierre and Susan. This was later, of course.
16. Bouchard was a devoted beekeeper. It’s better in French: apiculteur. This could be the best part of the whole story, as far as I’m concerned, the keeping of the bees. He started when he was 17. No doubt about that: he said so himself in 1942.
17. It would be great, I admit, if he’d started skating and beekeeping on the very same day. If you were making a Butch Bouchard movie, you’d have to write that in, getting him up on his skates and having him stumble out to centre ice while doing his best to keep his box of bees from spilling. It would be a hard scene to resist.
18. Durable dreadnought, Andy O’Brien called him. Elsewhere you’ll see him called a surly gatekeeper (D’Arcy Jenish); a tall, dark, good-looking giant (Ron McAllister); and the large segment of Habitant (Toronto Daily Star). The Gazette called him husky. Jerry Trudel, in Montreal-Matin: le meilleur bloqueur de son temps et un joueur tres combatif.
19. L’as de la defense du Canadien has a lilt to it. Le solid bloqueur dates to 1942.
20. There was a school of thought that said that Bouchard and Bob Goldham were the last true defensive defencemen. Though that was still to come: we haven’t got him to the NHL yet.
21. Dick Irvin: “This player is a real mountain on the blue line. His strength and toughness give goosebumps to opponents.”
22. Toe Blake said Bouchard was the best defenceman he ever saw in his career as a coach.
23. Which is odd.
24. Because: what about as a player? Blake played with Bouchard for seven seasons but coached him for only one.
25. In 1939 he was offered a job at a bank. This would be another strong scene for the movie. The Canadiens also wanted to sign him. His cashier’s salary would be $7 a week. He thought about this. Claude Larochelle: “A future in hockey made him less afraid than a future in a bank.”
26. He signed with the Canadiens. He later said he didn’t really know much about the team: had never been in the Forum, hadn’t really listened to broadcasts as a boy because the family didn’t have a radio.
27. He recalled the first game he played for the Junior Canadiens in 1940, with Pit Lepine coaching:
“As soon as I saw my first opponent coming towards me, I hurled myself at him with all my strength and all my weight. But he gracefully avoided me and I went flying with great aplomb into the fence.”
28. He did not smoke cigars, and pipes only a little. He enjoyed calisthenics. One of his favourite foods was a lobster, according to Montreal-Matin.
29. Although: there’s a photo from 1951 of players and wives celebrating after the Canadiens eliminated Detroit and Bouchard’s there in funny glasses and he does have a cigar he’s smoking.
30. He was a boxer. Paul Stuart was a very good flyweight, a Dominion finalist, and he tutored the punching of both Bouchard and Maurice Richard. Bouchard was keen to take part in Quebec’s provincial championship, the 1938 Golden Gloves Tournament, but then in the end … didn’t.
31. Dickie Moore said he looked like he was chiselled from stone. Also that he had the biggest shoulders and the smallest waist he’d ever seen.
“Il était fort comme un cheval,” wrote Betrand Raymond in 2006, “une sorte de Louis Cyr sur patins.”
32. He had 50 hives.
33. As much as that might seem like a cue for a lurid medical anecdote, no, sorry, we’re back to the bees: his apiary had 50 hives. To start: later he had more. This was at home, in Longueuil, which leads to what may be my favourite Bouchard-related epithet of all: the bee trapper of the Chambly road.
34. Red Fisher in The Gazette on how he got his start:
The story is told that while still in high school, he was working alongside an inspector with the Department of Agriculture when he came across a bee ranch owned by a priest who had passed away. He borrowed $500 from his brother, bought the business and turned it into an apiary of 200 hives that was so successful he earned enough to buy his parents a home.
35. I count 44 hives in the photo, which is undated. Bouchard looks young, so I’m guessing this is his original brood of bees we’re looking at. There are those taller units that look like they may be double or even triple hives, so maybe it’s more than 44. What do I know about bee hives? Not much. I have no idea, for instance, how many bees reside in just one hive let alone 44 or 50.
From his 50 hives (according to a 2009 Bouchard exhibition at Montreal’s Écomusée du fier monde) he collected 5,000 pounds of honey in his first year, which he sold to Biscuiterie Viau.
36. It’s a great question: how many were Butch Bouchard’s bees? It’s a puzzle that The Toronto Daily Star did address in 1942, believe it or not, calculating 6,000,000. Although the reporter, not named, doesn’t really inspire too much confidence in the estimate: “You count ’em,” is the disclaimer appended.
37. Another confident-sounding summary:
As a beekeeper, he gathered up 1.2 million bees that produced 10 to 15,000 pounds of honey per year. He also had a well equipped laboratory.
38. Here’s the thing, though: someone did count them. The bees. In the fall of 1941, wartime, the Canadiens arranged a deferment for Bouchard from active duty. Beekeeping, after all, was an essential industry. Required for the paperwork: a bee count. The papers loved this, of course:
The bee counter counted the bees to the very last stinger and Bouchard got his deferment, but it cost the Canadiens $100, the bee counter’s fee.
39. They don’t give the number, unfortunately. Could be that it was a security concern. You wouldn’t want it falling into the wrong hands.
40. Possibly this, the bee-counter, could be a tall tale, just like (it’s coming up) Bouchard’s biking. I hope not.
41. After starting the 1940-41 season with the Junior Canadiens, he headed down to Rhode Island to finish up with the AHL’s Providence Reds. Former Detroit Red Wings’ captain Doug Young was a teammate on defence, playing out his last season as a professional. The great Bun Cook was the coach. Bouchard was a stalwart on the line. In one playoff game, he was on the ice for 45 minutes.
42. He was supposed to ridden his bicycle to his Canadiens first training camp at Sainte-Hyacinthe. Because he was so fit, you see — and/or he was frugal. That’s the story you’ll see repeated and repurposed. D’Arcy Jenish tells it (a 30-mile trip, he says) and so does the Canadiens own website (50 miles!). Best of all has to be Tom Hawthorn’s April 17 obituary for The Washington Post:
Invited to a Canadiens training camp, Mr. Bouchard cycled 50 miles each way twice daily to save money.
43. Not so much, Bouchard told Claude Larochelle in 1956: he took the bus to Sainte-Hyacinthe like everybody else. “Dick Irvin invented the whole story to inflate the legend of the ruggedness of his new giant,” Larochelle writes. As a great humorist, Bouchard didn’t mind confirming the story. In fact, he was happy to amplify it: he used to tell American reporters about all the punctures his tires had suffered along the way.
44. The 17th Duke of York Royal Canadian Hussars was the last Canadian cavalry regiment to shed its horses. That happened in 1939. What the Hussars lost in saddles they made up in armoured cars and hockey players: in August of 1940 the Canadiens announced that their players would be enlisting en masse. (This was before they started applying for deferrals.) At Army Headquarters in Ottawa, it was announced that hockey players would complete 30 days of military training, just like any other able-bodied Canadian resident aged 21 to 45. The sooner they signed up, the better: the idea was to get the training in before hockey season started.
45. In November he joined Toe Blake and Paul Haynes on a Hussars team playing in a fundraiser at the Forum against civilian opposition coached by Frank Patrick and featuring Elmer Lach and Bert Gardiner. The sort-of soldiers won 6-5.
46. The big news of the day on October 1, 1941, was that the Germans had forsaken Leningrad. Closer to home, La Patrie was reporting that the Canadiens’ rookies would be gathering in Saint-Hyacinthe, east of Montreal, on the sixth of the month. Legs Fraser would there with Bouchard, and also Doug Fritz, Floyd Curry, Bunny Dame, Toe Blake’s brother George — 25 players, in all, quartered at the Grand Hotel.
47. After the first week of training camp, Charlie Phillips look the likeliest of the fresh defencemen: un gros bonhomme de 200 livres. Bert Janke was another strong contender on the blueline. Among the forwards, Bunny Dame caught everybody’s eye.
48. When the veterans arrived, defenceman Jack Portland was reported as the heaviest, 228 pounds, with Ken Reardon next at 210.
49. Coach Dick Irvin was reported to be “a little annoyed” when the Canadiens lost an exhibition game, 2-1 to the Quebec Royal Rifles of the Quebec Senior Hockey League. Bouchard didn’t play; the coach confided that he and Len Bicknell were in a good fight for the fifth defenceman’s job. In the scrimmage next day, the Whites beat the Reds 11-7.
50. The news on October 22 was that the snow and the rain were helping the Russians in their fight with the Germans. The Canadiens, meanwhile, practicing “in secret,” behind closed doors. “We’re happy to have lots of spectators at our practices,” Irvin said, “but it’s hard to correct a young player when there are 1,000 people to hear the criticism.” La Patrie reported that Bouchard would be staying with the club.
51. This strapping fellow, they were calling him, and more and more impressive, he was looking like he’d cracked the top four, with Red Goupille pencilled in as the fifth. Bert Janke was dispatched to Montreal’s farm team, the Washington Lions. A month later, he was playing 56 minutes a game.
52. Moscow had raised an army of 25,000,000 men by October 25.
53. October 28: the Nazis were in retreat on the Moscow front. Portland, Reardon, and Tony Graboski were the top three on the blueline, with Bouchard and Goupille battling for fourth and fifth. The Whites beat the Reds 6-5. That may have been where Bouchard hurt himself. Trainer Bill O’Brien thought he’d be fine to play in the season opener against Detroit on November 1.
54. As the Canadiens prepared to leave Sainte-Hyacinthe, Bouchard aggravated his non-specific injury, so probably he wouldn’t be able to play.
55. October 30: Russian gains at Moscow and Rostov! Was it just a coincidence that the Canadiens had their best practice that day? The Reds beat the Whites 4-3. Dick Irvin thought that Bouchard would be ready in ten days’ time for the game against Chicago.
56. In fact, he was recovered enough to meet the Red Wings when the Canadiens travelled back to Montreal to meet them. Red Goupille was his partner. In front of 11,000 fans they lost, and (a frequent occurrence in the years to follow) Elmer Lach was hurt, but Bouchard did fine. La Patrie:
Butch Bouchard made his debut as a true Canadien and he did not appear at all bad within the Tricolour’s defensive network. Solidly built, Bouchard does not lack style, though it is obvious that he will need to acquire more experience.
57. Elmer Lach and Kenny Reardon were getting $3,500. Bouchard asked Dick Irvin for $4,000 a year. Irvin, who’s supposed to have told Bouchard’s detractors that he’d be with the club as long as he himself was, agreed.
58. Recalling that camp years later, Irvin said that Bouchard could hardly skate, but he was big and he was tough and, plus, Murph Chamberlain (identified as the incumbent Canadien hard rock) counselled him: “Get that guy for our side! He’ll stop ’em dead.”
59. Awkward and stiff are words you see describing his early days on the ice as a Hab. In the longer view, taking into account the totality of his career, you see adjectives like the ones that feature in his profile at the Hockey Hall of Fame, including tall and strong and robust and alert. His peers never knew him to be a bully, it also says there. What else? His poise is supposed to have been tremendous. He was tough and stay-at-home. He had enormous hands. At ourhistory.canadiens.com, where the Habs tend their past, it says dished out solid hits and good-natured and easygoing and made passes like no-one else.
60. He was the Longueuil apiarist in The Gazette that first fall. If he doesn’t watch out, wagged columnist Marc McNeil, they’ll be calling him Busy Bee Bouchard.
61. From time to time reporters would talk to him about the bees. Which is how we know that by 1942 he was up to 200 hives.
62. From the same report:
Butch, for all his back-alley nickname, is a placid sort, and when he talks he sounds more like a six-foot-two professor giving a lecture, than a defenceman carving his way up the hockey ladder.
63. I know. Like me, you’ve been thinking: was there no-one who was willing to try for a more involved kind of funny linkage between the hockey and the bee-wrangling while at the same time definitively answering the whole nagging how-many-bees question? Why, yes, actually, there was, and it was Butch himself:
“People ask me whether I get nervous playing before huge NHL crowds. Well, I’ve heard of the 18,000 crowds they draw at Chicago but that mob would look puny beside the traffic that goes on at my apiary. I have 200 hives. They hold 50,000 bees each. That means 10,000,000 are busy on my place every summer day. Hockey crowds? Merely nothing.”
64. He went on:
“I started tending bees when I was 17 years old, and the first time you put your hand inside a hive that crowd of bees makes you scared. But you get used to it. I figure that’s one reason why I didn’t suffer stage fright when I broke in with Canadiens this season.
“I find the pace faster in the NHL. The forwards in the NHL have more sting. They swarm in like homing bees going for the honey comb. That Apps of the Leafs and Sweeney Schriner certainly know they way around.
“The way that Pat Egan of the Amerks whacks everybody behind his goal and holds, he’d be stung to death if he ever went through my hives that way in the summer.”
65. In the same interview, Bouchard talked bee economics:
“Three hundred hives can be tended by one man, though he is very busy. That would make him a comfortable living. There’s a man in Port Hope who has 600 hives spread around and in an average year, he took a hundred pounds from each hive. If he sold his honey for ten cents a point, that’s not hay — that’s honey.”
66. The standard references put him at 6’2” and 205 pounds. That’s what it says at the Hockey Hall of Fame and at hockeyreference.com and the Internet Hockey Database and ourhistory.com. Todd Denault has called him “a man of unusual size for the time” and “a sculpted 205 pounds.” Also, he says:
In his early teens Butch became serious about weightlifting, a rarity at that time. Not able to put together the money for proper equipment, Butch improvised by pressing railway ties with added steel plates and bale wire for weight. This allowed Butch in addition, to his size to enhance his already high strength level, to give him a combination that was unmatchable back in the day.
67. He wore the number 17 sweater when he started in Montreal. 1943 was when he changed to 3. Coach Irvin is supposed to have said that big stars wore small numbers.
68. He was a right-handed shot who played most of his career on the left side of the rink. When he joined the Canadiens his first partner on the blueline was Tony Graboski. Other regulars at his side over the years were Mike McMahon, Cliff Goupille, Glen Harmon, Léo Lamoureux, Kenny Reardon, and Tom Johnson. The last two seem to have been his longest-serving partners. Doug Harvey was a teammate, of course, but I’m not sure how much they played together. When the Canadiens brought in the rookie George McAvoy in the spring of 1955, Irvin paired him with wily old Bouchard to start the game. Then in the period, when the Habs needed more speed, Bouchard sat out while the captain of the world-champion Penticton Vs took his place.
69. You’ll often see the word bespectacled near Tony Graboski’s name in contemporary reports. I don’t know whether that qualifies as a nickname. Dink Carroll called Mike McMahon The Mad Monk in 1944, but that might just have been a one-off — I haven’t seen it anywhere else. Goupille was Red. Can’t find anything for Harmon, Lamoureux, or McAvoy. Doug Harvey they used to call Sam. Johnson, who’s supposed to have been a big joker and prolific nicknamer of others, was known as … Tom.
70. The whirlwind rearguard, the writers sometimes called Reardon. I’ve seen also (1941) Beans and (1947) the T.N.T. guy. And: the Habitants’ granite-crushing defenceman.
71. What did goalie Bill Durnan say scared Reardon the most about playing defence? Taking a puck in the cheek, maybe? Gordie Howe railroading him into the endboards? No:
“He had an awful phobia about anybody skating in on him one-on-one. If he teamed up with Bouchard he’d plead with Butch not to do any rushing and say, ‘Please, don’t leave me!’ Frankly, in those situations Reardon couldn’t stop my daughter.”
72. Reardon in 1954: “Bouchard made me. I did all the skating, he did all the covering and brain work. … He always gets at least a piece of a guy — nobody ever gets around him cleanly.”
73. Poor Lamoureux, Durnan said: to steer clear of Bouchard, opponents would all detour over to Lamoureux’s side of the ice. In the days when goalies held their sticks with two hands, Durnan found he never had to switch his stick. “I’d just say to myself, ‘Well, Butch is on so they’re going to come down Leo’s side.’”
74. Paul Stuart mentions this, too, in Parade Sportive in 1947:
Time and again, whether here in the Forum or at other arenas, the fans could see for themselves how opponents preferred spending time on side of the other rearguard to that of Émile.
75. He scored the first goal of his NHL career in the playoffs, in March of 1942, in a 5-0 win over Detroit. Even Bouchard Scores was the subhead in the paper the next day. He whipped a shot from the blue-line that beat goalie Johnny Mowers to the top right corner of the net. That seemed to work for him going forward: in 1944, he scored on a fairly long shot that the Leafs’ Paul Bibeault never saw because Reg Hamilton backed right up on him. The season after that he sent a slapshot that hugged the ice past Toronto’s Frank McCool while Elmer Lach skated past. A goal from 1946, versus Detroit: a whistling drive which sailed past a maze of legs before it entered the net. 1950, against the New York Rangers: a booming screened shot. Against Boston in March of 1954 he tallied two goals, snapping in a rebound on a shot by Lorne Davis, then blocking Bob Armstrong’s shot, giving himself a breakaway, and firing from ten feet out so that Sugar Jim Henry never had a chance.
76. Roc de Gibraltar was another moniker of Bouchard’s.
77. The earliest mention of Bouchard’s heft I’ve seen is from 1947, when he’s said to have stood 6’1” and weighed in at 200 pounds. A 1952 article by his mentor Stuart has the same height but shrinks his poundage down to 193 pounds.
78. Le protecteur du Rocket is another phrase you’ll see, sometimes. Also the great giant; hefty defence star; and Général Bouchard. With a nod to the war being fought in 1944, The Montreal Herald’s Elmer Ferguson dubbed him the most potent tank trap keeping opponents away from the Durnan line. Big Butch Bouchard, rugged Canadien defenceman the papers tagged him during the 1947 playoffs. In 1953 a Montreal columnist crowned him un vrai “money player.” He was often called a pillar, including in the headline over his New York Times obituary last week, Imposing Pillar.
79. In 1942, just in case anybody thought the hockey players were slacking or shirking or in any way avoiding their patriotic duty during wartime, general manager Tommy Gorman let it be known that the Canadiens were fighting the good fight, in their way. Hockey “Most definitely is of secondary consideration to the bigger job of winning the war.”
Bouchard was on his farm, with his bees. Elmer Lach and Terry Reardon were a couple of Habs who were labouring in aircraft plants. Sweltering in a Trail, B.C. smelter were Bunny Dame and Joe Benoit. Toe Blake was manufacturing munitions in Hamilton, and Charlie Sands was hammering on ships in a Fort William yard. Ray Getliffe had his shoestore in Stratford, Ontario, but know too that he was taking, quote, regular military training.
Team president Senator Donat Raymond said, “These men are all on essential war work” and wanted everyone to know they’d be keeping at it “no matter what happens in a hockey way.”
80. Summers he played a fair bit of softball, often with a team of touring Canadiens. The line-up for 1944 had Toe Blake for a coach and third-baseman; Bill Durnan (who often said he’d rather play ball than hockey) as captain and pitcher; Fernand Majeau on first; Elmer Lach at second; Buddy O’Conner, shortstop; Phil Watson, catcher; Bouchard, another first baseman; Leo Lamoureux, pitcher and outfield; Maurice Richard and Jerry Heffernan in the infield; Murph Chamberlain, Ray Getliffe, Glen Harmon, outfielders.
81. In October of 1944 there was some question whether the government would continue to allow farmers to play professional hockey, so Dick Irvin was relieved when word came through that Bouchard was cleared to play.
82. The most Bouchard made on the ice was $18,000 a year.
83. Goalie Bill Durnan:
One day we went out to his farm and he pulled out a ledger to show us his eight year profit-loss statement. In those eight years as a bee farmer, in his worst year, Butch still made a $3,000 profit. He actually made enough money from his bees to build an apartment house without putting in a down payment.