Born on this day 85 years ago, the man they’d come to call Le Gros Bill parcelled up the foundational events of his existence in a quick paragraph in My Life In Hockey, the autobiography he penned in 1994 with the aid of Chrys Goyens and Allan Turowetz:
Arthur was stringing electrical line in Trois Rivières when he met Laurette Dubé, the only daughter in an uncharacteristically small family of only two children. Shortly thereafter, a wedding too place, and on August 31, 1931, Arthur and Laurette’s first child, christened Jean Arthur Béliveau, arrived — just as the Great Depression reached its nadir.
I’ve searched for more detail on that initial laddertop encounter between Béliveau’s parents — in vain, alas. Hugh Hood wrote a fine Béliveau biography, Strength Down Centre (1970), but there’s nothing there. He does note that Number 4, who died in December of 2014, was trifluvien mostly by birth: before he was four, the family moved to Plessisville before settling for good in Victoriaville. Next door was the parish church of Les Saints-Martyrs Canadiens, where Béliveau served as an altar boy. Behind the house, in wintertime, Arthur flooded the yard. In compliance with the tenets of the national mythology, Béliveau spent as much of his free time there as possible. “That’s where you learn to stickhandle,” he told Hood. “We didn’t play teams, or organized rules, you see? It was like one long scrimmage with every man for himself and if you couldn’t hold onto the puck you wouldn’t get any play.”
(Photo, from 1953: Gaby [Gabriel Desmarais], Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec)