The 1972 series of summits helped heal a troubled nation

This month marks the 50th anniversary of Canada’s victory over the Soviet Union in all eight games of the Summit Series. The series was more than just a competition to decide global hockey supremacy, it united Canadians from coast to coast and helped heal our country.

Many people may have forgotten it, but in the decade leading up to the series, Canada had been rocked by violence. The FLQ wanted independence for Quebec from Canada. To this end, they had detonated more than 200 bombs in Quebec and Ontario during the 1960s.

Their targets included the Montreal Stock Exchange, the residence of the mayor of Montreal, and National Defense Headquarters in Ottawa. They also planted bombs in mailboxes in the English-speaking community of Westmount. Dozens were injured and six people were killed.

Then, in October 1970, the FLQ kidnapped British trade commissioner James Cross and assassinated Quebec’s Minister of Labor and Immigration, Pierre Laporte. The same month, a rally was held at the Paul Sauve Arena in Montreal during which approximately 3,000 students chanted slogans in favor of the FLQ.

The government responded with the War Measures Act. Tanks are deployed in the streets of Montreal. Soldiers stand guard in Quebec and more than 400 innocent people are arrested. It was as if Canada was about to tear itself apart.

Then, during the month of September 1972, we seemed to forget all our differences. After a decade of fear and violence, the Summit series has helped us heal as a nation. French Canadians forgot their anger with the government over the War Measures Act. English Canadians forgot their anger at the FLQ for planting letterbox bombs. The English Canadians are now encouraging players named Guy Lapointe, Rod Gilbert and Jean Ratelle. The French Canadians encouraged players named Brad Park, Bobby Clarke and Ken Dryden.

The spirit of unity and reconciliation can be found in the newspapers of the time. On September 29, the day after Canada won the series, the Montreal Gazette reported that “there was a nice touch of bilingual unanimity at the end of the game. At Place Ville Marie, a small crowd began to sing O Canada and a few blocks east of Place Victoria, another crowd sang the anthem – in French.

A September 30 Gazette editorial reported how the series affected people in Montreal. “Team Canada…did something in Montreal on Thursday afternoon that hasn’t happened in…years. As people emerged from bars, restaurants, offices and their homes – wherever they had watched Canada’s 6-5 victory over Russia… they were smiling: in the streets, in the elevators, in the shops, in the the offices… everyone was smiling.

An editorial in the The Montreal Gazette on September 29 reflected how the series touched all Canadians. « The feeling all around, as eyes were glued to the TVs, was ‘My country – my country’. It was heartwarming to see French Canadians applauding Henderson or Esposito’s play, and Canadians of English descent roar in their approval of Cournoyer or Savard. What a combination of two great races! What a combination of two wonderful cultures; what a combination of two proud heritages. Two peoples living together, feeling together, fighting together and winning together! For God’s sake, let’s keep it up!

Journalist Andrew Cohen wrote an article in The Atlantic that September 28, 1972 was the “greatest day in Canadian history” because it united our country like no other event ever has. It was even “greater than July 1, 1867”—the day Canada was born.

I would agree, but I would add that this is the greatest day in our history because it also helped heal our country when we needed it most. It ended the mistrust, fear and animosity that existed between us and brought a smile to all of us. For God’s sake, let’s keep it that way!

Brent Douglas Dyck is a history teacher at Bradford District High School.

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