Ottawa’s Prescott Hotel, in the mid 1980’s, was the classic (and maybe still is) old beverage room with a Ladies and Escorts door, and a regular entrance. It smelled of stale beer, cigarettes, and body odour, and the trays of beer were served by guys in white shirts who looked like they were on day parole.
It was my kind of a bar.
It was also the Wednesday night bowling team’s kind of bar, a place where the members, which consisted of a bunch of young guys and one really old guy, got together after a big night out at the bowling lanes.
I’d just read about the bowling team and the really old guy, in the paper, so I went down to the Prescott. Because it’s not every day that you get a chance to drink beer with Aurele Joliat, star player of the Montreal Canadiens in the 1920’s and 30’s, and good buddy of Howie Morenz.
In the Prescott, I spotted Joliat right away. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out, as he was about 50 years older than the rest of the bowling team. So I went over and asked him if I could buy him a beer and he grumbled something and said the f word a few times, but he joined me and we ordered our beer.
For the first fifteen minutes or so, he was just an old grouch, like so many geezers. He pooh poohed the Rocket when I asked him what he thought, saying Richard couldn’t lace Morenz’s skates. He grumbled about today’s hockey, saying they were all a bunch of pansies who would never had cut it in the old days. And on it went.
But then he started to change. I think he could feel that I was genuinely interested in the hockey of his day, and in his team, the Montreal Canadiens. He became soft-spoken and kind, and he showed interest in me and my life. He grew sentimental when talking about Morenz, and signed a photo I had brought of him and Morenz arm in arm, and wrote, “To my pal, Howie Morenz 1924-37.” I had a broken wrist and he also signed a book I had brought, “To Dennis and his broken arm. Aurele Joliat.”
The evening began with an old man who was testy, not really nice, and almost belligerent, and it ended with a man who was a kind and caring gentleman.
I drove him home and he thanked me and said goodbye, and I wish now I would have continued this new friendship. I would have loved to have seen his old photos, and maybe that little touque he wore when he starred for the Montreal Canadiens, all those years ago.