(Photo: Albert Dumas [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Only one hockey team predated the NHL and has existed for almost 110 years – the Montreal Canadiens. In fact, the Canadiens were at the center of the formation of two hockey leagues – the National Hockey Association of Canada in 1909 and its successor, the National Hockey League, in 1917. Originally known as the Club de Hockey le Canadien, the franchise celebrates its creation on December 4, 1909.

At the end of November 1909, the Eastern Canada Hockey Association (ECHA) held their annual meeting at the Windsor Hotel in Montreal. The Quebec Bulldogs, Ottawa Senators, and Montreal Shamrocks ganged up on the Montreal Wanderers. The other three disapproved of the Wanderers building and using the Jubilee Arena, which they felt was too small and in an inconvenient location. When the Wanderers protested, the other three, as they had planned, dissolved the ECHA and formed the Canadian Hockey Association (CHA). As the Montreal Gazette predicted, “The exclusion of Wanderers from the combination of the clubs formed last week has already started a war that before the end of the season may result in a big shake up in the hockey situation in Eastern Canada.” Sure enough, the owner of the Wanderers met up with the owner of the Renfrew Creamery Kings (who had wanted to join the ECHA), and the two laid the groundwork for their own league, the National Hockey Association of Canada (NHA).

The NHA was announced on December 2, 1909. The Wanderers and the Renfrew club would be joined by clubs from Haileybury and Cobalt. They were planning to have a Toronto club start the following season. The club from Ottawa and the other Montreal Nationals (representing the French Canadian population) debated joining the NHA over the CHA. If the Nationals chose the CHA, the NHA planned to created a “new team called Le Canadien to represent the French speaking population of Montreal.” Naturally, “nearly every Montreal official at the Windsor on Saturday was of the opinion that it was too much hockey” for Montreal to support so many teams. Another effort was made to broaden the CHA to seven teams instead of five so there would be only one league. However, both leagues decided to continue with five teams each. Thus, as the Montreal Gazette summarized:

“Montreal will be the centre of the fight for supremacy between the two leagues. There is no overlapping of territory at any other point on the circuits. In Montreal there will be three clubs holding allegiance to the Canadian Hockey Association and playing at the Arena, namely, All-Montreal, Shamrocks and Nationals, and two holding allegiance to the National Hockey Association of Canada and playing at the Jubilee Rink, namely, Wanderers and Les Canadiens.”

When the NHA met on that Saturday, December 4, “The important business of the meeting was the announcement of the addition of a new club, Le Canadien, with Jack Laviolette, who was present himself, as manager.” The Canadiens’ $1,000 bond was paid to join the league, and $5,000 was set aside for players’ salaries. The Montreal Gazette announced that “To give the new Canadien Club a good chance all the clubs pledged themselves to sign no French-Canadien player until Laviolette has his team complete.” The Canadiens played their first game on January 5, 1910 wearing “dark blue sweaters, with a narrow white band in the middle and an egg-shaped “C” on their chests, sporting fire engine red pants.” They finished their first season just 2-10-0 but have since become the winningest NHL franchise.

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