Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sainte-Flanelle: illustrated history; 1910-11

I've always had a fascination with the jerseys that the Canadiens have worn as they battled on the ice. 

There are stick collectors, puck collectors, goalie mask collectors, collectors of skates, and collectors of all other sort of game-used equipment. I prefer to collect and study jerseys and old sweaters; to me, they're the most personal link between myself and the players who have skated for the most storied team in hockey history. That interest had led to this look back at the history of la Sainte-Flanelle. 

Since the team's founding in 1909, the Sainte-Flanelle, or "holy sweater", as it's affectionately known by fans, has undergone many changes on the road to becoming the familiar icon that we know today. Changes major and minor, subtle variations and wholesale redesign have been part of its history. Many people are surprised to find that the team's very first sweater was predominantly blue, the remainder white, and contained no red. Blue and white were the Canadiens' first official colours with red not making an appearance on the sweater until the following season. Thus the team's official colours of "bleu, blanc, et rouge"... with blue listed first. 

These posts won't be in any chronological order. They'll simply address any interesting variation of the jersey (logo included) that tickles my fancy on a particular day. Over time, and with any luck, the list will become fairly comprehensive. 

But why start with the sweater of 1910-1911? For one, I think that it's one of the least-understood designs; it was only used for one season, and even the Canadiens organization often makes mistakes when representing its colouring. Like many of the early designs, there are also no known examples in existence; all we have are period photographs, newspaper sketches, and hand-tinted collector cards to give us an accurate representation of what they looked like.

Didier Pitre, posing for a Canadiens 1910 photo. The uniform is rounded out with white pants and red, white and blue-ringed socks which no doubt inspired the barbershop sweaters that they'd sport in a couple of years.  

The main body of the 1910-1911 uniform was red wool, with white and light blue stripes ringing the sleeve cuffs and the turtleneck, with wider stripes in the same pattern at base of sweater. In all instances the white stripe was placed in between the blue stripes and the body of the sweater. The Canadiens' logo that season was an old-English-styled white "C" and "A" (standing for "Canadien" and "Athletique") on a green maple leaf in the centre of the chest.

The colouring of the logo from this season has long been misunderstood by many to be blue. Why blue instead of green? Probably for a couple of reasons: because we aren't used to thinking of a Canadiens sweater as having four colours instead of three, and since the Toronto Maple Leafs made their logo a blue leaf, well... over the years people have just gotten used to associating a maple leaf and hockey with the colour blue.

Of course, the Maple Leafs and their blue leaf were many years in the future when the 1910-11 sweaters were fabricated. Back then the only colour known for a maple leaf (outside of the fall season) was green; therefore the leaf on the sweater was green.


British postcard of Eugene Payan, who skated with the team from 1910 to through the 1914 season. The photo is heavily touched up, and is probably from a session predating the 1910 sweaters. It includes the addition of the turtleneck stripes, the logo, and the white skating pants. 

Another often-mistaken feature of the sweaters is the colour of the stripes on the cuffs, turtleneck, and waist. When the Habs rolled out their Centennial version of this sweater, they used green for these stripes. Clearly the designers of those jerseys had access to the Habs' website which also pictures the sweater with green stripes. So why the confusion? Again, it probably came down to an artist not being used to a Canadiens uniform having four colours. Thus, it was sketched as being red, white and green. 

This brings me to a small bone of contention. The Canadiens, for all of their celebration of their history, never seem to get their throwback uniforms to be accurate representations of the uniforms on which they're modeled. And when the team gets it wrong, it's easy to see why people not with the organization get confused, too. I giggle a little inside when I see a fan sporting one of these $200 throwbacks, knowing that the colouring is wrong. Mind you, they look great, but they're still... wrong. (Rant off).

Fantastic Georges Vezina rookie card, showing the 4-colour design of the 1910-11 sweater.

The main clues as to the true colouring of these sweaters comes from the collector cards of the day. Because colour photography wasn't available, the player photos were hand-colourized before the cards were printed, using red red, green, blue and white. From there, it's easy to use the gray-scale of a black an white photo to get a true representation of the 1910-1911 sweater. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Vezina needs to have his number retired.