I walked into the Stade Olympique half expecting to see a rundown ex-stadium, but all I got was a swimming pool. The Stade Olympique was once host to the 1976 Olympics, as well as all Montreal Expos home games and a few Alouettes playoff games.
Now, what was once a magnificent structure is diminished. It’s a swimming pool.
It’s a fascinating sight: What it looks like when a professional team leaves your town and never comes back. What does the city do with the stadium? Who do fans cheer for?
For Montreal, it was an easy decision where to focus the attention. The entire country of Canada is enthralled in hockey. It’s essentially the way Americans feel about football. The Canadiens run through Montreal citizens’ blood, and it’s a year-long activity.
The Canadiens play from early fall until, hopefully for these fans, the start of summer. When it gets cold, the Canadiens are the only team around. The Impact won’t play outside in the cold, the Alouettes’ season ends in the late fall and Stade Olympique occasionally hosts playoff games.
For a town like Baltimore, we know how it feels when a team leaves. We know to scowl at every Mayflower truck that drives by and to remind Indianapolis Colts fans that their team was once our team. However, the difference between Baltimore and Montreal is that this town didn’t get the satisfaction of receiving the Ravens, another team to fill the void.
No, the city of Montreal has the Canadiens to do that. The Canadiens are one of the original six in the NHL and have been a staple in this area for almost 100 years and fans have passed the tradition down since then. If it doesn’t equate to our feelings toward the Ravens, then the next-best comparison would be to soccer teams in England. For both, it is a religion.
I’m sitting in a house right now that has Canadiens’ blinds, Canadiens’ blind holders, multiple Canadiens’ pucks and a Canadiens hockey stick. Everyone knows Carey Price like everyone in Baltimore knows Joe Flacco or Ray Rice.
In the Bell Centre, where the Canadiens play, 21,000 fans will fill the arena with each game. It’s regarded as one of the most electric environments in all of hockey.
So if the question was: How can Montreal live without the Expos? The answer is that it’s easy; it has the Canadiens. Regardless, it’s always interesting to see where history was made and to look back at a time where the Expos were here.
If you get the chance, I’d recommend visiting this town. It has a European sports feel without the overseas flight. You just might fall in love with the Canadiens, as well.