Prime Minister Stephen Harper today issued the following statement following Jean Béliveau’s funeral service in Montréal:
“On behalf of the Government of Canada and on behalf of all Canadians, I extend my heartfelt condolences to the family of Jean Béliveau.
“His wife Élise, his daughter Hélène, and his two granddaughters, Mylène and Magalie, have lost an extraordinary husband, father, and grandfather.
“And Canada has lost one of the most respected and admired citizens of his generation.
“No one played our national sport so skillfully, elegantly and successfully as Jean Béliveau.
“He inspired generations of young Canadian men and women, from coast to coast to coast.
“The greatest dream of hundreds of thousands of those youngsters was to score a goal ‘like Jean Béliveau.’ “Indeed, ever since the early 1950s there has been, and still is today, a special sort of goal in Canadian hockey: the ‘Jean Béliveau goal.’
“But Mr. Béliveau was greater than the sport to which he devoted his whole life.
“In Quebec, he was one of a handful of individuals, of popular heroes, who nourished the pride of our fellow citizens.
“During our first year in office, our Government had a resolution passed in the Parliament of Canada recognizing that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.
“Among those great cultural values and institutions that are specific to Quebec – the French language and culture, the civil law – I think we can also very clearly recognize a red, white and blue jersey.
“A number nine could already be seen on the back of that jersey.
“Now we can see a jersey bearing the number four.
“Like so many generations of young Canadians since hockey has been played in Canada, Jean Béliveau took his first steps on skates on a small rink that his father set up in the back yard of the family home.
“Starting in his first years as a junior in Victoriaville and then in Québec City, there was something magical to be seen in how Jean Béliveau skated. “For 18 years, thanks to his talent and team spirit, he made his mark as the natural leader of the Habs, who already had other stars in their roster.
“His charisma and influence transcended team lines.
“I remember attending a gala in honour of Mr. Béliveau’s 75th anniversary, here in Montréal.
“There, the great Gordie Howe, as fierce a competitor as the National Hockey League has ever seen, who played against Jean Béliveau for 18 years, said about him: ‘If you think he’s a good hockey player, as a gentleman he’s even better.’ “After hanging up his skates, he remained a beloved and respected figure of Quebec society, as a hockey executive and philanthropist.
“Above all, he was a family man, devoted to his wife, his daughter and his grandchildren. “To remain close to them during a difficult period in their life, he declined two of the highest functions in the country, offered by two successive p r i m e ministers – of different political stripes.