"The Hockey Sweater" is Roch Carrier's beloved story of the furor that follows the delivery of a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater to his home in Ste. Justine, Québec, a bastion of support for Rocket Richard and the Montreal Canadiens. It has become a classic of Canadian children's literature (in English and French), though it was first intended for adult readers. A "childhood recollection," the story grew from the CBC's request that Carrier reflect on the radio about the culture and desires of Québec, which at the time was swept with separatist sentiment and debate about the future of the province within Canada. Rather than provide an essay, Carrier responded with a memory of his childhood that illustrates the cultural and linguistic divisions and connections between English and French Canada, and lovingly represents the world of Catholic church, hockey rink and village spirit that formed his childhood in Ste. Justine.
"The Hockey Sweater" was originally published in French as "Une abominable feuille d'érable sur la glace"--in English, "An Abominable Maple Leaf on the Ice"--in Carrier's collection Les Enfants du bonhomme dans la lune (1979). The collection was translated into English by Sheila Fischman and published as The Hockey Sweater and other stories (1979).
In 1980 the National Film Board of Canada, captivated by the story, adapted "The Hockey Sweater" into the award-winning animated short film The Sweater. Carrier wrote the screenplay and narrated the film, which was animated by Sheldon Cohen. The short film is one of the NFB's greatest successes in the genre; it has been watched by millions and won several international film honours, including a British Academy Award for Best Animation. The popularity of the short film led to the release of The Hockey Sweater by Tundra Books in 1984 as a picture book for children, featuring original art by Sheldon Cohen. It went on to be one of the publishing house's best selling books.
The Hockey Sweater has achieved classic status in Canadian literature. It was taken into space by Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk when he served on a 2009 mission to the International Space Station. It was adapted for orchestra by Abigail Richardson for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and was first performed in 2012 in a production narrated by Roch Carrier and hosted by hockey player and MP Ken Dryden. Most tellingly, every day the first lines of The Hockey Sweater, in English and in French, pass through the hands of millions of Canadians on the five dollar bill:
"Les hivers de mon enfance étaient des saisons longues, longues. Nous vivions en trois lieux: l'école, l'église et la patinoire; mais la vraie vie était sur la patinoire."
"The winters of my childhood were long, long seasons. We lived in three places--the school, the church and the skating-rink--but our life was on the skating-rink."
The Hockey Sweater is one of Canada's best-known and most-loved stories; it continues to charm, inform and delight readers of all ages. Roch Carrier published a sequel to The Hockey Sweater, The Boxing Champion, in 1991, continuing the story of his early athletic pursuits. Also illustrated by Sheldon Cohen, The Boxing Champion won Cohen the Governor General's Literary Award for Children's Illustration (French). Carrier also later returned to the topic of his childhood adulation for Rocket Richard, and the influence of Richard in Québec hockey culture and political culture, in his book Our Life with the Rocket (2001). Maurice Richard, recognizing Carrier's literary contributions to hockey, presented Carrier, who admits himself he was never a superb hockey player, with one of Richard's hockey sweaters.