34 years later, Guy Lafleur is remembered by the small Inuit village that welcomed him

Since the announcement of the death of the great Guy Lafleur of the Montreal Canadiens, Quebecers have flooded social networks with anecdotes of having crossed paths with the Blond Demon.

Minnie Gray’s story is a bit off the beaten path.

It is 1988 and Gray was the young third vice-president of the Makivik Corporation, which represents the Inuit of Nunavik. At the time, she led a project to build Nunavik’s first hockey arena in her hometown of Inukjuak, on Hudson’s Bay. When it was built and ready to be inaugurated, she wanted to invite a famous hockey player.

“And there was no one more famous than Guy Lafleur,” said Gray, now director general of the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services.

In 14 seasons with the Canadiens, Lafleur won five Stanley Cups, several individual trophies and was the club’s all-time leading scorer.

In 1988, however, he officially retired, although months later he rejoined the New York Rangers. When Makivik called, he accepted the invitation without hesitation.

In April, Lafleur and his son, Martin, travel 1,472 kilometers from Montreal to Inukjuak for the double inauguration of the new community airport of Tikittavik and the Sikulik arena.

Bigger than Mandela

Emanuel Lowi, now a professor of Aboriginal studies at Concordia University, was then a young journalist covering Lafleur’s visit for the Makivik News.

He remembers hundreds of people from Inukjuak and other communities waiting in the spring sunshine when the plane landed.

“As they were coming down the stairs, there were these crowds shouting, ‘Guy! Guy! Guy!'” he said. “It was thunder!”

Officials had to take Lafleur and his son away so that visiting dignitaries, including the local MP, weren’t completely ignored by the crowd.

From left to right: Inukjuak Mayor Jobie Epoo, MNA Guy St-Julien, Guy Lafleur, Minnie Gray from Makivik and an unidentified representative of the Government of Quebec at the new arena in Inukjuak. (Makivik News)

Lowi describes Inukjuak as a small village at the time, with a population of around 800 people. The only visitors were government officials and construction workers.

“Nobody of that stature had ever visited the north. And nobody has since,” Lowi says. “Nelson Mandela once stopped in Iqaluit, Nunavut. But in 1988, in Inukjuak, Guy Lafleur was taller than Mandela.”

Lafleur had a ‘quiet dignity’

At the end of his first day in the community, after official business is over, Lafleur is the guest of honor at a community feast. Gray remembers people in the community laying out the food they had prepared – caribou stew, fish, ptarmigan and more.

Gray walked Lafleur along the banquet table, explaining all the dishes. “He ate a bit of everything!

At a private party later, people were dancing. The song lady in red by Chris de Burgh has arrived. Lafleur approached Grey, who was wearing a red shirt, and said, “You’re dressed in red, so I’d like to invite you to dance.”

“We danced and I teased him that I was in red, but his face had been red since coming out on earth on a spring day!” Gray recalls.

A crowd of autograph seekers surround Guy Lafleur’s son, Martin. (Makivik News)

Martin Lafleur, 12, stayed with Gray and spent time with his sons, who were the same age.

“It was amazing. They got along really well. He fit in perfectly with the local kids.”

Lowi says children from the south were rare in Inukjuak. A photo that appeared in the Makivik News at the time shows the young Lafleur engulfed in a crowd of “Inuit autograph dogs.”

“Guy was the idol of all the women in town my age,” Lowi says. “But Martin was just as popular with 12-year-old girls!

Lowi spent time with the star, who was sleeping over with his best friend, Daniel Epoo. They shared a few beers and snuck in for a cigarette or two.

Lafleur’s easy-going attitude impresses him.

“He became part of the family,” says Lowi. “He had this quiet dignity about him. And he certainly didn’t give in to the aura of a hero.”

An ordinary superstar in the community

Lowi accompanied him when a group from the community brought Lafleur for a two-day snowmobile expedition.

They fished on a frozen lake and Lafleur caught half a dozen trout. They stayed in tents on the lake overnight, and Lowi shared accommodation with Lafleur, Epoo, and Epoo’s son Jonathan.

“I like to say I slept with Guy Lafleur,” Lowi laughs. “We drilled a hole in the ice and stung fish in our sleeping bags! »

Community members erected an inukshuk to commemorate Lafleur’s visit. From left to right: Annie Kasudluak, Louise Samisack, Guy Lafleur, Daniel and Jonathan Epoo, Guy Trudeau and Moses Nowkawalk. (Makivik News)

Lowi says that while he was in Inukjuak, Lafleur would walk around the community, go to the store and drop by people’s houses to say hello.

“There was a guy who played for the Montreal Alouettes called Johnny Rodgers. He was known as the ordinary superstar. That’s what Guy was — a superstar who was just one person.

Gray remembers how Lafleur referred to his own small-town beginnings in Thurso, Que., in his speech at the grand opening of the new rink.

“He was hoping someone would come into the hockey world from the arena,” Gray recalled. “He encouraged the kids to dream and work hard to achieve something. It was really special.”

Lafleur was comfortable on a snowmobile and happily practiced traditional activities. (Makivik News)

Quebec AM18:01When Guy Lafleur visited Inukjuak

In April 1988, the village of Inukjuak inaugurated Nunavik’s first skating rink. They invited Montreal Canadiens legend Guy Lafleur to come for the ceremony. He came and stayed in the community for three days. Minnie Gray and Emanuel Lowi were there and described the excitement of the hockey hero’s visit to host Peter Tardif. 18:01

Years later, Gray was standing in line for a flight at the Montreal airport when she heard his name.

“I turned around and there was Guy. I was totally thrilled to be called into the crowd by Guy Lafleur — he remembered me and we talked about his trip to Inukjuak.

Gray was saddened when she heard the news of Lafleur’s passing, 34 years almost to the day since he had traveled North.

“I’m at my cabin not far from Kuujjuaq and the weather is wonderful in spring. This is exactly the nice weather we had when Guy came to visit us.

The last line of Lowi’s 1988 Makivik News story read, “Guy Lafleur loves Inukjuak and Inukjuak loves Guy Lafleur.

“He experienced the north like few people do,” Lowi says. “And I think that meant something to him.”

Lafleur performs the face-off ceremony to inaugurate the Sikulik Arena in Inukjuak, the first in Nunavik. (Makivik News)