About the Author

George Tombs

George Tombs is an award-winning journalist, and has worked for TV, radio, newsmagazines, and newspapers, in both English and French. He has reported first-hand on disappearances, refugees, hostage-takings, terrorists, aboriginal societies, desert nomads, Nobel-winning scientists, inventors, and heads of state and government. He served as editorial-writer at The Montreal Gazette, has produced several documentary series for CBC and Radio-Canada, and has a PhD in history from McGill University. He teaches journalism and history at the State University of New York and Athabasca University.

Tombs is a contributor to The Guardian about Conrad Black, and has spoken about Black on CNN, BBC, CBC, CTV, and Global News.

Books by this Author
Robber Baron

Robber Baron

Lord Black of Crossharbour
edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
tagged : business
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Canada is Not Back

Canada is Not Back

How Justin Trudeau is in over his head on foreign policy
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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Canada's Forgotten Slaves

Canada's Forgotten Slaves

Two Centuries of Bondage
text by Marcel Trudel
translated by George Tombs
edition:Paperback
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Des Canadiens à l'épreuve

Des Canadiens à l'épreuve

Histoires d'échecs qui ont mené à la réussite
by Alex Benay
translated by George Tombs
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau

The Natural Heir
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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Excerpt

Justin Trudeau was born a celebrity. He was making the news even before his birth on Christmas Day, 1971. Trudeaumania, a wave of mass infatuation, had swept his father to the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada in 1968. This phenomenal surge of popularity had since waned, but the charismatic and “sexy” prime minister still had many surprises in store for Canadians.  In fact, nine months earlier, the fifty-one-year-old Pierre Elliott Trudeau had stunned the country by secretly marrying Margaret Sinclair, a beautiful twenty-two-year-old from Vancouver, in a Catholic ceremony. They had met on the beaches of Tahiti in 1967. And now the picture- perfect couple were about to have a baby, which hadn’t happened to a ruling prime minister for 102 years.  It was a happy event, and Canadians were overjoyed. Mother and infant (weighing in at six pounds, nine ounces) were doing well at the Ottawa Civic Hospital. The infant’s proud parents decided to baptize him Justin Pierre James, the last name in honour of Margaret’s father, James Sinclair, who had been an influential fisheries minister in the Liberal government of Louis St. Laurent.  “I had some ideas about my son’s name,” the prime minister said as he handed out cigars to the journalists and press photographers gathered at the hospital. “But my wife did as well. So he is going to be called Justin Pierre.” Then the new father stopped a beat: “I fear he may resemble me.”  The arrival of the Trudeaus’ first-born late on Christmas Day was announced on television: telegrams and congratulations flooded the little family. Margaret was soon receiving hundreds of hand-knit sweaters, bonnets, bibs, and bootees, as well as thousands of greeting cards. And when news spread that she was breast-feeding, a new avalanche of letters arrived, commending her decision, as she recounts in her book Beyond Reason.  It was the beginning of a frenetic lifestyle for the family. By the time Justin was one and a half, he already had his own suitcase. He appeared in public beside his beaming father at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, where he met Queen Elizabeth for the first time.   Two years after Justin’s birth, day for day, came the birth of his brother Alexandre, also known as Sacha. Margaret was ecstatic. She simply couldn’t believe her two babies were born on Christmas Day. Justin wasn’t shy about speaking in public. When accompanying his father to the hospital just before his mother gave birth, the little two-year-old made his first statement to the journalists gathered for the occasion. What did he want for Christmas? “Motorcycle!” came the answer.   Then, just as Justin was on the point of leaving with his father, the toddler turned to face the journalists, saying, “Happy birthday … and Merry Christmas!”   Margaret gave birth to a third son, Michel, on October 2, 1978. Justin’s second brother was affectionately nicknamed Micha or Miche. At twenty-eight years old, the ravishing Margaret had three children.  Justin Trudeau’s years growing up at 24 Sussex Drive, the prime minister’s official residence in Ottawa’s embassy district, were recorded by press photographers. He was photographed arriving at Rideau Hall, the governor general’s residence, carried like a package under his radiant father’s arm, and again in the prime minister’s office beside his parents. As a little boy, he often travelled overseas with his father. He was photographed at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, at the Acropolis in Athens with his brothers, in the Vatican during a private audience granted to his father by the Pope.  The Canadian photographer Peter Bregg accompanied Prime Minister Trudeau around the world and recalls that the Trudeaus did their best to shield their children from the media. Hired at nineteen by the Canadian Press in Ottawa, Bregg estimates he must have taken tens of thousands of photos of the prime minister, but very few of his children. He says the press kept a respectful distance from the Trudeau children. But exceptions were made when it came to the prime minister’s Christmas cards (the first of which showed Justin as an infant), special events, Canada Day, commemorative ceremonies, and official occasions of all sorts.  Not everyone gets to grow up at 24 Sussex Drive. Public life certainly has its ups and downs, and Justin recognizes he had a privileged childhood, although not a normal one. Few children are taken out of class to go meet the Queen of England.… The Conservative leader Joe Clark has said that his daughter Catherine and the Trudeau boys were practically brought up together and were subject to intense media attention. This led to an artificial environment “where the father’s perpetual vigilance could have been hard for a child to endure.”  Justin Trudeau seems to have adjusted well to the situation. His mother dreaded the overbearing presence of RCMP officers, but he didn’t mind the fact they were keeping tabs on the official residence twenty-four hours a day. As he confided in a 2009 interview to his former playmate Catherine Clark, host of the CPAC television show Beyond Politics: “We were raised with them always around. They were babysitters, uncles, aunts, drivers, friends; they used to play Frisbee with us; they were part of the environment in which we were raised. And I realize now, looking back, that they were also role-models for me.”   The first years at Sussex Drive were wonderful. Jack Deschambault served as chauffeur and drove the family everywhere. Sometimes Trudeau himself loaded the three boys into his Mercedes convertible and drove them to the prime minister’s retreat at Harrington Lake. Weekends in the country home were particularly enjoyable. “We were alone there, we went walking in the forest, it was a private place.”  Pierre Elliott Trudeau was not only adept at doing pirouettes: he was also a keen athlete. He initiated his children in karate and judo, and took them on canoe trips, ski excursions, and swimming. In the woods, he would imitate a mythical monster, the sasquatch, stomping playfully after the boys to frighten them.  Deep down, Trudeau was an adventurer who in his younger years had gone right around the world, getting himself into trouble and even being jailed for vagrancy. He taught his sons to take risks. One fine morning at Harrington Lake, the prime minister discovered Miche fooling around at the edge of his bedroom window on the second floor. “Please drop now, Miche. I’ll catch you.” His youngest son obliged, under the anxious gaze of the house guests.  At 24 Sussex Drive, life followed a regular routine. The prime minister would get home from the office at exactly 6:45 p.m. Once he had done his forty-four lengths (never more, never less, Margaret later wrote), his children were expected to be all set to join him in the pool or on the trampoline.  Contrary to popular conception, Trudeau kept office work and home life with his sons completely separate. According to his chauffeur Jack Deschambault, “he would get his foot in the door, set down his briefcase and the boys would jump in his arms. And off they went! Jumping into the pool or onto the trampoline!”  Margaret was getting restless, however. Much to her dismay, Pierre would plunge back into his papers once the boys had been tucked into bed. The young wife would later describe herself in Beyond Reason as being a “hippie without a cause.” She felt very much alone. She had developed a reputation at British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University as a left-leaning activist. Without any meaningful employment of her own, she struggled to find her own space in a public life that bored her and that she eventually would come to dread. In a newspaper interview in 1976, she clearly declared her independence and perhaps her dissatisfaction as well, when she said she wanted “to be more than a rose in my husband’s lapel.”  Margaret was a passionate flower child from Vancouver who hated society life and official protocol. She found the cocktail circuit suffocating, and would have preferred smoking a bit of grass and making her own clothes. She also made a few faux pas, for example, at an evening at the White House where she made a stunning appearance in a white dress that went down to her mid-calf, whereas protocol required her to wear a long dress. And on a state visit to Latin America, she didn’t understand why she was ridiculed for singing a song of her own invention in honour of Blanquita Pérez, wife of the Venezuelan president.  Margaret often felt isolated in her husband’s world, given his extremely demanding schedule and the way he could seem cold and distant. She found it infuriating that practically every evening he would go through “those damn brown boxes” of documents from the office until midnight.   As a young woman, Margaret valued her freedom, so when security measures were drastically tightened after the October Crisis broke out in 1970, she took it hard. She was with Pierre on Thanksgiving weekend when the phone rang in the middle of the night, plunging the country into a political crisis. Over the course of the phone call her husband learned that the Quebec provincial minister Pierre Laporte, who had been kidnapped by members of the Front de libération du Québec, was now dead. Pierre Elliott Trudeau had vowed never to negotiate with terrorists, but he had known Pierre Laporte personally and Margaret saw how devastated he was. She heard him sobbing.  From that evening onward, she couldn’t ride a bicycle along the Ottawa River without being accompanied by two RCMP officers. For the beautiful rebel, the bodyguards provided by the RCMP were no better than “prison guards.” Margaret soon managed to shake them off once and for all, but her children would remain under police protection.  Once the 1974 election campaign got underway, Pierre was persuaded to have Margaret at his side. She enjoyed crossing the country from coast to coast, often bringing little Sacha along, and becoming a celebrity in her own right. The public found this twenty-five-year-old woman delightful, and warmed to the anecdotes she shared about her family and young children and her life as a mother. She managed to humanize Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who was increasingly considered cold and arrogant. She definitely contributed to his election victory, but once the campaign was over she returned sadly to oblivion. She waited for a phone call, a word of thanks or congratulations, but in vain. It was at this point that she began to feel exploited, broken. Official protocol and never-ending ceremonies were now a nightmare for Margaret, and she fled them whenever she could. Her marriage suffered as a result.  One day, in a fit of anger, she tore down a piece of a Canadian quilt work hanging in the stairwell of the prime minister’s residence because it bore an embroidering of Pierre Trudeau’s personal motto, “Reason before passion.” She ripped the letters off the quilt one by one and threw them at the bottom of the stairs. Margaret would later write that her husband found this behaviour “inexcusable.”  The children sometimes witnessed their parents quarrelling, for example, when Pierre would criticize Margaret for what he considered her extravagant spending on clothes. There was no reconciliation in sight. In spring 1977, six-year-old Justin lived through the bewildering drama of his parents’ separation. Sacha was four and Michel just two. Pierre and Margaret decided to keep their children in the dark about what was really happening. “We told them I was going to look for work and I would come home as often as I could,” Margaret wrote in her second book, Consequences

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Mad Dog

Mad Dog

The Maurice Vachon Story
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : wrestling
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Excerpt

CHAPTER 1: A THUG IN THE MAKING

 

The epic story of Maurice Vachon starts in 1929 in Ville-Émard, a working-class neighborhood in Montreal. Ville-Émard is located next to the city boroughs of Verdun and LaSalle, between the Lachine Canal and the Aqueduc Canal. It was annexed to the City of Montreal in 1910 and is now part of the South-West borough. Other well-known personalities come from there, such as ice hockey legend Mario Lemieux, and many factories were built there in the early twentieth century, giving the neighborhood a working-class character.

Maurice’s father, Ferdinand Vachon, was born on March 7, 1905, in St. Raphael, a small Ontario village that no longer exists, a few dozen miles north of Cornwall and west of Valleyfield, Quebec. When Ferdinand and his twin brother, William, were ten years old, the family moved to Ville-Émard. Maurice’s mother, Marguerite Picard, was born on September 13, 1905, in the small Ontario village of Huntsville. The village has about two thousand inhabitants and is located some three hundred miles west of Ottawa and sixty miles south of North Bay. Her family moved to Montreal when she was just two months old, and she was already living in Ville-Émard by the time her future husband moved there. These two young Franco-Ontarians had connecting backyards, so they saw each other on a regular basis while growing up. They got married on October 29, 1927. Between 1928 and 1951, Ferdinand and Marguerite, devout Catholics, had a total of twelve children and adopted a thirteenth.

Maurice Régis Vachon was born on September 1, 1929, a little over a month before the stock market crash heralding the beginning of the Great Depression, and ten years to the day before the start of World War II. He was baptized at Notre-Dame-du-Perpétuel-Secours Church, a parish with many English Catholic families, and was named Maurice for his godfather, Maurice Picard (his mother’s brother), and Régis for his paternal grandfather, who had died nearly two decades beforehand.

The firstborn in the family was Marcel. Coming next was Maurice, born in the first family home on Briand Street. By the time their third baby, Guy, was born in 1930, the family had moved to 6873 Jogues Street, where Maurice would grow up. This second-story apartment wasn’t exactly a penthouse: it was the upper half of a duplex, with a room for the boys and a double room for the girls and the parents. Considering the Vachons raised twelve children here (their last child, Diane, was not born on Jogues Street), the apartment must have felt cramped. But many other families in working-class areas of the big city had similar living quarters. The rent varied from $14 to $25 a month, not much in today’s world, but salaries were not what they are today.

Ferdinand Vachon, who was nicknamed Fred, worked as a dock worker at the Port of Montreal, then as a police sergeant, earning $75 every two weeks. During the Depression, this was good pay, although with many mouths to feed it wasn’t a fortune. The Vachon children made their own toys, and, as in all large families, the youngest of them wore hand-me-downs from their older siblings. Marguerite shopped for food at the grocery store, Blain, on credit, not so much because she had to but because it was convenient. The children went to a store in downtown Montreal where for just forty cents they could buy bread, cakes, and donuts fresh from the day before. Fred had a job that brought certain advantages. For example, when he recovered a truck full of stolen clothes, the store owner offered him a set of free clothes for all his children. Nowadays, such practices would be considered unethical, but during the Depression, any donation was welcome. All in all, every penny counted in the Vachon household, but the children never wanted for anything.

So for young Maurice, money was not a concern. In fact, he was busy getting into mischief, fighting with English kids, and hating school. The Vachon children all went to Saint-Jean-de-Matha elementary school nearby. This was not the right kind of place for Maurice, who later described himself as a shy child who had a hard time speaking and expressing his feelings.

Making matters worse, he was left-handed. This is considered normal today, but at the time, being left-handed was often seen as a handicap or an illness. Schoolteachers — often Catholic priests and nuns — forced several generations of youngsters to write with their right hands. And using the word “force” is not an overstatement: left-handed children had their knuckles rapped with a wooden ruler until they learned to stop writing with their cursed left hand. So, like many other left-handers, Maurice wrote with his right hand and did everything else with his left hand.

School discipline was harsh, and that didn’t exactly make him feel like attending on a regular basis. “I was scared when I went back to school,” Maurice recalled in the 1980s. “I wanted to die. I would go see the principal and get the strap. I felt like I was in prison. I was someone with lots of energy to burn off.”

And Maurice burned off a lot of energy.

Going to class was agonizing, but leaving at the end of the day was a different story. His day really got going once the final bell rang at 4:00 p.m. — that’s when the fights started. Sometimes they were triggered when classmates called him “Vachon le cochon” (“Vachon the pig”). Other times classmates threw out a challenge: “Why do you want to fight me? Why not take on Maurice instead? You’ll see it isn’t easy.” He usually wore a white shirt, frequently spattered with some other kid’s blood, and some of his own too.

Maurice told the story many times of how he would come home from school with blood on his shirt. “My father would ask if I had been fighting. I would answer yes. Then he would ask if I had won. I would answer yes. Then he would say, ‘OK, that’s fine then.’”

Fred Vachon was a loving father, but he was also a man of his generation. Without realizing it at the time, he embodied something dark that Maurice would later integrate into his own personality: Fred had a bad relationship with violence. With hindsight, the schoolyard fistfights of children can be downplayed, but being so close to violence became probably the most long-lasting aspect of Maurice’s life, apart from wrestling.

Once Fred Vachon the policeman had finished interrogating Maurice about his school day, the boy would head outside looking for mischief, and that’s when the real trouble would start.

The “Vachon Gang” became well-known in the neighborhood, and for good reason: they broke windows, they got into misadventures, they fought with English kids. There was no stopping them.

The gang consisted of Maurice, his brothers Marcel and Guy, and some of their buddies, the Fichaud and Bélec brothers. Marcel was born in July 1928 and Guy in December 1930: they were only two and a half years apart. Maurice was clearly the boss — he was the one developing new schemes. He was respected by the others as much as by his own brothers. “You couldn’t fight against Maurice for very long,” recalls Guy.

At the end of Jogues Street were “Crazy Field” — so named because it was close to the Douglas Psychiatric Hospital in Verdun — and a forest that would later become Angrignon Park. At the time, Ville-Émard was working-class but it still had a very rural character, as shown by the wooden boardwalks along the streets, from before the era of concrete sidewalks. For the youngsters, the forest was their secret realm. It was also the place where Maurice and his gang fought with English kids. As we will learn shortly, a better way of putting that would be: it was the place where Maurice and his gang beat up English kids. These fistfights no doubt reflected childhood rivalries, but they were also typical of the era. In the 1930s, there was a big divide between English-speaking and French-speaking Montrealers. People speaking English were perceived as belonging to the upper class of society, whereas people speaking French were an uneducated and exploited labor force. This divide affected not just adults but also children.

Parents are responsible for the values transmitted to their children. Marguerite Vachon never hid her deep hatred for the English, despite the fact she and her husband were both originally from Ontario. In a neighborhood with two communities living side by side, there was bound to be friction. “The English called us ‘French pea soups,’” Maurice later recalled. “We called them ‘blokes’ and ‘limeys.’” These were not exactly cruel slurs, but for children in a politically charged environment, it didn’t take much to come to blows.

No English-speaking residents of Ville-Émard have ever given their side of the story, but it seems clear the Vachon Gang treated beating up English kids as a blood sport — and the gang came out on top most of the time. The Vachon Gang claimed Crazy Field as their own territory, so no self-respecting English kid would venture there. The only exception was when an English kid could speak French. And if English kids were accompanied by their fathers, then the Vachon Gang would go into hiding and be proud of not getting caught. A few years later, Maurice’s brother Marcel was the first of the family to show an interest in girls, and he went out with an English girl from Verdun. Considering the territory, this meant, ironically, that the girl’s brother had probably already been a victim of the Vachon Gang!

But beating up English kids wasn’t the gang’s full-time occupation. Actually, they seem to have spent more time breaking windows. One school in Ville LaSalle had to replace its windows over and over again: Maurice had broken all of them three times in a row. The fourth time, the school janitor caught him in the act and wanted to call the police. Maurice then started to cry, vowing never to do it again so he wouldn’t have to face the wrath of his father. So ended his career as a window breaker.

Marguerite Vachon, a diminutive woman weighing just 105 pounds, had her hands full with such a turbulent brood. She was from a large family, and thanks to a strong character she didn’t overreact. She disciplined her children, though, bringing out the strap or a stick only to scare them. At the same time, she recounted only parts of their misadventures to her husband, which spared them far more severe punishment at his hands. The family hired a maid named Ross who helped around the house from time to time. At $3 per week, this was a luxury the family could afford.

Ferdinand played his fatherly role well, but the fact that he was a policeman meant his son could often wriggle his way out of facing consequences. Youngsters in Ville-Émard looked up to Maurice for all the wrong reasons, but more generally the Vachon brothers enjoyed special consideration because their father was a policeman. At the time, this position brought more respect than it does today. Even so, fathers came over to the Vachon household to complain about Maurice beating up their sons or to report on the latest mischief he had gotten into. Ferdinand sometimes took his son on patrol, probably to show him how easy it was to get out of line. This would be unthinkable nowadays.

The one time when the Vachon children didn’t make such a ruckus was when they were playing with their dog, a border collie named Mickey. The dog’s presence spread good cheer all around, and he often accompanied the brothers on their escapades. Mickey was a full member of the Vachon Gang. He was as impertinent as any boy, and he chased after other dogs on the slightest pretext. They paid him back in kind, however: Mickey died of wounds after being attacked by two rival dogs.

Whenever his children needed to burn off energy, Fred would take them, and especially his boys, fishing and camping on Lake of Two Mountains. At the same time, he was always ready to take out the strap when they got into serious mischief. Nowadays, child services would be brought in right away, but in those days corporal punishment was the norm in many families. Maurice later remembered, “At times, I would rather have gone to jail than face the brunt of my father’s punishment.”

The Vachon boys made a point of not telling their father everything. That proved to be a wise decision. “We got up to a lot of mischief,” Maurice later recalled. “We got some good thrashings, and I suppose we deserved them.”

But their father’s attitude was paradoxical. He was proud of his sons’ bad-boy reputation and he would immediately call them to order if they seemed cowardly. One day, while sitting on the balcony of the apartment, he saw his three oldest boys running home with their school bags. This time they were fleeing, with English kids close on their heels. Instead of demanding they return home immediately, he shouted out to them there would be no dinner unless they turned around and beat up the English kids.

Despite the fistfights and other misadventures, the Vachon family were devout and regular churchgoers, like most Quebecers of the time. Maurice went to Mass regularly, even becoming an altar boy. Early in the morning he would go to church, then come home again to change, then head for school. On Sundays, Marguerite would bring her children to St. Joseph’s Oratory, a Catholic basilica and Canada’s largest church.

Maurice didn’t like academic subjects, but he made an exception in the case of geography because he had big dreams of traveling the world. Ferdinand spent a lot of time telling his sons about the criminals he had arrested. Some were Italians, others were Poles or Americans, but all had a story and a particular path in life. Ferdinand probably had the most influence on his children through his storytelling, because most of them would go on to travel and work all over the world.

Maurice had two hobbies that enabled him to develop his passion for geography: collecting stamps and raising carrier pigeons. Everyone knows about stamp collecting, but raising carrier pigeons takes some explanation. Carrier pigeons were trained to routinely return to their dovecote, and they were used especially in wartime to send messages from one base to another. Maurice raised pigeons until he was twenty years old.

One day he decided to head out, carrying a dozen pigeons in a potato sack. Once he got near Châteauguay, across the St. Lawrence River from Montreal, he sent the following message home via pigeon: “Don’t worry, Mommy, I am going to the United States, I will be back in five years.” Marguerite got into a bit of a panic, but Fred remained calm. “There’s no cause for concern,” he said. “You’ll see! Maurice is bound to get hungry and then he will come home!” Around 11:00 p.m., Fred’s prediction came true.

Maurice fed his fantasies and dreams with stamps. They enabled him to travel the world while staying at home. Some of these stamps were from France, Belgium, or Germany, and they were a welcome escape from school, where he was unhappy.

Beyond hobbies and periodic misadventures, Maurice also discovered professional wrestling. At a quite young age, he accompanied his father to see “la p’tite lutte” — light heavyweight wrestling matches. In the 1930s, wrestling was undergoing a big revival in Montreal. Thanks to the French wrestler Henri Deglane, former Olympic champion in Greco-Roman wrestling, the sport was gaining in popularity. Light heavyweight matches were held all over the city in places like the Exchange Stadium, the Ontario Stadium, the Mile End Stadium, and many others.

One time, a wrestling show was held at the Saint-Jean-de-Matha Stadium, near Maurice’s school in Ville-Émard. His father introduced him to Paul Lortie, one of the stars at the time. Maurice was all of four or five years old, but he was already fascinated by the world of wrestling that would become his. From 1939, heavyweight wrestlers fought at the Montreal Forum under the rule of promoter Eddie Quinn. But light heavyweights wrestled in the city’s smaller stadiums, occasionally replacing heavyweights at the Forum (home to the Montreal Canadiens) or wrestling in the openers.

Maurice was obviously interested in the big leagues. He and his buddies would walk a few miles just to have a look at the stadium posters announcing the upcoming matches. They occasionally attended the matches and discovered the big stars of Montreal wrestling. Their favorites were the Dusek brothers, Lou Thesz, Maurice Tillet, and Bobby Managoff, among others.

“We bought tickets for seventy-five cents and then sat in the ringside seats going for $2,” Maurice later recalled. “We were always the first to arrive.”

There was nothing surprising about his love for wrestling. Once Maurice entered the fray, he would always showboat while fighting. He liked to humiliate his opponents before beating them. He would pull their shirt up over their head, then twirl them around in a circle. He loved provoking them just enough for them to lose their concentration. That’s when he would close in for the knockout. “Maurice developed his talents as an entertainer at a young age,” Guy Vachon recalls. And Guy had eye-witnessed quite a few of his older brother’s escapades. But Maurice was the only member of their group of buddies who truly loved wrestling — and since he was the leader, the others followed along, whether they wanted to or not.

Maurice also worked for a time for Elmer Ferguson, a well-known journalist who at the time covered hockey and professional wrestling. A reporter at the Montreal Herald, Ferguson employed Maurice as a clerk, paying him $10 a week for his services. But Maurice discreetly stole some of the best photographs, which he pinned on a wall at home that was already decorated with photos of wrestlers from the papers. Needless to say, Maurice didn’t keep the job very long.

Of all the wrestlers Maurice idolized, one stands out in particular: Yvon Robert. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Robert was exceptionally popular, although he would become even more famous later on. Clearly, he was the new darling of wrestling in Quebec. A native of Verdun, not far from Ville-Émard, Robert came from the same kind of social background as the young Vachon. Maurice considered Robert the perfect example of a man from a modest background who succeeds at what he does and travels the world. As Maurice would later say on several occasions, “Yvon Robert was like a god to us.”

Interest in wrestling flagged somewhat in the late 1930s, but all of that changed with the arrival of Eddie Quinn the promoter and the blossoming of local star Yvon Robert. Hockey was not as popular in Montreal as it later became in the 1950s, and baseball was even less popular. The Vachon boys knew how to skate, but they weren’t hockey fans. Wrestling, meanwhile, was gaining ground by leaps and bounds: in those days, wrestling matches were held in Montreal more times than there are days in a week.

Maurice found wrestling fascinating, but it would take a decade before he made a career of it. Robert’s popularity actually worked against Maurice in his first years as a wrestler, but then years later it would offer him a golden opportunity.

Meanwhile, his personal life seemed like one long series of misadventures and fistfights. Maurice often got away with it and spent only a few hours in jail. But having a well-respected father in the police force proved to be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it prevented Maurice from getting into serious trouble, but on the other hand, his father was far from pleased with the situation, although paradoxically and without realizing it he encouraged his son to indulge in bad-boy behavior.

Two events then took place that would change the course of Maurice’s life forever.

Maurice had many flaws and he had gotten into a lot of trouble. But his heart was always in the right place. That’s the way he was. He had to channel that voracious energy of his one way or the other, but he wasn’t always sure how. When anyone took on someone from the Vachon Gang, it was like attacking Maurice himself. And this was even more the case when his own brothers were involved. He knew his role was to protect and to defend them. He hated acts of injustice: when one gang outnumbered another and abused its strength, or when the stronger attacked the weaker without the slightest pretext. He ended up defending others more often than he defended himself. These were the first signs of a character trait he would go on to demonstrate throughout his life: generosity.

Over the years, the Vachon family grew. After the first three sons (Marcel, Maurice, and Guy) came Jeannine, Régis, Marguerite, Paul, Arthur, Pierre (the son of Marguerite’s sister, he had been part of the family since birth), Claire, André, Lise, and Diane.

One time, the children were playing on the sidewalk when a local kid, who happened to be English, gleefully started shooting pellets at them with an air rifle. Another time, when Régis (or Paul, depending on the version of the story) went apple picking, the same kid stole his bag of apples. This was too much for Maurice. He followed the boy home, subjecting him to a storm of punches to teach him never to steal from a Vachon again. A few days later, as Maurice was on his way to school through the back alleys, the English kid’s father came after him on a bicycle and happened to kick him in passing. Maurice gave him everything he had: he showered the man with blows. The father nevertheless managed to escape and reached a clearing not far away. But Maurice hadn’t finished yet. He followed him, then jumped on him until the man begged for mercy: “Let me go, let me go!”

Giving kids his age a licking was one thing, but for thirteen-year-old Maurice to beat up an adult was another.

“That’s when I realized this made no sense,” he later recalled.

When Maurice and his buddies weren’t breaking windows or getting into brawls, they were attacking trains, especially by removing the seals on freight wagons. This was illegal, because without those aluminum seals, nobody could be sure of the freight loaded in the wagon. Maurice got arrested and was temporarily detained at the station. His father had to bend over backwards to get him out of trouble.

For Ferdinand, this was one misadventure too many. He had put up with straightforward mischief, broken windows, train damage, fistfights, and Maurice’s reluctance to apply himself to his studies. Ferdinand pictured what kind of future his son was headed for, and it wasn’t a pretty one. Maurice was developing the same profile as some of the bandits Ferdinand had to deal with on a daily basis.

“Maurice would have taken a wrong turn in life,” says Paul Vachon. “He was headed more or less for the life of a thug.”

“He liked fighting way too much,” adds Guy.

Maurice himself admitted he didn’t have too rosy a future: “I think I must have taken the wrong path in life. I got into more and more mischief, then I started doing stuff that was straight-out illegal.”

That’s when Ferdinand decided to sign his boys up for boxing at the YMCA. “If they have that much energy to spend, they might as well spend it in the right place without hurting anyone,” he told himself.

No one could have predicted what was about to happen, but this decision marked a turning point in Maurice’s life. The only time he would approach the criminal world again was while working as a doorman in private nightclubs.

For the police sergeant, the boxing lessons at the YMCA certainly came as a relief. But for Maurice, this was the beginning of a new life. He would discover the passion of training. Maurice would continue to train throughout his life. Training would open many doors and help him learn many things, but it would also have tragic consequences.

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