top of page
Color New Logo-04-04.png
Le hockey horizontal.png

Le Hockey Rink! A Tale of One City - A magical tour de force for first-time author and illustrator Karen Birdgenaw

By Deborah Rankin

If there is one tie that binds Canadians it is ice hockey. French and English alike share a passion for the winter sport whether it's played outdoors at local rinks or indoors at hockey arenas. In fact, it's become a bit of a cliche that hockey is Canada's religion. 

Perhaps nowhere is there a prouder history of hockey than in Montreal. Founded in 1909 the Montreal Canadiens team is the longest operating hockey club worldwide. Now there is a wonderful book that celebrates the love of hockey in this city.

Le Hockey Rink! A Tale of One City by Montrealer Karen Birdgenaw aka Kitty LemonJello Bartholomew (a pen name) is a beautifully illustrated graphic novel based on a true story about neighbors who get together to build a hockey rink on Osborne Street in Verdun.

"The essence of the book is really about wintertime in Montreal and hockey fever," says Birdgenaw. "It's just so much fun, especially for kids! Everybody feels a sense of nostalgia about being a kid," she says. "The story takes them back to their own childhood. It's also about kids today. It's important that kids are playing outside and playing together."

The bilingual rhyming narrative recounts the tireless efforts of fictional characters Philippe and Bernard to cut through the red tape and put their shoulders to the shovel (so to speak) to do the near-impossible and build an ice rink on the sidewalk.

This charming story can be read out loud to the rhythm of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas!. A lovely children's book, it is a great read for kids of all ages, as well as adults who are kids at heart! All in all, it's a magical tour de force for first-time author Karen Birdgenaw who is an industrial designer by profession.

The accolades just keep pouring in. Scotty Bowman, NHL hockey legend and Verdunite describes it as, "a beautiful story woven in French and English, depicting my memories of growing up in Verdun and bringing back to me my own childhood." Chanteuse extraordinaire Ginette Reno, marveling at the story's originality says, "Je vous donne un 10/10, Karen!"

Birdgenaw is a proud Verdunite who still resides in the southwest borough where she grew up. In many ways the place she calls her "big, little hometown of Verdun" is a microcosm of what's best about Montreal, a cosmopolitan city rated "one of the hippest places to live on Earth."

Verdun is a bilingual hub with working-class roots where Anglophones and Francophones have always happily coexisted. In recent years some quarters have been gentrified. With its many boutiques, murals, cafes and restaurants featuring World Cuisine rue Wellington - recently ranked "the coolest street in the world" - is an hommage to this trend.

Yet not far away, the Avenues with their iconic three-story flats tell a different story: one of generations of French and English Quebecers who have raised their families there and built up the community of Verdun by welcoming newcomers and holding onto the dream of a brighter future for everyone's children.

Fittingly, the book is dedicated to the parents of Verdun: past, present, and future. Birdgenaw wants to acknowledge the importance of the role of parents in supporting their children's whole development. "We had great parents in Verdun - everyone has great parents," she says. "We were a bunch of kids. I wanted to definitely say thank you to my parents. My friends had great parents, as well. We were able to run in and out of each other's homes. The parents were always there - mentor, teacher, volunteer coaches in Verdun. It's important to say thank you for what they do."

Birdgenaw paints in her spare time, a fact that is evident in her skillful illustrations. The vivid depictions of landmarks like the Verdun Auditorium and the Natatorium with its brilliant Art Deco architecture recall a bygone era even as these images are seamlessly integrated into the book's landscape of present-day Verdun.

Old-timers will remember the glory days when young boys who dreamt of playing pro-hockey idolized hockey legends like Guy Lafleur who died in April of last year after a nearly three-year battle with lung cancer. Birdgenaw captures the lightning presence of the "Blond Demon" on the ice in an illustration reminiscent of an old photo in an album, one of several illustrations that pay tribute to the storied franchise of the Montreal Canadiens and its loyal fans.

P.K. Subban, a star both on and off the ice, features in her wonderful illustrations. The fashionista entrepreneur's P.K. Subban Foundation has raised $6.3 M for the Montreal Children's Hospital. The former NHL defenseman was cheered by fans at the Bell Centre recently when he was honored by the Montreal Canadiens for his philanthropic endeavors. Saying that he never wanted to play "anywhere else" but Montreal, he promised to come back and spend more time here now that he has retired from the game.

Canadian actor and fellow Verdunite Richard Jutras read the entire story to a packed crowd at a recent book launch of Le Hockey Rink! A Tale of One City at BGC Dawson Commumity Center in Verdun to help raise funds for the children's program. NHLer and Verdunite Jimmy Mann was on hand signing autographs and talking about his career. Football player and Verdunite Glenn Keeble of the Verdun Maple Leafs and the Montreal Alouettes also came out for the occasion.

bottom of page