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Back when “Redmen” meant one clear thing

In 1936, the title “Half-time show by Montreal area Scouts at McGill stadium,” appears above this photo, which was captioned, “Half-time break during a football game at Percival Molson Stadium, McGill University, Montreal. Scouts are disguised as Native Americans wearing plumes.” (Courtesy National Archives of Quebec)

Eric Pouliot-Thisdale

Special to the Eastern Door

My interest in the McGill University football team, the Redmen, and the history behind the name got stronger with the recent controversy, and I finally got a glimpse at the archives.

I found various pictures and newspaper articles confirming some interesting findings.

In two pictures, we see the team in 1936 from the collection of the National Archives of Quebec entitled “Collection Conrad Poirier,” and the description of the picture from September 19, 1936 was: “Montreal Indians Players Caucus at Percival Molson Stadium, McGill University, Montreal.” 

The McGill Redmen mid-game when the name referenced the Indigenous people of the region. (Courtesy National Archives of Quebec)

In the picture we can see the team conducting a meeting in which we notice the pejorative “Indian” silhouette as the logo on their shirt. Since the title and the picture’s description in the archived collection more detailed, I kept looking and found a second one.

I fell upon another entitled “Friends and Family and Trips,” from the same Conrad Poirier collection and the picture was from September 19, 1936. The description given was, “Montreal Indians Players Caucus at Percival Molson Stadium, McGill University, Montreal.”

Then a last one came from the same Conrad Poirier collection, from October 3, 1936, a picture entitled “Half-time show by Montreal area Scouts at McGill stadium,” in which the description was: “Half-time break during a football game at Percival Molson Stadium, McGill University, Montreal. Scouts are disguised as Native Americans wearing plumes.”

Another description describes the photo as, “Football. Indians – Coach Johnny Fevvard, Collection Poirier, Conrad. 25 September 1937 McGill Indians.” The team then also wore a team shirt with the “Indian head” on it.

Since the name given of the instructor wasn’t mentioned in previous McGill public archives or on their website, I inspected the archives of Quebec to find more details about him in order to confirm he was with the actual McGill team and the controversial symbol.

Considering the given name written on the picture was Fevvard, I checked through the previous white pages from Montreal, then conducted by the printer Lovell Litho, owned and operated by the Lovell family since 1835 and still located at its original location in Old Montreal.

In the Lovell’s directory, nobody with that name was then living in Montreal. Then by continuing to check articles I fell on a certain Johnny Ferraro and I suspected that the previous name encountered, Fevvard, was simply misspelled.

It ended up, I was right. In the Sherbrooke Daily Record, April 28, 1938, he was described in an article as “Johnny Ferraro, playing coach of the Montreal Indians football squad last fall and for two years star of the McGill Grads cagers, is trying to organize a professional basketball team in Montreal to play an exhibition series with American colleges and, if the pro game takes in Montreal, to enter the Eastern American Professional Basketball League. It’s just possible the scheme would go over, but the amateur matches have never received much support in the metropolis,” the article reads.

Then, also in the Daily Record, from December 13, 1936, Ferraro is listed as the McGill Rugby coach.

“The Young Men’s Hebrew Association basketball team beat the McGill Grads by thirty-four to twenty-eight. The Grads were, last year’s city title-holders and Eastern Canadian finalist, so their loss was regarded as quite an upset. For the losers Johnny Ferraro and Hammy Hammond were high scorers. Hammond, former star athlete for Sherbrooke High School and McGill University notched eight points while the Montreal Indians’ rugby coach got nine.”

From the same newspaper on April 17, 1936, he was described as a basketball player and the coach of the Montreal Football club in the Inter-Provincial Union.

“Windsor, Ont., April 17. – Victims of Windsor Fords’ high-geared forces, a stunned Montreal McGill Grads’ basketball team held a meeting today to decide the best way of combating the Canadian champions’ near-perfect form,” it reads.

“The highly-rated pair of Johnny Ferraro and Oke Olsen was effectively throttled by Fords last night. Olsen was held scoreless while Ferraro managed to snare six points. Both looked slow in comparison to the pestiferous little men of Windsor. […] Ferraro, leading scorer for Grads and coach of the Montreal Football Club of the Intel-provincial Union last fall, appeared slow afoot throughout the game.

“All his points came in the first half. Olsen, another football star, played a better brand of the cage game than the husky Ferraro, although he had no points to show for his efforts.”

Even later, in the Sherbrooke Daily Record of October 17, 1955, in a game description the McGill Redmen were still referred as the McGill Indians.

Coach Johnny Ferraro with his McGill football team in 1936 when the team’s logo was unmistakably the controversial moniker many students have protested. (Courtesy National Archives of Quebec)

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