Family's love for the Montreal Canadiens prompts move from San Francisco to Montreal
By DAN RYLAND, Special to The GazetteJanuary 30, 2012
MONTREAL - How passionate are you about hockey and your Montreal Canadiens?
Would your love of the game and – in particular – the Habs help influence you to move your family?
How about from California to Montreal?
Marjolaine Tremblay-Flaherty was born and raised in Pointe Claire, and like so many of her friends grew up celebrating many Stanley Cup parades.
As a young woman, she ventured off from Montreal with her journeys eventually landing her in California, where she met and eventually married Michael Flaherty, an affable California native.
One thing led to another and – two sons later – they were living the good life in San Francisco. Michael was part of several business ventures; Marjo, after her sons Matthew and Ryan were born, was busy orchestrating the to-and-from of school and activities. But, unbeknownst to her, something might have been missing.
It started to surface in the spring of 2008 with NBC broadcasting the National Hockey League playoffs on weekends. Marjo hadn’t watched hockey in years, never having cable TV. While flipping channels one weekend, she caught a game and an old flame was rekindled.
The first clue might have been neighbours wondering what all the yelling was about inside her family’s apartment.
“Being San Francisco, Montreal games start at 4:30 (p.m.),” Mike recalled. “From outside on the street, I could hear her yelling inside the apartment.”
Had Mike ever seen his wife behave like that before?
Marjo joked: “Maybe our wedding night, but that’s about it!
“No, really ... he said he never saw me like that,” she added. “Like the rest of Canada, I was going completely insane.”
And the boys – then age 8 and 6 – quickly got caught up in the hysteria that is the hockey fan ... especially a homegrown Canadiens fan.
“The boys loved it,” Michael recalled. “We got them some sticks and we used to move the furniture in the living room so we could play mini-hockey.
...Since 2003, most summers – as well as alternate Christmases – the Flahertys had been coming to Montreal to visit Marjo’s parents, who still reside in Pointe Claire. In 2009, while here for Christmas, Marjo found a Canadiens jersey and the NHL Centre Ice cable TV package under the tree.
...Now, more than ever, watching hockey games would be an event for the family. And, perhaps without realizing it, their emigration process had begun.
During that same Christmas in Montreal there was a cold snap.
“We got off the plane, wake up the next day and it’s like minus-20,” Marjo recalled. “The boys were asking: ‘Can we go play in the snow?’ I thought: ‘They’ll be back soon.’ About an hour and a half later, they were still outside playing.”
As the boys got older, the Flahertys toyed with the idea of changing their lifestyle to something more conducive to family life.
“We thought about moving north of San Francisco,” Mike said. “My brother lives up there, but we had also been coming to Montreal every summer. There was the quality of life, we wanted the boys to learn French, we wanted more of a suburban life. It was time for a change.”
“And I missed my family,” Marjo added.
Ironically, Mike’s family also had a Montreal connection. His great-grandfather emigrated to Montreal from Ireland 100 years ago, eventually ending up in Minnesota.
“The boys thought Montreal was a great place,” Mike said. “They thought every day was the pool, swimming lessons and the parks.”
By April 2010, the decision had been made. Two months later, the Flaherty family packed up, waved goodbye to San Francisco and headed to Montreal, crossing the Canadian border, appropriately enough, on July 1.
“The boys were super-excited,” Marjo recalled. “We had been coming here for years. They didn’t think about schools. They thought about going to the pool every day and about soccer. They thought about playing hockey.”
Added Mike: “When we got here, we registered them in school and in hockey. Summer was like other summers. We had the pool. The kids played soccer.”
And to prepare for winter?
“We enrolled them is a skating camp. They could barely skate,” Mike recalled with a laugh.
...There was no looking back.
“When I started hockey, I was a little nervous,” Ryan said.
“It’s better than the other sports,” he added. “You have a stick, shoot, pass, deke.”
Now the Flahertys are a full-fledged hockey family. Matthew is playing this season at the peewee level and Ryan is in atom. Mike is an assistant coach on Ryan’s team and Marjo has the daunting task of team manager for both her boys’ teams.
“I was convinced my boys would be soccer players and maybe surfers,” Marjo recalled of the days in San Francisco. “Now they’re total hockey nuts, and so are their parents.”
Marjo, who got her U.S. citizenship just before leaving San Francisco, thinks the family will move back to the United States one day. But Mike, the native Californian, thinks not.
“Pointe Claire is such a great community,” he said. “It seems like every kid around here plays sports.”
....Does the Flaherty family now have regrets about the move?
“Yes,” Marjo said with a chuckle, “because the Sharks will probably make the playoffs and this means we’ll have to move back to sunny California and the kids will hate us.”