David Owen ©ITG

I took a short nostalgia trip while I was in Montreal last week.

It was just a few subway stops to a neighbourhood-y district where Portuguese hairdressers ply their trade in their front rooms and hole-in-the-wall money-changers are quite happy to convert "twenty dollars US" into local currency.

I navigated my way through a shopping mall, and there it was, on the other side of the road: one of the world’s most storied sports venues - the Montreal Forum.

For seven decades until 1996, this hangar-like structure was home to one of the great franchises in sport: the Montreal Canadiens ice-hockey organisation.

Not only have the so-called "Habs" (for habitants) won professional ice-hockey’s greatest prize, the Stanley Cup, more often, far more often, than any rival, they have acted as a sort of spiritual home for French Canadians, a bit like Barcelona Football Club has done for Cataláns and Athletic Bilbao for Basques.

In truth, there is precious little to remind visitors of these glory days.

Nowadays, the Forum is primarily a cinema complex. I had to make do with melancholic fragments: a few photographs on the wall; a couple of old seats; a statue; a faded crest on the ground outside the entrance (see photo).

A faded crest was one of the few reminders that ice hockey's greatest team, the Montreal Canadiens, played at the Montreal Forum ©ITG
A faded crest was one of the few reminders that ice hockey's greatest team, the Montreal Canadiens, played at the Montreal Forum ©ITG

But I felt close to the greats in place if not time.

Though their natural element the ice is long gone, this was where immortals such as Rocket Richard, Guy Lafleur and goaltender Jacques Plante, the man who made it okay to wear a face-mask after having his nose broken by a puck, enjoyed their greatest moments.

The Canadiens have not won the Stanley Cup since moving to their flash, downtown and no doubt far more comfortable modern-day home at what is now called the Bell Centre 23 years ago.

I am sure there are many reasons for this, but I would put distancing themselves from this sacred, if dated, place firmly among them.

Nor is it just ice-hockey that the Forum is known for.

The Beatles performed there. So did the Bee Gees.

And, of course, the venue boasts an Olympic heritage too, having staged no fewer than five sports – handball, volleyball, basketball, boxing and gymnastics - during Montreal 1976.

In terms of star quality, this was arguably the greatest women’s gymnastics event there has ever been, featuring Olga Korbut, Ludmila Tourischeva, Nellie Kim and, above all, a terrifyingly precocious 14-year-old Romanian called Nadia Comăneci.

Apart from its financial repercussions, Montreal 1976 is remembered as the Games where Comăneci scored a perfect 10, registered as 1.00 by an electronic scoreboard unwilling to concede the possibility of out-and-out perfection.

A New York Times piece from July 1976, written by Dave Anderson, illuminates the full extent of her achievement.

"Five times (all three on the uneven bars, twice on the beam) she has been awarded a perfect 10 score," Anderson wrote.

"In today’s competition, she opened with a respectable 9.85 on the vault, added her third consecutive 10 on the uneven bars, another perfect 10 on the beam and concluded with a 9.9 in her floor exercises.

"By that time, all the other competitors were watching her except the Soviet athletes."

The Montreal Forum was the scene of Nadia Comăneci's astonishing performance at the 1976 Olympics when she won three gold medals and was awarded a perfect 10 five times ©Getty Images
The Montreal Forum was the scene of Nadia Comăneci's astonishing performance at the 1976 Olympics when she won three gold medals and was awarded a perfect 10 five times ©Getty Images

Where, you wonder, does one go after achieving perfection at 14?

One of her main rivals, Tourischeva, found happiness in the Canadian city.

It was there that she met future husband, the sprinter Valeriy Borzov, who astonishingly took bronze in the 100m, in spite of being told 20 minutes before the race that a sniper had a plan to shoot him.

The pair went to the pictures together.

That, perhaps, is one of the few things to be said for turning this place of mesmerising, mainly macho sporting endeavour into a cinema.

Far more apt would be a future as, say, a cutting-edge museum for Canada’s national sport.