Habs is short for Les Habitants, which term dates back to the 17th century. In this context, “Habs” refers to the settlers of New France, now Quebec.
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According to the Canadian Encyclopaedia, habitants were once an iconic symbol of French-speaking Quebec. They were once comparable to cowboys in the American West, or gauchos in Argentina, in terms of their cultural meaning.
What is the meaning of the Montreal Canadiens’ logo?
The first person to refer to the team as “the Habs”, according to LiveAbout, was American sports promotor George Lewis “Tex” Rickard. Tex Rickard founded the National Hockey League, and was the owner of the Madison Square Garden indoor arena.
In 1924 he, apparently erroneously, informed a reporter that the “H” in the logo on the Canadiens’ jerseys stood for habitants. Others contend that it actually stands for “hockey”. One such is Matt Drake.
Writing for Habs Eyes On The Prize in 2013, Drake is steadfast in his denial that the “H” stands for anything other than “hockey”. The team’s official name is le Club de hockey Canadien, which would explain the large “C” encircling the smaller “H”.
So H means hockey and Habs means habitants
So the team’s nickname, the Habs, may well stand for “Les Habitants”. Drake’s description, that the Canadiens were “the city’s all-French team”, certainly supports this notion.
But the connection fans, journalists and audiences more broadly make between the team and the original settlers of Quebec seems to be entirely incidental.
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Nevertheless, it stuck for a reason. As Drake writes, “Kudos to whoever said it first, because I love the nickname.”
So, when fans chant “go Habs go”, or use the hashtag #GoHabsGo on Twitter, they are simply expressing their support for the team. And that team may or may not owe its nickname to an American’s error.