11/06/2014 01:27 EST | Updated 01/06/2015 05:59 EST

New Montreal Bridge Won't Be Named After Maurice Richard: Lebel

Maurice "the Rocket" Richard of the Montreal Canadiens poses with his hockey stick marked 600 and a puck after game against New York Rangers in New York City, Nov. 26, 1958. Richard scored his 600th goal of his National Hockey League career. (AP Photo)
QUEBEC - A federal cabinet minister has benched the idea of naming a new Montreal bridge after hockey great Maurice Richard.

The name of the Montreal Canadiens legend is no longer in the running at the request of Richard's family, Infrastructure Minister Denis Lebel said Thursday.

"After discussions with Richard's family and, in order to respect their wishes, it was agreed the name of Maurice Richard would be withdrawn from consideration involving the new bridge," Lebel said.

"I would like to say to the family that I hope the coming hours will be more calm."

Controversy erupted recently when reports surfaced that Lebel had chosen Richard's name for the new bridge, which is set to open in 2018.

"We're taking note of the message we received during the past few days," Lebel said.

He maintained he was not surprised by the reaction provoked by the proposal to change the name of the new bridge, which will replace the crumbling Champlain Bridge.

That one was named after famed explorer Samuel de Champlain, who founded Quebec City.

"We recognize the importance of Samuel de Champlain in the history of Quebec," Lebel said. "No one ever wanted to show a lack of respect."

But he added it was too bad that "two symbols, two giants of history" ended up in competition.

Lebel also insisted the new structure will not necessarily bear the name of the father of New France because a final decision has yet to be made.

The current Champlain Bridge was built in 1962 and is one of the busiest in Canada, linking Montreal with its populous south shore.

The idea of naming a bridge after a former NHL giant is not new.

A few years ago, one of Gordie Howe's sons appeared to agree with the suggestion that a new international bridge be named in his father's honour.

Marty Howe said in 2011 he was in favour of naming the proposed bridge linking Windsor, Ont., and Detroit after the former Red Wings captain.

He described his father at the time as a bridge between the two countries.

Howe was born in Floral, Sask., and crossed over at Windsor to join the Red Wings.

Ottawa has already agreed to help finance the construction of the $1-billion six-lane bridge, which will still need U.S. money.

The total cost would be about $4 billion, including work on interchanges, customs plazas in both countries and infrastructure work. It would open in 2020.

The final permit for the international project was issued earlier this year after a U.S. court rejected a request for an injunction.

It was filed by the private company that owns the existing Ambassador Bridge.

— With files from Pierre Saint-Arnaud and Peter Rakobowchuk

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