Prime Minister Stephen Harper has named nine new appointees to the Senate, including former Montreal Canadiens Head Coach Jacques Demers.

Demers, who turned 65 on Tuesday, was contacted by the prime minister's office earlier this summer.

"I was contacted for the first time July 13 by someone in the prime minister's entourage," Demers told the RDS sports channel, where he currently works as an analyst.

"This person told me I was one of Mr. Harper's choices and he wanted to know if I was interested.

"I answered that I would be very honoured to be a senator. Mr. Harper contacted me a few days later."

Demers led the Canadiens to its last Stanley Cup win in 1993, coached five NHL teams and twice won Coach of the Year for Detroit.

A dream

He says the appointment is the culmination of a lifetime of hard work and struggles.

He was born into poverty in a home with a violent, alcoholic father who beat his mother and verbally abused him until he dropped out of school after the 8th grade.

Then, after he was well-established in the sports world, came the 2005 bombshell that he's functionally illiterate.

"If one looks at my life, I haven't had it easy," he told RDS.

"It's an incredible journey, nearly impossible."

Battled illiteracy

Demers says that while he can write his name and a few other words, he is unable to read most sentences.

Demers managed to keep his illiteracy a secret from just about everyone as he built his career in the NHL, fearing that it would damage his career.

He says he first admitted his problem to his wife in 1984, when she complained about always being his secretary.

Since his public admission, Demers has learned to read well enough to handle newspaper stories about hockey, but says he needs to concentrate while reading other subjects.

Premier impressed

Among the many admirers of the feisty former coach is Premier Jean Charest, who praised Demers at a fundraising dinner Thursday evening.

"I'm an admirer of J.D. and he's a great man," said Charest, before adding: "The rest, I'll let politics at the federal level, you know, unfold the way they should."

Tories to upper chamber

Demers is one of nine people Harper has named to the upper chamber.

Other Quebecers include university researcher Judith Seidman, and Claude Carignan, a law professor, former St. Eustache mayor, and former Conservative candidate. Other new Senators include journalist Linda Frum Sokolowski, former Acadia University president Kelvin Ogilvie, and former Northwest Territories premier Dennis Patterson.

Harper has also seen fit to appoint three additionalTory insiders to the Senate, including campaign chair Doug Finley, party president Don Plett and his communications assistant Carolyn Stewart-Olsen.