Black History Month

Black History Month – The Highs and Lows

With Canada’s recent win over the U.S. in Olympic hockey at Sochi (2014), the country is on a high. However, there have been lows in the history of this national winter sport. Did you know
The game of ice hockey in Canada has a coloured past? The Coloured Hockey  League (CHL) preceded the National Hockey Leauge (NHL) by about 22 years and helped pioneer the game we know today.

Black people have been playing hockey for over a century (and the First Nations even longer than that). Clubs from various towns in Nova Scotia played against each other and eventually formed into the Coloured Hockey League in the late 1890s. The CHL had a reported 400 African Canadians from across the Maritime provinces of the time (i.e. Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI). Certain innovations in hockey today are credited with originating in the CHL (see below).
The CHL disbanded in the 1920s.

*The slap shot, hockey’s hardest shot
*The ‘butterfly’ stop by the goalie (goalie goes down on the ice to stop the puck)

*A fast-pace game

When it comes to playing in the NHL, black players have experienced ‘interference’ despite their skills and innovations. Breaking into the NHL has been difficult for many and once there, players have been subjected to derogatory comments and actions:

  • Conn Smythe, one-time owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, was said to have stated that he would take acclaimed hockey player Herb Carnegie “…if he were White.”ˆ
  • Controversy over an apparent racist slur uttered to George Laraque by Sean Avery. Hockey Talk on NBC Sports.
  • Banana peels thrown on the ice while Black hockey players are on. Article on one of these incidents involving Wayne Simmonds (2011).
  • Supposed ‘fans’ appearing in Al Jolson black face to ‘honour’ 2014 Canadian Olympic player and Montréal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban. Reflection piece.

The lack of recognition and credit for what the many Black hockey players have contributed to Canada’s hockey heritage puts a blight on the “good ol’ Hockey game.” (lyrics from the chorus of Stompin’ Tom Connors Hockey Song). With the gold medal game looming, it shouldn’t be the colour that matters most. The ultimate achievement for Canadian hockey will be accepting and encouraging players based on their competence and character and not their colour. (But I think it would still be nice if Canada won against Sweden tomorrow.)

Hockey Legend Herb Carnegie
Herb played in the 1940s on a successful line with his brother Ossie and Manny McIntyre known as the “Black Aces”. He was considered one of the best players to have never made it into the NHL (though he was inducted into the Canada Sports Hall of Fame amongst other accolades). Herb also played in Quebec alongside Jean Beliveau, a Montréal Canadiens legend.

I witnessed Herb’s brilliance. There was no question that the years I spent with him still evoke some of my best hockey memories. Herbie was a super hockey player, a beautiful style, a beautiful skater, a great playmaker. Those days the younger ones learned from the older ones, I learned from Herbie.” ~Jean Beliveau~

Retrieved from  on February 22, 2014.

Willie O’ Ree was the first Black person to break the colour barrier and play in the NHL. He started his professional career in 1957 with the Boston Bruins.

Some names of famous black players in the NHL both past and present:
Anson Carter, Jarome Iginla, P.K. Subban, Kevin Weeks, Evander Kane, Grant Fuhr, George Laraque…

Other Resources:

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