Black Hockey in Ontario(late 1800’s – early 1900’s)
Though Nova Scotia may have been the birthplace of hockey, the sport quickly became a national obsession. The leisurely pastime played on frozen outdoor ponds and indoor rinks was soon transformed into an organized sporting activity, attracting thousands of adoring fans and highly skilled athletes to various venues of competition throughout the country.
In Ontario, young Black males also brought the skills they had likely honed in friendly neighbourhood games of ‘shinny’ to the arena of organized competition. Due to the small numeric sizes and scattered nature of Black communities in the geographically large region of Ontario, an organization such as the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes would have been impossible. However, individual Black teams and players eagerly participated, when allowed, in local league play.
In 1899, Hipple Galloway played for the team representing Woodstock in the Central Ontario Hockey Association. Written reports of his play found in the local print-media suggest that Hipple (also reffered to as “Hippo”) was a highly skilled, valuable member of the team.
In 1916, Fred “Bud” Kelly of London, Ontario played for the 118 Battalion team in the Ontario Hockey League. Apparently, Kelly was scouted by the NHL’s Toronto St. Pats (Maple Leafs), but the talented African-Canadian was never officially contacted by the club.
The Orioles, an all-Black hockey team from St. Catharines, played in the Niagara District Hockey League during the 1930’s. These pioneers laid the foundation for future African-Canadian hockey stars such as the Carnegie brothers, Tony McKegney, Anson Carter, and Ray Emery, who would all hail from Canada’s most populous province.
Herb Carnegie was undoubtedly the most skilled and acclaimed member of the “Black Aces” line. Standing 5-feet-8 inches tall, and weighing only 165 lbs., Herb was known for his prolific goal scoring and deft play-making abilities.
Playing for Sherbrooke in the 1947-48 season, Herb recorded 127 points in only 56 games. Yet, the younger of the two Carnegie brothers also has the unenviable distinction of being “the best Black hockey player never to have played in the NHL”. Unfortunately for Carnegie, his hockey career was at its height during a time period when most colour barriers in professional sports remained firmly in tact.
It is even rumoured that in 1938 Conn Smythe, the legendary owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, said that he would be interested in Carnegie if he could turn him White. Roughly ten years later, Carnegie would be invited to the New York Rangers training camp only to be offered a position with club’s lowest level farm team, paying just over half of the money he was making as a semi-professional. For reasons apparently connected to pride and economic necessity, Carnegie refused the deal and returned to his family and semi-pro team in Quebec.
Carnegie has since founded a successful hockey school and program for youth called Future Aces. He has also received numerous accolades and awards for his contributions to the community and the game of hockey including the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship in 1988, the Queen’s Jubilee Medal in 2002, and an induction into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 2001.
Often dubbed “the Jackie Robinson of hockey”, Willie O’Ree’s break-through was not greeted with the same fanfare as the seminal slugger’s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Willie O’Ree was born on October 15, 1935 in Fredericton, New Brunswick, the youngest of 13 children. He excelled in both baseball and hockey, but decided to pursue a professional career in the latter.
By the early 1950’s, O’Ree was well on the path to becoming a professional hockey player, competing at the junior level in both Quebec and Ontario.
While playing for the Kitchener-Waterloo Junior Canucks, however, he suffered what was considered to be a career ending injury when an errant puck struck him above his right eye. Immediately after the incident, O’Ree was told by a physician that he would never be able to play hockey again.
Despite being legally blind in his right eye, O’Ree persevered and continued to play, signing a contract with the Quebec Aces (who were coached by the legendary “Punch” Imlach at the time).
O’Ree endured much abuse from racist fans and opponents while playing in Quebec, including being spit on, having drinks thrown on him, and being physically attacked both on and off the ice. However, on January 18, 1958, O’Ree made history by becoming the first Black player to compete in the NHL, hockey’s premier league (O’Ree was called up from the minor league Aces to play for the Boston Bruins against Montreal).
Though it is difficult to tell just how memorable and productive O’Ree’s NHL career could have been if he were not visually impaired, it remains certain that his presence has made all the difference for generations of Black hockey players.
Angela James, who has been dubbed “the Gretzky of women’s hockey”, has had an amazing career as a member of the Canadian national hockey team. In a period spanning 1987-1997, James starred in international play, highlighted by her eleven-goal tally at the Women’s World Championships of hockey in 1990. With James as team captain, Canada would go on to win four World Championship titles. James, the daughter of a Black father and White mother, is the only African-Canadian to ever captain a national hockey team.
Jarome Iginla has achieved many firsts where African-Canadian hockey players are concerned. In 2001-02, his best season to date, Iginla became the first Black player to win the Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard trophy for leading the NHL in scoring with 52 goals, capture the Lester B. Pearson Award as the NHLPA’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) selected by NHL players themselves, take home the Art Ross Trophy for leading the league in total points with 96, and be named to the First Team All-Star roster at the Right-Wing position.
He also became the first NHL player voted MVP by his peers not to win the Hart trophy, which goes to the MVP as voted by hockey writers and broadcasters. Some, including Iginla’s mother and members of the Black press, believe that the hockey media slighted the Calgary Flames’ phenom due to the colour of his skin. If such allegations hold true, though difficult to prove, it would not have been the first time that Iginla was the target of racial abuse during his career as a hockey player.
On several occasions while playing peewee and midget level hockey, opponents choose to insult the young and extremely gifted athlete of Nigerian heritage by using the N-word. Nevertheless, Iginla persevered and has not only distinguished himself as a legitimate superstar in the National Hockey League, but also became the first black man ever to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics, which he did at the Salt Lake games in 2002 with the Canadian Men’s hockey team.
James Robinson Johnston and James A. R. Kinney
The Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes began as an initiative of Black Baptists churches in Nova Scotia to increase and retain male membership. Consequently, the league’s initial administrators and facilitators was a mix of local Baptist ministers and respected members of the laity.
During the league’s formative years however, two individuals formed the nucleus of the fledgling organization’s leadership. James A. R. Kinney and James Robinson Johnston were childhood friends who shared a passion for community activism and a commitment to achieving social equality and justice for African-Canadians.
Kinney, who has been referred to as “one of the greatest Canadian leaders never known”, became the first Black graduate of the Maritime Business College at only eighteen years of age. This intellectual wunderkind was the advertising manager of a reputable White-owned company in Nova Scotia (which was quite an accomplishment given the time period) and an established public speaker, preaching sermons from the pulpit of the Cornwallis Baptist Church at the age of fourteen.
Meanwhile, Johnston, who had graduated from Dalhousie University and Law School by 1898, became Nova Scotia’s first Black lawyer. Johnston’s status as a well-connected businessman, and his revered legal prowess, also gained him a lot of public attention. So widespread and respected were the reputations of Kinney and Johnston that the Conservative Party tried to recruit both men to represent their local political interests.
By 1900, Kinney and Johnston were at the forefront of an organization unlike any other before or since its time. The Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes instilled pride in a marginalized community, improved the social and economic status of many young African-Canadian men, and made significant contributions to the development of the Canada’s most eminent sport.
The Black Aces
The senior level Buffalo Ankerite team of the Northern Ontario Hockey Association featured the first all African-Canadian line in semi-professional hockey. In 1941, brothers Herb and Ossie Carnegie of Willowdale, Ontario teamed with Manny McIntyre, originally from Fredericton, New Brunswick, to form a line that was recognized as much for its superb talent and skill as the distinctiveness of its racial composition. This unique threesome thrilled fans and gained the respect of racist detractors by dominating their opponents in the semi-professional ranks.
In their first two seasons together, the Carnegie’s and McIntyre lead the Ankerite team to two league championships as well as consecutive provincial Allan Cup finals appearances. The openly racist print media insisted on providing offensive nicknames for the gifted trio such as the “Ink Spots”, the “Dark Destroyers”, and the “Dusky Speedsters” to list a few. The moniker most accepted by this legendary line however, was the “Black Aces”. Former NHL All-Star and Hall of Famer Frank Mahovlich, who witnessed the Carnegie’s and McIntyre play in 1942 stated, “The black line was so amazing because of their great skills—the skating, the passing, the goal scoring…I was a centreman for many years. I might have envisioned myself going down the ice like Herb Carnegie”, (Breaking The Ice, Cecil Harris). The Black Aces played on several different teams together between 1941 and 1949.
In a thirteen-year NHL career that started with the Buffalo Sabres in 1978, Tony McKegney would become the first African-Canadian to achieve a significant amount of statistical success as a professional hockey player.
McKegney was born on February 15, 1958, in Montreal, but was adopted soon thereafter, and raised by a White family in Sarnia, Ontario. At age twenty, McKegney signed a contract with the now defunct World Hockey Association’s (WHA) team in Birmingham, just to see the owner illegally renege on the deal after fans threatened to boycott the team for having added a Black player to its roster. However, the WHA’s loss became the NHL’s gain, as McKegney would go on to score over 300 career goals, including 40 in the 1987-88 season. His total of 78 points in the same season would remain the highest ever recorded by a Black player until Jarome Iginla’s breakout 2001-2002 campaign.
McKegney may have been the fourth Black hockey player to enter the NHL, but contemporary Blacks playing in the league, or aspiring to make it, often acknowledge him as their foremost source of inspiration.
The Edmonton Oilers were undoubtedly the most dominant NHL team in the 1980s, winning Stanley Cup Championships in ’84, ’85, ’87, ’88, and again in 1990. In each of the aforementioned Cup victories however, the Oilers benefited from the stellar goaltending of a young African-Canadian named Grant Fuhr.
Fuhr was born on Sept. 28, 1962, in Spruce Grove, Alberta. Like Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s first Black player, Fuhr also excelled in baseball, but eventually choose to pursue hockey professionally. This choice turned out to be prudent, as Fuhr is often heralded as one of the game’s most competitive and dependable goalies.
His accomplishments include receiving the Vezina Trophy (for the league’s most outstanding goaltender) in 1987-88, six NHL All-Star game appearances, making the Canada Cup All-Star team in 1987, setting an NHL record for the most points by a goalie (14) in 1983-84, and being the first Black player inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003.
Grant Fuhr is by far the most decorated African-Canadian in the history of hockey.
Mike Marson and Bill Riley
Mike MarsonIt is a little known fact that Mike Marson and Bill Riley were the second and third African-Canadians to play in the NHL respectively. Neither of the two experienced longevity at the highest level of professional hockey, but that was not a result of a lack of talent.
Bill RileyMarson in particular was touted as a star in the making, recording ninety-four points in sixty-nine games as a junior with the Sudbury Wolves, and being drafted ahead of future Hall of Fame inductee Brian Trottier. However, the rabid racism that both men faced from fans, teammates, and team administration eventually led to the demise of their NHL careers.
Marson received death threats in the mail and over the telephone, warning him to leave the “White man’s game”. Riley’s teammates decided that it would be funny to dress up like the Ku Klux Klan and scare him. In spite of these, and several other unfortunate incidents, Marson and Riley did manage to make history on December 26, 1974, when they both donned Washington Capitols’ jerseys and became the first African-Canadian hockey players to appear in an NHL game at the same time.
By the 1990’s the number of Blacks playing in the NHL began to reflect the huge increase in Canada’s Black population. Large numbers of Blacks immigrating to Canada from the Caribbean, Africa, and South America saw many of their sons (and daughters in some cases) become fascinated with their new homeland’s national pastime.
Anson Carter is arguable the most recognizable of this group of first generation African-Canadian hockey players. After accepting and completing a four-year scholarship offer to Michigan State University for baseball and hockey, and winning a gold medal with Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, Carter started his NHL career with the Washington Capitals in 1996.
Carter has established himself as a solid performer at the professional level, registering career highs in points (60) with the Edmonton Oilers in 2001-02, and goals (33) with the Vancouver Canucks in 2005-06. Carter has also scored what is considered to be the biggest and most significant goal by an African-Canadian hockey player, when his overtime marker against Sweden gave Canada its first gold medal after a six-year drought at the World Championships of Hockey on May 11, 2003.
Anson Carter, along with four other African-Canadians that have played in the NHL, namely Peter Worrell, Fred Brathwaite, Jamal Mayers, and Kevin Weekes, traces his ancestry to the island of Barbados.
The Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes (CHL)
In the nineteenth and the early twentieth-century, sporting and leisure clubs were considered the privilege of the upper-middle classes. Therefore, any organized athletic competition was generally restricted to White-European male participation. As the sport of hockey began its storied climb to national acceptance and reverence, it too became the exclusive domain of the dominant Anglophone and Francophone cultures.
The creation of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes (CHL) was necessary and vital for an ethnic group which found itself unjustly banished to the periphery of the burgeoning national identity. The teams and players in the CHL were a collective of young African-Canadian males taken largely from small communities within, and on the outskirts of Nova Scotia’s urban centres.
Games were played at community indoor and outdoor arenas and rinks, and were initiated by invitations, or challenges, issued by one team’s officials to another. Challenges were often advertised in local newspapers, resulting in large, racially-mixed crowds that frequently outnumbered the attendance of Nova Scotia’s White “senior league” games.
The CHL, which also featured pre-game shows such as speed skating exhibitions, was described as a highly physical, face-paced, and entertaining brand of hockey. The Black hockey players of the time were, at the very least, equal to their White counterparts as evidenced by the scores resulting from two matches played between the all-Black teams from the CHL and all-White teams from the Maritimes’ “Senior Leagues”.
In 1899, the Halifax Eurekas of the CHL beat the Halifax Chebuctos of the “Senior League” by a score of 9-7 in an impromptu exhibition game, and in their first non-intra squad match, the West End Rangers, an all-Black team from P.E.I., narrowly lost to the top “Senior League” team in the province, the Abegweits by a score of 5-4 in an officially recorded game in 1900.
The CHL has also been credited with originating a few elements that are now commonplace in modern hockey including goaltenders ‘going to the ice’ to make a save, and quite possibly the ‘slap-shot’. The CHL lasted for close to thirty years, with a few games being recorded as late as the mid-1920’s, before finally succumbing to the destructive forces of systemic racism.