by MacAndrew Clarke
The perception that hockey is a White sport is so pervasive that many would be surprised at the fact that it was Black people in Nova Scotia who pioneered the style of hockey we appreciate today. Unfortunately, hockey is still seen as a sport that never really appealed to Black folks.
When I learned the contrary on December 12th at a Black History Ottawa event: The Colored Hockey League of The Maritimes (1895-1930,) I was inspired and inquisitive as to how does a sport pioneered by Black people become so foreign to us? According to the facts, it seems that when it came to Black hockey players, their skills were valued over than their identity. How? Let’s start with a style of play that’s integral to the sport: goal tending.
At the beginning of the NHL, goalies were not allowed to go down on the ice to stop the puck. It wasn’t until the 1950s that this style of play was popularized. That said, the originator of the butterfly-style of goaltending came from the CHLM. Henry “Braces” Franklyn of the Dartmouth Jubilees is the first recorded goalie to employ this style of goaltending.
So, how and why did this become popular? Well, the CHLM attracted a lot of people during its time. In comparison to White teams in the region, the CHLM would attract thousands while the other teams would bring in hundreds. Like the many Black musicians who saw their work copied during Rock ‘n Roll, White hockey teams and eventually the NHL, appropriated a style of play that they knew would resonate with fans. However, Black players were still a rare sight in hockey. For those that did make it during the early years, they made sure to leave their mark.
As I listened to Bob Dawson, a Black Hockey Historian and member of the first all-Black line to play Canadian university hockey, I learned about Black men and women who I thought would be widely celebrated and recognized in the sport. For example, Angela James was the first Black woman to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012. James is also regarded as the one the best players to ever compete as well as the only Black player to captain Canada at the senior level and yet, her story is largely unknown.
Thanks to organizations like Black History Ottawa and historians like Bob Dawson and George and Darril Fosty, this core story of Canada’s sport is being kept alive. However, we as a community must also act and support their work to set the record straight. That said, I encourage readers to follow their progress and support their efforts because the roots of hockey shouldn’t just be a Black story, it should be a Canadian story.
About the writer
MacAndrew Clarke holds a B.A. (Hons) in Political Science and a minor in Music from Carleton University. He has dedicated himself to community building and advocacy through public, private, and non-profit organizations for many years. He has been contributing to Black Ottawa Scene since January of 2016. He can be reached either via email, Twitter, or Facebook