“Black Ice - Negro Hockey (CHL)”The Lost History of the Colored Hockey League of the Martimes, 1895-1925
Comprised of the sons and grandsons of runaway American slaves, the league helped pioneer the sport of ice hockey changing this winter game from the primitive “gentleman’s past-time” of the nineteenth century to the modern fast moving game of today. In an era when many believed blacks could not endure cold, possessed ankles too weak to effectively skate, and lacked the intelligence for organized sport, these men defied the defined myths.
Sonahhr historians and Executive Board Members Darril Fosty, George Fosty, Drakeford Levi, Wayne Adams and Craig Smith were interviewed for the feature. Darril Fosty also served as the historical consultant for ESPN during the Nova Scotia stage of the production.
Setting the Ice Hockey Historical Record Straight
Our knowledge of the roots of Canadian hockey has been based almost solely on the historical records maintained by early White historians. Because of this, the misconception that hockey is a White man’s invention has persisted. We know today, such an assumption could not be further from historical fact. The roots of early Canadian hockey originate with the North American Indians. The roots of modern Canadian hockey originate, in large part, from the influence of an even more surprising source, that of early African-Canadian hockey. For it was Black hockey players in the later half of the nineteenth century whose style of play and innovations helped shape the sport, effectively changing the game of hockey forever. Page 12.
The First Black Ice Hockey Players - 1820 to 1870
With certainty, we can only date Black hockey to the early 1870’s, yet we know that hockey and Black history in
Nova Scotia have parallel roots, going back almost 100 years. Among the first reports of hockey being played occur in 1815 along the isolated Northwest Arm, south of Halifax. The date is important for the simple fact that as late as October 1815 the region was not home to a large White settlement but was instead the site of a small Black enclave. Four Black families originally from the Chesapeake Bay area, with a total of fifteen children, had relocated and settled on the Arm. It is reported that these families, Couney, Williams, Munro and Leale, received adequate food, lodging and employment implying that their children were healthy and would have been able to play hockey during the winter months when the Arm was frozen and suitable for skating. Were these children among the first Canadians to play the game of hockey? We do not know. All we can say is that the coincidence between the date of the Northwest Arm’s Black settlement and the first records of hockey being played in the area are worthy of reflection. Page 12-13.
The Stanley Cup -1893
During the nineteenth century, it had been the English who had introduced the concept of competitive sports to much of the world. In an age of the Victorians and Victorian ideals, sports were regarded as models of teamwork and fair play. Many believed that sports could raise the lower classes and non-White races to a higher level of civilization and social development. All was well, the theory held as long as White men continued to win at whatever sport they played. Hockey was no different. By recognizing Canadian hockey Stanley had accomplished something more. He has given the game “royal acceptance” removing its status as a game of the lowly masses and creating a tiered sport based on club elitism and commercialism. It is no secret that the Stanley Cup was only to be competed for by select teams within
Canada. At the time of its presentation, it was a symbol for self-promotion all the while serving a “supposed need”. In time, those who controlled the Challenge Cup controlled hockey, effectively creating a “bourgeoisie” sport. A sport that now, by its very nature, would exclude and fail to recognize Black contributions. Page 14.
The Birth Of All-Black Hockey Teams -1895
The first recorded mention of all-Black hockey teams appears in 1895. Games between Black club teams were arranged by formal invitation. By 1900, The Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes had been created, headquartered in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Despite hardships and prejudice, the league would exist until the mid-1920s. Historically speaking, The Colored Hockey League was like no other hockey or sports league before or since. Primarily located in a province, reputed to be the birthplace of Canadian hockey, the league would in time produce a quality of player and athlete that would rival the best of White Canada. Such was the skill of the teams that they would be seen by as worthy candidates for local representation in the annual national quest for Canadian hockey’s ultimate prize - the Stanley Cup. Page 15.
Black Hockey Leadership -1895
They were more than educated Blacks, in fact they were the first generation of Black men who refused to answer the ageless question: “Whose Negro Are You?” The first of their race to demand what was rightfully theirs; the first generation to refuse to stand at the back of a line. Page 55.
On The Destruction Of The Colored Hockey League — 1912
Were the Blacks sending a message to area Whites? Was this “an eye for an eye,” a payback for Williams’ death and other past events? In order for four White-owned buildings to go up in flames almost simultaneously, it would require an orchestrated group effort. It would require a group of people working in tandem with one goal. If it were the work of Blacks it would have been an effort organized either on Gottingen Street or out in Africville. If indeed this was payback, then who better to accomplish this task than members of the Colored League — men who had had their league destroyed, lands stolen, and business enterprises crushed at the hands of Whites. On January 12, 1912 someone had sent the White Elite of Halifax a message. The message was simple: “Burn Us — We Burn You!” Page 132.
“Those that do not know their history are destine to repeat it.” Those that rely on others to tell their story will most likely be forgotten! Negro slaves adapted to every environment and community, engaged in activities closely associated with the church and desperately sought to be treated as equals; for their descendents the struggle continues.